The Power of Collaborative Autism Therapy

collaborative autism therapy

Individuals with autism can present with many complex challenges and behaviors. As such, a one size fits all therapeutic approach is not usually effective for them. This is why collaborative autism therapy services can have a greater impact.  

Research tells us that evidence-based treatment options are the best place to start. While Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy is the most effective intervention for children with autism, there are many other evidenced-based treatments that should be considered therapeutically as well. Different therapies often complement each other and are most impactful when performed in a collaborative nature.  

What Collaborative Autism Therapy Looks Like

At Healing Haven, we offer a comprehensive approach to autism therapy. In other words, we offer more than just ABA Therapy at our clinic. In addition to our ABA Therapy team of Board Certified Behavior Analysts and Registered Behavior Technicians, we have a wonderful team of Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, and Counselors, who support the needs and development of our clients. This collaborative autism therapy approach allows a family to get everything they need under one roof. Our interdisciplinary team works together to create and execute each unique therapy plan. 

How Collaborative Autism Therapy Works

An interdisciplinary approach ensures that all clinicians involved in a child’s care have the chance to meet and discuss the mutual children they serve. They collectively brainstorm techniques that will and will not work for each specific child, and strategically plan methods of generalization across therapy providers and environments. At Healing Haven, every professional is automatically on the same page when it comes to you and your child’s history and progress.  

The Benefits of Collaboration

There are many benefits to professionals working collaboratively when it comes to your child with autism’s developmental needs. All therapy providers being in a shared physical space is just one of them. When all professionals work together they get to witness and learn from each other’s work. Conversely, when we get a report from a client’s outside occupational or speech therapist, we can communicate about the goals in place, but we may not have the luxury of observing how the goals are being taught. 

Additionally, when parents don’t have to schedule therapies at multiple locations, it can help reduce their stress. The benefit of having an interdisciplinary team also eliminates the need to repeat the same thing to multiple professionals. This can lessen the likelihood of confusion and miscommunication between parent(s) and professionals. 

What Sets Our Collaborative Autism Therapy Apart

Healing Haven’s collaborative autism therapy approach is unique in that it encourages parent involvement in each type of therapy, as opposed to only requiring it in the autism therapy portion. Parents are active members of their child’s team, as they bring essential information to the table. Parents are essential to help their child generalize skills to the real world.  

It is our goal at Healing Haven for each child to gain the skills they need to move to a lesser level of care. And the best way to experience that is to make sure what we do in the clinic continues to carry over into the home.  

To get your child started with services, contact us today! 

ABA Therapy Social Groups at Healing Haven

Among the many therapy activities taking place in our three autism therapy clinics on our campus, one element that stands out are the ABA therapy social groups. These groups are part of our ABA programs and work to foster socialization and school readiness skills. Each group is facilitated according to skill level. Read on to learn about the latest activities and skills taking place in our ABA therapy social groups.  

Early Intervention Clinic Groups

Group instructor leads social group in Early Intervention Clinic.

Our Early Intervention Clinic incorporates many fun group opportunities! Our team designed the Early Intervention groups in a stepwise fashion, building upon one another by skill level.  Placement in a group is determined by a child’s level of skill when they enter our ABA therapy program. Even though these groups, designed for kids ages 18 months to 4, are kept “short and sweet,” they provide ample opportunities for kids to learn how to interact and attend to peers. The social groups in our EI Clinic take children from the beginning stages of learning, like how to sit and listen to a book, all the way up to having the skills to navigate preschool or daycare. 

Young Learners Clinic Groups

Clients participate in group activity during social group in Young Learners Clinic.

The clinic with the greatest variety in social and school preparation groups is the Young Learners clinic. Children ranging from 4 up through 8 years of age receive therapy this clinic.  

At the onset of starting in our Young Learners ABA therapy program, our clinical team assess children to determine which group will fit their needs best. Splitting groups up this way helps us pair children with peers at a similar level of skill. Doing this further promotes socialization. Group activities range from simple activities, such as singing songs, to learning how to respond when their name is called. Skill sets are carefully selected to expose children to a level of activities that would be expected in a preschool environment.

Preparing for Elementary School

For our Young Learners clients who are ready for more skill-building in a group setting, we offer a series of school preparation groups. These groups are alike in structure and are tiered to accommodate various grade-school levels. 

The beginner group focuses on the core skills of basic attending, following instructions, and group response/attending. Conversely, more advanced groups incorporate elements of working independently or conversing in a participative way with a peer. As individuals progress through the levels, they learn to attend for longer periods of time. They also expose themselves to following a schedule for structure. 

Our most advanced group in Young Learners set the stage for transition to a school setting. This group teaches in a group that is no longer one-on-one therapy. While the pre-requisite skills for school, such as sitting and attending, are still incorporated, these groups also touch on emotional regulation and flexibility. It is always a great celebration as our clients begin to slowly fade out ABA therapy services in exchange for school. Watching them integrate the skills they have learned during group time at school is one of our greatest joys! 

School & Community Readiness Clinic Groups

Clients practice gardening skills during social group in School & Community Readiness Clinic.

In the School & Community Readiness clinic, our group leaders introduce individuals ages 9 through 16 to life-skills-based activities. These activities include baking, gardening, shopping, arts & crafts, computer skills, and more! The specific skills each person works on during an activity is determined by their ability to participate and attend to the task as well as their overall skill level. 

Our themes for group time rotate. For example, this summer our group leader prioritized having a Garden week. This involved learning about growing a garden, planting, and harvesting. We taught all the steps needed to plant flowers and vegetables in our garden. We are proud to say the garden was a hit and is thriving! 

During group time, individuals in this program also have the opportunity to show off their creativity! Once a month, parents and families are encouraged to stop by and explore some beautiful handmade products in our Marketplace. The items are free, but the creators can practice taking pretend payments. The emphasis is on teaching foundational prevocational and social skills to help prepare these individuals for independent life. 

The Importance of Social Groups

Our Social and School Prep groups run in our clinics all year round. Incorporating aforementioned elements during group time allows us to emphasize the importance of socialization and group learning. Further, it allows the children to practice essential skills that will be needed to transition to independence.

“Our School Prep groups work on responding to group instruction, which is applicable at school along with other situations in life. Additionally, these groups allow for peer interactions to occur at a high frequency throughout the client’s ABA session.”

– Healing Haven BCBA

When asked why our School Prep groups are so important, one of our BCBAs said, “the ultimate goal of ABA therapy is for our clients to gain independence in skills needed to move to lesser levels of support and ultimately graduate from ABA. Our School Prep groups work on responding to group instruction, which is applicable at school along with other situations in life. Additionally, these groups allow for peer interactions to occur at a high frequency throughout the client’s ABA session.” We are so grateful to witness our clients grow and thrive in all they do! 

If you are interested in learning how your child can benefit from our ABA therapy programs, including our social and school preparation groups, contact us for more details. 

Understanding Gestalt Language Processing and How it Impacts Your Child’s Communication

As speech-language sciences progress, many are learning about how speech processes correlate with how autistic adults and children communicate with others. A term that is becoming more understood in the Speech-Language community is Gestalt Language Processing (GLP), or Natural Language Acquisition. In turn, this term has become increasingly used in the autism community. You may have heard of this intricate term, but only understand parts of it, or none of it at all. With the help of Amanda Tompkins, MS, CCC-SLP and her Speech Therapy team, we will share the basics of Gestalt Language Processing. Read along as we discuss how it relates to the work we do in helping our clients learn to communicate- whether that be through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy, Speech Therapy, or both. 

Learning to Communicate

In the world of language and speech learning, there are two main ways that individuals learn to develop language. This starts at the time they begin communicating. From a Speech Language Pathologist perspective, every individual naturally learns speech either through Analytical Language Processing, or Gestalt Language Processing. And many people learn language through a mixture of both.  

Gestalt Language Processing is common and prevalent in those with autism. This is due to how aspects of echolalia, “scripting”, memorization, and melody, in addition to other components, play into the speech learning process in autistic individuals.  

We all want to be understood- and not just understood, but ideally, well understood. That is why, especially when it comes to language and individuals with autism, it is so important to identify the way the child learns and acquires language. This helps us to effectively support growth in their communication skills in a way that resonates with them. 

What is Gestalt Language Processing?

Gestalt Language Processing is, as defined by AssistiveWare, “a form of language development that starts with whole memorized phrases to single words.” This means that the child learns the meaning of individual words through phrases, or “chunks”, that include that word, as opposed to the word itself. GLP was “named and described by linguist Ann Peters and taken up by SLP scientist Barry Prizant and colleagues,” according to The Informed SLP. It has been around since the 1970s.  

Gestalt Language Learning can be confusing and difficult to navigate due to its indirect and non-literal nature. This is especially true when it comes to those who have trouble communicating in the first place. The vocalizations and physical actions that sprout from GLP are typically not to be taken literally. But they are usually an attempt by the individual to communicate with others, whether it is easily comprehensible or not.  

For example, a child may frequently hear the phrase “2 more minutes!” when it is almost time to move onto another activity or stop their current activity. Now, anytime the child is anticipating anything, they say “2 more minutes!”. In this case, the child isn’t able to make the connection between the phrase and the context it is appropriately used in.  

Another example is that of a child who gets frequent ear infections always hearing the phrase, “does your ear hurt?”. The child soon begins to repeat the questioning phrase any time they feel physical pain in their body. This happens because that is the phrase their mind has paired with the specific sensory feeling of pain. 

How to Know if Your Child is a Gestalt Language Processor

GLPs possess distinct differences in how they communicate as compared to Analytical Language Processors. There is a chance that your child is a GLP if they:  

  • Use long scripts of language  
  • Have immediate or delayed echolalia 
  • Have unintelligible strings of language  
  • Have rich intonation 
  • Use single words 
  • Reverse pronouns 

It is important to note that your child can be a GLP even if they use partial or full sentences. We are even able to identify some GLPs that have minimal spoken language through their love and interest in repeated strings of melody and intonation. 

Discovering your child is a GLP can be an incredibly exciting and validating moment. Once you understand how your child learns language, you can begin taking steps to communicate with them in a way that’s meaningful to them. From there, you can then help them to communicate better with the environment around them. 

The 4 Stages of Gestalt Language Processing Development 

There are 4 notable stages in the development of GLP. Knowing what stage your child is demonstrating at a given time can help navigate what to focus on teaching. The first two stages in GLP development precede what is typically seen with Analytical Language Processing. The stages are:  

  1. Echolalia Full Gestalt – consists of, but is not limited to, lengthy sentences, single words, or strings of sounds and melodies that sound the same every time.  
  1. Mitigating – the combining of two gestalts (scripts). 
  1. Freeing – the breaking free of single words and/or making a new combination of words. 
  1. Combining – the use of single words to create basic 2-3 words sentences.  

Many children are GLPs and do not require support due to how quickly they move through the stages. Many children on the spectrum need support because they may be “stuck” in Stage 1. Services like ABA and Speech Therapy can help children move through these stages to better communicate their wants and needs.  

Becoming a Detective of Your Child’s Communication 

Many times, it may not be clear to others what GLPs are attempting to communicate. Many of the scripts or actions that are performed by GLPs typically are derived from a form of media that has resonated, or stuck with, the child. These phrases are specific and personal to each individual and could be scenes or phrases from people, shows, movies, online videos, commercials, etc. 

In the child’s head, these “scripts” are sometimes paired with a meaning. If the meaning is not obvious, it can be challenging to make connections about what the child is trying to communicate, if anything. This is why it’s important to pay attention and “become a detective” about where your child is obtaining each script and what the context of it is. Using this method, it becomes easier to draw possible conclusions about what is being communicated, which opens doors to how educators and parents can help make the language more functional. 

Thoughts to Consider when Communicating with Gestalt Language Processors 

With these things in mind, we have some general thoughts to consider when it comes to communicating with a GLP: 

  •  Acknowledge that the script is likely an attempt to communicate, even if you don’t know what it means.  
  • Understand that gestalts can also be non-verbal (scripts can be played out through actions and gestures). 
  • Taking a conversational turn can be useful. Nodding, smiling, and/or repeating what the child is saying shows that you are engaged and interested.
  • Think about taking notes and writing down what words and phrases the child is saying. Then, reference it later to help make connections about what the child may be trying to communicate. This will be a huge help in your “detective” work.  

When you think you have discovered what your GLP is saying, it is essential that you acknowledge the meaning you have discovered. You can then practice, with the help of your child’s therapy team, modeling developmentally appropriate language during teachable moments that may arise. 

Bridging the Gap between ABA Therapy and Gestalt Language Processing  

While ABA Therapy doesn’t focus on identifying and analyzing GLP, the two work harmoniously in many ways. ABA meets GLPs where they’re at to create learning opportunities from what resonates with the child, said Dr. Jennifer Thomas, BCBA and Director of Clinical Standards at Healing Haven.  

Thomas gives the example of scripts that are identified within a specific context, or over several contexts, being used to “signal” (referred to as “SD” in ABA) an event or change in events. “’Let’s go,’ especially if always said in the same tone of voice, can be used to signal it’s time to leave the house. The adult can use the scripts the child uses to reinforce the context it fits into and the behavior that goes with it, so it becomes more meaningful and serves to communicate more effectively.” 

Thomas noted that, aside from vocalizations, actions or gestures can also be part of a context and serve a purpose. She explained that paying attention to the pattern of occurring actions can help understand the function of a behavior. This creates an opportunity to reinforce the behavior with vocal communication. 

“BCBAs often will look to identify the function of a behavior, including scripts, to develop a plan for integrating the script into the child’s world. If the function is attention, for example, the BCBA may teach more scripts so the child can gain attention in a meaningful and consistent way,” said Thomas. 

Educational Resources on Gestalt Language Processing 

Aside from what we’ve provided above, there are many resources available to help parents, teachers, and caretakers understand Gestalt Language Processing. A few of the ones we like best are the following books:  

In addition to these, And Next Comes L has a variety of resources for parents to turn to for information about Gestalt Language and Echolalia.  

We hope this post has been helpful to anyone learning about Gestalt Language Processing. Please feel free to like, comment, or share this post with others in your community, and reach out to us if you have any questions! 

6 Ideas for Practicing Social Skills with Autistic Children

Learning and practicing social skills can be challenging for anyone. But as a parent of a child with autism you may feel nervous when it comes to your child engaging in social activities at school and in other settings. We know how important it is for autistic children to practice social skills – it is something we work on every day in our clinics. It is important for children to know how to: 

  • Communicate in different situations (such as conversing with family or talking to their teacher) 
  • Identify and manage emotions
  • Make and keep friends
  • Listen to and learn from others
  • Cultivate interests and hobbies
  • Develop independence

Though socializing is a challenge for many children on the spectrum, kids are adaptable and resilient. Practicing social skills is a terrific way to ensure these important skills are being strengthened regularly. We have compiled a variety of ways you can incorporate social skill-building in your weekly routines. 

1. Daily intentional social engagement

Aim to socially interact with your child at least once a day. Set this time aside intentionally. You can “sneak” in working on social skills during this time—it does not have to be “work” if you set it up as fun! Suggest an activity you can do together or ask to join them in whatever they are engaged in. One example is reading a story together and talking about how the characters feel, relating it to your child’s life. Or compile conversational questions on slips of paper and pull one out each night at dinner. Ask the question of everyone at the table so your child has models of how to answer the question. Getting on their level can open doors to positive communication which they can carry out into the world. 

2. Practice play

More specifically, practice social skills by getting involved in pretend play with your child, such as shopping at the store or pretending to cook together in a play kitchen. Think of what social encounters your child might experience in these settings and provide opportunities for social interaction. For example, if you are “shopping at the store,” your child can be the clerk and you can be the customer asking how much something costs. Additionally, games such as simple board games or Hide and Seek provide social opportunities like taking turns and having good sportsmanship. 

3. Set up play dates

In order for your child to learn how to connect with other kids and build self-confidence, encourage practicing social skills  similar  to their neurotypical peers. Connect with parents and set up play dates. Whether the kids are on the spectrum or not, there are benefits for your child hanging out with them! Neurotypical kids offer great examples for appropriate socializing, play scenarios, following the rules of a game, etc. While socializing with fellow kids with autism allows them to connect with someone who has a similar mind and skill level. 

4. Watch a video of a social activity

If your child tends to get anxious before going somewhere where they’ll interact with others, it may be helpful to show a video of the place beforehand. If your child has a tough time doing social activities, such as going to the theatre to see a play or musical, find a video of another kid going to the theatre. Discuss what is happening in the video with your child, what to expect, and how to act when at the theatre. Pay attention to any concerns they might relay or what specific parts of the place or activity make them nervous. Whether it’s going to the theatre, ordering at a restaurant, or playing at a water park, giving your child some context through a video or even just pictures can ease their mind. 

5. Practice social skills learned in ABA sessions (if applicable)

Since social skills are worked on consistently in ABA Therapy, if your child is enrolled, it’s crucial that skills are generalized outside of therapy. Ask your child’s BCBA what social skills to work on with your child and how to practice them at home. Kids can practice with parents or siblings, and even pets. For example, talk about how a pet might feel in a particular moment. You can even set up the same reward system as they have at the clinic, such as a token board, to encourage the generalization of social skills. 

6. Take breaks and create a “safe space”

We all need breaks from socializing, especially kids with autism. Children with autism tend to get overstimulated and overwhelmed much more than neurotypical kids. Create a safe space free from sensory or social overload, where your child can take a break when needed. This space could be a room or area in the house, or a favorite outdoor spot. Whatever the location, make sure it is clutter-free, calm, quiet, and stocked with any comforting items such as toys, special lighting, comfortable furniture, etc. 

Keep in mind that you do not need to jump in and try all these ideas at once. Slowly test them out and see which ones seem to help your child. As with trying anything new, time is needed to figure out what will stick, and some things will take more time than others for your child to adjust to.  

If you’re needing additional help in teaching your child social skills, ABA and Speech Therapy are wonderful ways to provided additional support. Contact us for more info.

Strategies for Managing Challenging Behaviors for Children with Autism

“Challenging behaviors” are defined as “behaviors that can be disruptive and/or difficult to manage.” Challenging behaviors may manifest in several different forms including avoidance, aggression, self-harm, destruction, eating inedible items (otherwise known as Pica), elopement, tantrums, screaming, and more. These behaviors can happen in any setting, whether it’s in a public place or in the home. But depending on the cause (or “function”) of the behavior, there are ways to lessen the likelihood of behaviors happening. Likewise, there are ways to respond when they do occur. We have gathered strategies for managing challenging behaviors for children with autism from our Director of Clinical Standards, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA. 

Why Challenging Behaviors Happen 

While behaviors often have a driving reason for their occurrence, they can sometimes be dangerous. If your child is engaging in behaviors that put them or someone else at risk, we strongly recommend you seek professional help.  When it comes to managing challenging behaviors in children with autism, it is important to remember that behavior is communication.

There is always a reason for a child’s behavior. For example, the behavior may be the result of the child wanting to get something or to get away from something. This, in simple terms, could be a person, place, activity, or type of internal/external stimulation. Dr. Thomas says that challenging behaviors “often have more than one cause,” making it difficult to pinpoint why they occurred. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) has the expertise to help parents. Through careful observation and data collection, BCBAs can determine why a behavior is occurring. Based on this, they can craft an individualized plan to help teach parents how to respond in a way that will minimize behaviors and maximize success. 

How to Prevent the Likelihood of Challenging Behaviors Occurring 

While specific expertise is needed to craft a plan to decrease severe challenging behaviors, there are some tips that can help parents plan ahead to decrease the likelihood of these behaviors occurring in the first place. It is important to remember that having good communication between yourself and your child is a great starting point! While this is no easy task, there are ways you can prepare your environment(s), and your child, so that these behaviors are less likely to occur. 

“Set your child up for success,” says Dr. Thomas, by recognizing the components that are likely to cause behaviors. This can be done by being observant. Look for patterns such as similarities in context or environment that a behavior happens, similarities in reactions to certain events, and changes in setting and mood before, during, and after a behavior occurs. Physically make note of these patterns, if possible, to reference and help yourself to make mental connections. Doing so can help you identify and plan ahead to possibly prevent a behavior. This is also great information to provide to your BCBA. 

The following are some tools to help prevent challenging behaviors: 
  • Having a consistent communication method (AAC device, PECS, signs, gestures, vocal language). 
  • Carrying sensory toys or snacks with you.  
  • Having headphones or sunglasses available in public places to reduce sensory irritations. 
  • Prepare your child’s expectations before doing something difficult or novel. 
  • Bring fun activities or snacks to make undesired activities or outings a bit more fun. 
  • Make trips short, if possible. 
  • Avoid areas that you know may trigger your child, if possible. 
  • Use timers and countdowns. 
  • More ideas are available through the Autism Research Institute

How to Respond When Challenging Behaviors Occur 

How you respond to your child’s challenging behaviors depends on the behavior that is occurring and what the trigger is. The cause of behaviors, Dr. Thomas emphasizes, oftentimes lies at the root of a communication struggle, impulsive behaviors, or issues with emotional regulation. Dr. Thomas says it is helpful to think about what the child is trying to communicate and to be observational. This is the first step in figuring out how to respond when a behavior occurs. As every child’s situation is unique, professional expertise is necessary when formulating a specific way to respond. It is also helpful to teach your child calming strategies, in addition to focusing on some of the other areas of struggle.

Some coping strategies may include:  
  • Squeezing hands 
  • Stomping feet 
  • Counting 
  • Taking deep breaths 

Some children are easily redirected if you can draw their attention elsewhere during a behavioral episode. This may be effective in the moment but is not a long-term solution. The most important thing to remember when trying to manage a challenging behavioral scenario with your child is to “get safely through that moment and know there is another learning opportunity to come,” says Dr. Thomas. Also, remember to have compassion for your child and yourself as you’re going through this tough and often stressful situation.   

Where to Get Help with Managing Challenging Behaviors 

ABA Therapy is a very effective resource for addressing challenging behaviors. In ABA Therapy, we focus on teaching ways to communicate and behave. “Children should always have a functional way to get their needs met,” Dr. Thomas says. This is where Functional Communication Training, or FCT, comes in. Functional communication can be as small as the child pointing to something they want, as a means of asking for it, or handing over a picture icon of an item. 

“We begin by teaching a communication task that children find easy, this varies based on skill level. The idea is to give children another, more appropriate skill to use to communicate in lieu of using a challenging behavior.” If your child is already in ABA Therapy, their Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, is a great resource.  For children enrolled in a school program, an Individualized Educational Program, or IEP, can be a great resource to reference. If your child has not had a developmental evaluation, and is exhibiting challenging behaviors, it may be time to seek out a pediatric or developmental psychologist. From there, a psychologist would be able to perform assessments that could determine if there is anything underlying the child’s behaviors. Healing Haven’s Testing & Assessments services can help with this process, as well as contacting your child’s pediatrician.  

In addition to these resources, there are several organizations that can help, such as: Autism Alliance of Michigan, Autism Support of Michigan, Michigan Alliance for Families, National Autism Association

Challenging Behaviors: Finding Community 

The behaviors you encounter from your children can sometimes be difficult to manage, but keep in mind that you are not alone. In addition to the professional resources we have shared, there are other parents who understand. Finding community is important in helping share ideas and reducing your own stress.   

If you’re thinking you need more help in how to manage your child’s challenging behaviors, please contact us for information about our ABA Therapy for kids with autism. And our testing and assessments services can empower you with information on how to best support your child.  

We hope that throughout this article you were able to find useful information that can be utilized going forward. Don’t hesitate to share this piece with others, as well as comment, if you found it helpful! 

Autism Acceptance and Finding Community

autism acceptance and finding community
parents meeting for coffee

April is here again, which means it is time to celebrate and honor Autism Acceptance Month. Previously called Autism Awareness Month, the recognized period was started in 1972 by the Autism Society as National Autistic Children’s Week. It evolved from that into an entire month of recognition. In 2021, it was renamed from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month.  

The Difference Between Awareness and Acceptance 

The evolution of this nationally celebrated month’s name is due to the need to move beyond “awareness”. Today, many people are already “aware” of autism, and have been for some time. This elevated awareness has led to an increase in autism diagnoses since the disorder’s discovery. Currently, autism is prevalent in 1 in 36 children aged 8 years old, according to the CDC. With that said, being aware of autism is vastly different than accepting individuals with autism. This month, we emphasize the ability to accept individuals with autism. One way this can be done is through meaningful action with a focus on parents of individuals with autism.  

Taking Action by Finding Community

Something that many people do not consider when they think of a child receiving an autism diagnosis is the toll it can have on the child’s parents and family. The impact of an autism diagnosis is that it can feel isolating. And that feeling of “being alone” can make it challenging for parents to find the support and community they need. In addition, support is not always readily available. That is why for this Autism Acceptance Month, we want to focus on the importance of finding community for people with autism and their families.  

How Support Groups Can Help

Support groups are wonderful because they can serve multiple different purposes at once. But helping people connect with others who share similar experiences is what makes them essential for families impacted by autism. Support groups provide an abundance of resources. They also are filled with people who can relate to what you may be feeling. The people in these groups can help give advice for managing the unique ups and downs that come with raising a child on the spectrum. You, in turn, can help others who may have questions. Support groups also provide a wonderful place to share accomplishments along with challenges and create friendships for both you and your child.  

Where to Find Support

In Michigan:  

Michigan Alliance for Families has many resources for families impacted by autism. Parents can search for local events, get information on ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) services, educational services, and other supports. Their Navigators are available by phone to help families find autism assistance throughout Michigan.  

If your child is receiving therapy services, other parents are a great place to start to find those who are understanding of your situation. Ask your child’s BCBA or Therapist if there are some parents you can connect with. Or, stop and strike up a conversation with another parent when you are at the clinic. You never know what kind of friendship may develop! 

In All States and Online: 

Parents Helping Parents offers an online support group that meets once a month to discuss autism resources and stories. As the website explains, this can be a terrific way to connect and learn from parents who may share a similar story to your own. In addition to parents, anyone who works with children on the spectrum is encouraged to check it out.  

Healthline has an abundance of autism resources, ranging from general information to education and government benefit resources. They also specify resources for specific age groups and list multiple support groups and organizations for autistic individuals and their allies.  

Facebook is a place where you can find a group page for about anything. And that does not exclude support groups for parents of autistic children! This can be a wonderful place to meet other parents and discuss ideas, struggles, and accomplishments. Facebook groups are a place you can learn more about the autism community. Healing Haven even has their own private group specially created for parents of clients only. 

The Benefits of Autism Acceptance

An important thing to remember is that an autism diagnosis does not define a child or their family. Additionally, those with autism should never be underestimated. No one knows what the future holds.  

The more parents find a community and the support they need, the more likely they are to accept their new circumstances, which helps communicate autism acceptance to our broader communities. Through acceptance of our personal situations and finding others who understand, we can reduce our stress levels and bring richness to our lives. Additionally, it is important to note that acceptance applies to everyone. Parents who accept their child’s diagnosis can be fully present to support them. In addition, all of us learning to accept our neighbor, nephew, child’s classmate, who has autism, will set an example to others. And simultaneously, we will help create a community for that family to feel included. Through acceptance we help spread empathy and kindness of others’ differences. By living out acceptance we can make an impact far beyond the autism community. 

We hope you have found these resources to be helpful and we encourage you to share any information discovered here with your friends and family. Please feel free to leave a comment if this impacted you in a significant way. Happy Autism Acceptance Month! 

How to Explain Death to a Child with Autism

image of grave headstone, explaining death to a child with autism

Losing a loved one, whether it is expected or not, is hard for anyone to navigate. It’s a process that involves accepting reality, seeking support if necessary, and allowing yourself time to feel natural emotions. So it’s not surprising that explaining the death of a loved one to a child with autism may bring some additional challenges.   

Death is a difficult concept for any child to understand, let alone those who may have a hard time grasping abstract concepts. But death and loss are also unavoidable. That’s why we put together some tips to help your child with autism or special needs understand and deal with the process of losing a loved one.  

Be literal and thorough when explaining the loss 

When explaining the death of a loved to your child with autism, use literal terms. This may help the death make more sense to them.  Avoid using terms such as “passed away”, “gone to sleep”, or “gone to another place”. Using these terms risks your child taking them literally and becoming frustrated when their loved one doesn’t wake up or come back.  

Be direct when you are explaining the passing of a loved one to your child. The more direct you are, the easier it will be for them to understand. Allowing room for questions is key here and answering them honestly to the best of your ability should take priority.  

Keep routines as unchanged as possible 

Change in routines can be particularly challenging for individuals on the spectrum. The death of a loved one is a major life changing event. That’s why it is best to keep everything else within their routine as consistent as possible. People with autism find comfort with routine, and comfort is something we all strive for while grieving. Bedtime routines, playdates with friends, school and therapy may be part of daily routines. You should try your best to maintain these activities if they bring your child peace. 

Involve them  

When helping a child (with or without autism) through loss and grief, it may seem best to exclude them from certain parts of the process, like attending a funeral with an open casket. While it largely depends on your child’s level of cognitive understanding, as well as your expertise in making the best-informed decision for your child, many professional sources suggest that shielding a child with autism from the complexities that come with loss will likely confuse them more. These sources suggest being transparent and asking your child if they would like to be part of a certain aspect (like the funeral, wake, or burial). With this, allow them to ask any questions they might have.   

Another good option, as Alicia says in The Mom Kind, is “to have a celebration of life that they can attend instead of the funeral”. Doing this, Alicia says, “allows involvement without having to see all the grief”.  

Prepare them, if possible  

If you know that a family member or loved one is terminally ill, try and familiarize your child with all the places they will be during this time. This could be places like the hospital, funeral home, or cemetery. Remember to talk about the emotions they will see from others throughout the process. A great way to do this could be through pre-made “social stories”. Social stories use photographs to help explain and show the child what will happen before it happens in real-time. These photographs and descriptions of the photographs can include emotions that they will observe of others. More information on constructing a social story can be found here.  

As we know, children who are on the spectrum can have an especially difficult time dealing with the unexpected, so it is a good idea to make the loss as “expected” as possible. Of course, this may not always be possible and sometimes a loss can be sudden. In this case, you can still do your best to show and tell your child what to expect. Use any photos you have available or pictures online to do this. More ways to prepare your child for loss and help them understand it can be found in this article from Child Bereavement UK

Utilize books that help explain loss 

When it comes to bereavement and children with autism, a lot can be gained from books that are specifically made for this life event.  

The 2017 book, I Have a Question about Death: Clear Answers for All Kids, including Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a straight-forward, color-filled read that addresses the questions that concrete thinkers might have surrounding death. It answers them in a simplistic manner. This book has an abundance of good reviews from parents who have had to explain this topic to their children. We recommend it as well!  

Another book that is a good choice for the topic of grief is the interactive workbook, Finding Your Own Way to Grieve by Karla Helbert. This book is unique in that it encourages expressive techniques and exercises to help your child identify and process the feelings that accompany loss. This book is perfect for children and teens to work through on their own. They can also use it with the help of a parent or professional. Find this book here

Lastly, How People With Autism Grieve, and How to Help: An Insider Handbook, is best suited for teens and young adults who need security and affirmation after losing a loved one. Though the book only bases suggestions off one person’s unique experience, it can prove helpful in relating to what your child might be feeling emotionally. Find out more about it here


We all have different ways of dealing with loss. It’s important to make it known to your child with autism that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond to the death of a loved one. The most vital thing, though, is to ensure that your child knows there is support around them and that they have people to talk about it with when they feel sad or confused.  

Your 2023 Autism Reading Guide

Find out about the latest books on autism to add to your reading list!

With the chilly months upon us again, many have started looking for new books to read this year. To help you build out your reading list, we’ve researched the latest books about autism published since our book list in 2020 to create a new autism reading guide for the year. There are several books for parents as well as books to help autistic kids, tweens and teens. Take a look at some of the latest books about autism to add to this year’s reading list.  

For Parents 

We know that navigating the world of autism as a parent can present many unique challenges. Parents of all kids don’t always know how to handle the needs of their children. But having a child with autism adds unique needs that can be difficult to navigate. However, there are several new books about autism released in 2021 and 2022. These are written specifically to be beneficial to you as a parent of a child with autism. 

Navigating Autism: 9 Mindsets For Helping Kids on the Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Deborah Moore 

Joined by psychologist Debra Moore, Dr. Temple Grandin explores various mindsets that are effective when working with kids and young adults on the autism spectrum. You’ll find personal stories from Grandin with anecdotes from parents who have sought her insight. You’ll also discover advice from Moore who has 30+ years of experience in psychological work with kids on the spectrum. Not only is this a good read for parents, but helpful for anyone who impacts the lives of children on the spectrum. Check it out on Amazon

We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation by Eric Garcia 

Writing from personal experience, Washington D.C. reporter and journalist Eric Garcia helps give readers a better understanding of life from the perspective of an autistic person. Through this, he informs them on effective ways to help those on the spectrum. In this book, Garcia breaks down popular myths surrounding autism and uses historical facts to support his claims. For anyone who is interested in learning more about autism to better help a loved one, this book is available here.  

It Takes a Village by Amy Nielsen 

Educator, writer, advocate and mother of four children, including one with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, Nielsen uses her experience as a chance to help parents and family members of children with exceptional needs learn to build a strong support system. Nielsen covers how to make these important connections. In addition, she takes time to explain the importance of them in the special needs community. Having an emphasis on family involvement, the book includes worksheets to help readers track their progress in creating a support system for their loved one(s). To find out more about this book, go to It Takes a Village

For Kids, Tweens and Teens 

We are thrilled to find so many new books about autism specifically written for kids, tweens and teens! Here are a few released within the past couple of years to build out a reading guide for your tween or teen with autism. 

I am Autism “In the classroom” by Blake Carter Desiree 

Written by a child who has an ADHD and an autism diagnosis, Desiree delves into what school life is like. He goes on to explain how his diagnoses makes life difficult for him as a different learner. This book provides perspective that could be impactful for helping neurotypical children better understand neurodiverse peers. Desiree’s story can also help a neurodiverse child feel more understood and supported in a classroom setting. I Am Autism is available here.

When things get too loud: A story about sensory overload by Anne Alcott 

This book is an excellent option if you are seeking an educational, vividly illustrated story that can be read to both neurodiverse and neurotypical children. This read is created specifically to help children understand and learn emotional regulation skills. It beautifully explains coping strategies for any child who may struggle with overstimulation and sensory-processing issues. This book is highly rated for its inclusiveness and thoughtfulness. Find When Things Get Too Loud here.

This Is Me! I am who I’m meant to be by Amy Pflueger 

With her knowledge and experience, Pflueger, an advocate and mother of two autistic sons, wrote this book primarily for autistic children to relate to and help them better understand why they might be “different” than their peers, as they learn to engage in a world that’s already full of challenges and surprises. It promotes self-acceptance and is also a great source for siblings and classmates of autistic children. It can help them to better acknowledge, accept and understand autism on a deeper level, all while using simplistic and digestible words and pictures. If you’re looking for an awesome, educational story to share with your child, you can find this book here

Have you picked up a new favorite book about autism that we don’t have here? Let us know in the comments! 

And we hope you learned about some new books and resources through this year’s autism reading guide. If so, please share it with your community! 

Success Stories of Individuals with Autism

Autism Success Stories
Autism Success Stories

We live in a world where it is so easy to think about the negative values of something or someone. That’s why it’s crucial we prioritize the positive aspects. This is especially true for people with autism. There is a reason it is called autism spectrum – each individual is born with their own unique traits and abilities. Some on the autism spectrum may also have an intellectual disability. However, it’s important to note that around 44% of those diagnosed with autism have average or above average IQ. So why wouldn’t there be several remarkable success stories of individuals with autism?   Here we hope to share some inspiring examples of people who have used their autism diagnosis to excel in their passions.  

Temple Grandin 

Starting out with a more well-known story within the autism community, Temple Grandin is a renowned American author and educator. She speaks on the treatment and behavior of livestock animals, as well as a public speaker and advocate for autism.  

Grandin was not “officially” diagnosed with autism until much later in her life. At this point, she already had a successful career she had paved for herself. She accomplished this despite hurdles that were uncommon for children to have at the time of her upbringing. These included speech delays and social skills challenges.  In the face of these hurdles and the bullying they evoked, Grandin discovered what she was passionate about – science.  

She went on to receive several degrees on the topic and remains teaching to this day. In a quote from one of Grandin’s books, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, she explains that autistic kids often have uneven skills. “Parents get so worried about the deficits that they don’t build up the strengths, but those skills could turn into a job,” according to Grandin. She adds that “we need to be a lot more flexible with things,” when it comes to what we label as a “disability.” This way of thinking is at the foundation of Healing Haven’s values. We focus on our clients as kids and teenagers first, not their diagnosis. And we celebrate their unique strengths that come through neurodiversity. 

More stories of successes like Grandin’s are available here.  

Alexis Wineman 

Alexis Wineman is the first woman with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to participate in the Miss America competition, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wineman’s story presents the perspective of being the only member of a large family to have an autism diagnosis. Her story focuses on what it is like to grow up with the support of neurotypical siblings. She also highlights the key role that siblings can play in the life of an autistic child.  

Wineman’s sister, Danielle, said her advice for someone who has a sibling with autism is “to become a solid shadow for your sibling.” She points out that “when you’re diagnosed with autism, it’s a diagnosis for the entire family and not just that person.”  

Another sister of Wineman’s, Kimberley, said that it is valuable to “engage them (your sibling with autism) and help them find their niche.” Wineman’s brother, Nicholas, said that he has learned and developed the skill of empathy due to growing up with his sister.  

There can be endless advantages of having a family member with autism. And there is no doubt that a diagnosis can also strengthen a family. Comparable stories to Winemans are available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  

We love hearing these sibling perspectives and agree that an autism diagnosis impacts the entire family. In fact, it’s another one of our company values – to serve the entire family through parent training and counseling for parents and siblings. 

Clay Marzo 

Clay Marzo is an American professional surfer. He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as a teenager (before that designation was removed from the diagnostic definition in the DSM-5). Clay is known for his “unique ‘double-jointed’ style of turns and spins”. Marzo has “been hailed for his creativity with the board and his innovative maneuvers,” according to Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) Sierra Leone.  

 In addition to features in several surfer films, Marzo is also in a documentary, ‘Clay Marzo: Just Add Water‘. The documentary delves into his life as a competitive surfer and a person living with autism spectrum disorder. He also volunteers with the non-profit organization Surfers Healing. The organization creates opportunities for children with autism to experience surfing through surfing camps in the United States and Canada.  

Other stories like Clay’s are in this Lifehack article.  

Dani Bowman 

Dani Bowman is a writer, artist and motivational speaker who is on the autism spectrum. Creating an animation empire, she founded DaniMation Entertainment at age 14 in 2009. She has several professional degrees and is a powerful voice for those on the autism spectrum.  

Bowman is also on Netflix’s ‘Love on the Spectrum,’ where she shares much about her personal interests. In this, she brings attention to the struggles she faces to find a potential life partner. She expresses the complications of not only finding someone who relates to her but who understands and accepts her romantically.  

Further information about Bowman and her work is available on her company website.  


Katie is currently a young adult on the autism spectrum. She grew up working closely with Healing Haven’s founder, Jamie McGillivary. Jamie credits her journey working with Katie as what helped shape her into the person she is today. Jamie’s experiences with Kaite as child inspired her career path and the creation of Healing Haven. Katie worked as an administrative assistant for the company and also worked at her local library.  

Katie spoke at a Healing Haven Open House and shared her story with guests that included parents, doctors, and professionals. “I’m here tonight to tell people you shouldn’t underestimate people with disabilities. Through hard work you can live your dreams. Your child could have a bright future. Tonight, I can live my dreams such as being independent, working as an administrative assistant, and now being a public speaker.” You can read more of her story in this blog article, Never Underestimate Individuals with Autism.  

Katie is an inspiration to all at Healing Haven and everyone who knows her personally. 

Raising Expectations

We hope these stories inspire and offer hope for you and your child or loved one with autism.  An autism diagnosis comes with a broad range of potential struggles as well as unique strengths. An average of 28% of our clients at Healing Haven graduate from our services or titrate down to needing lesser services. We work to make sure clients are as well-equipped as possible to thrive in their educational journey and prepare them for life beyond school.  

There are many success stories of individuals with autism we should celebrate. But even if your child may need extra support, we all can work together to highlight the possibilities and help raise expectations for those impacted by autism. Incredible things can be born from the “bounds” of difference. 

We would love to hear any stories you might have to share. Please feel free to comment below! 

What is ABA Therapy: Your Questions Answered

child doing therapy explaining ABA Therapy
child doing therapy explaining ABA Therapy

Following an autism diagnosis, many professionals recommend ABA Therapy as the first form of support. But many parents often leave those meetings wondering what is ABA Therapy? It’s common to have lots of questions. It’s important to feel informed and clear on treatment options as you seek support for your child. Not to mention, choosing a therapy provider can be overwhelming and can take a lot of time. We’ll break down some commonly asked questions about what ABA Therapy is so you can feel prepared to help your child.  

What is ABA Therapy? 

Considered the “gold standard” in autism treatment, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy is a scientific approach to understanding behavior. It’s a method of therapy used to improve specific behaviors, decrease interfering behaviors and help a child gain new skills such as communication, play, social, and daily living skills. ABA Therapy is evidenced-based and the most frequently recommended option for the treatment of autism.  

Is ABA Therapy effective? 

ABA Therapy proves to be highly effective, based on over 50 years of research. Medical professionals and institutions such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the U.S. General Surgeon approve ABA as a valid treatment for autism.  

ABA Therapists and BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts) create and implement plans for the client to meet specific goals tailored to the client’s needs. They set the client up for success by breaking down the steps to each goal. If an approach isn’t working, the ABA Therapist and BCBA will find another one. For example, a child may be working on regulating their emotions during tantrums. The ABA Therapist and BCBA might implement tactics such as deep breathing, sensory input, and physical relaxation. But if sensory input seems to further aggravate the child, that tactic will be removed and replaced with a helpful one. 

Is ABA Therapy a fit for my family? 

Parents love their children and want what is best for them, no matter their diagnosis. You may be asking, ”How can ABA Therapy help my child?” All children have the right to learn important skills in order to be independent and to maximize their happiness later in life. For children with autism, learning some skills can be harder. ABA Therapy can build on your child’s strengths while also supporting their learning in the areas they need it most.  

In deciding if ABA Therapy is a fit for your family, it’s important to understand the provider’s approach to ABA. ABA Therapy should be customizable to your child’s needs, with an emphasis on generalization to make sure skills transfer to the natural environment.  

Additionally, it’s important to know the credentials of the BCBA and understand the center’s training program for their ABA Therapists. This is to ensure they are qualified for the work they are providing. Another factor is to make sure they have a positive and comfortable relationship that allows room for learning. There should also be frequent and open communication between you as the parents and the child’s BCBA in order to build goals that are appropriate and sensible to you. Remember, you know your child best and it’s important to find professionals that align with your specific values.  

What do ABA Therapists do? 

ABA Therapists are trained behavioral professionals that work closely with and under the supervision of BCBAs. They help implement behavioral goals set for the client. As a team with the child and BCBA, the Therapist will help teach functional skills, address problem behaviors that interfere with learning. They also help the child gain skills that will allow them to better participate in school and the community. 

What is a BCBA? 

According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, “A Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, has a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Professionals certified at the BCBA level are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services. BCBAs may supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts – (BCaBAs), Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), and other professionals who implement behavior analytic interventions.” 

At Healing Haven, BCBAs also provide parent training and can work with school professionals to help therapy translate efficiently across all situations and settings the client is in. To become a BCBA, an individual must undergo a 5-step process that includes: earning a relevant Master’s Degree, completing required behavior-analytic graduate coursework, completing required supervised fieldwork, apply for, take, and pass the BCBA exam, and then apply for state licensure.  

What happens during an ABA session? 

An ABA session typically begins with specific goals established for the child, which are discussed prior to starting therapy sessions. Throughout the session, the Therapist works one-on-one with the child. Their job is to ensure the child is learning and understanding the skills that are being taught. ABA Therapists utilize encouragement, praise and other motivational tactics tailored to the specific child and programs being worked on. Therapy is delivered both with and without supervision by the BCBA. 

Kate Fritz, MA, BCBA, LBA, is the Clinical Manager of our Early Intervention Clinic. She describes a typical ABA session at Healing Haven this way: 

In ABA sessions, we work hard and play hard! How an ABA session looks can greatly vary depending on the client’s age and skillset – programming is individualized to the client. In general, you can expect to see the use of play to work on communication and social skills, building up independence with daily living skills (e.g., working on putting on a winter coat), and both individual and group times to work on behavioral goals related to school-readiness. In action, this may look like a kid sitting in circle time imitating song motions, then reading a story with their therapist and pointing to animals and colors throughout the story, sitting and eating snack with peers, going to the restroom to work on washing hands independently, then heading to the playroom and pointing to toys up on a high shelf to communicate what they want to play with.  

When should my child start ABA? 

A child should start ABA Therapy if deemed appropriate, after receiving a medical diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Autism, for example, can be detected and tested for as early as 18 months old and by age 2 can be considered a reliable diagnosis as a means for therapy intervention.  

Early intervention is key. “Research very clearly states that early intervention for children with autism and other developmental disabilities is vital,” explains Jamie McGillivary, MS, LLP, BCBA, Founder and President of Healing Haven. “When children start therapies like ABA early on, they receive strategic learning opportunities that support them in the areas they need.”  

However, ABA Therapy is also beneficial for older children and teenagers. Even if a child is diagnosed later, ABA therapy could be worth looking into to learn and improve in areas that may be challenging for them. It is also important to remember that ABA Therapy isn’t automatically a lifelong commitment. Many children transition to lesser levels of therapy as they master skills.  

Is ABA Therapy covered by insurance? 

Because it is considered a behavioral health service, ABA Therapy is covered by most insurance policies. However, this can vary by plan and from state to state. In Michigan, it can vary by employer insurance plans, so it is important to call your insurance provider. It is important to discuss the specifics of what is and what is not covered by your plan as it pertains to ABA Therapy services in your location. More information about this can be found when you search “Autism Spectrum Disorder Health Coverage” on your state government website. For example, Michigan’s explanation of autism health coverage is found here. The Autism Alliance of Michigan is also a great resource for parents navigating insurance coverage. 

We hope this information is helpful as you navigate therapy options for your child. To learn more about Healing Haven’s ABA Therapy programs for children and teens up, contact us today