Summer Break: 5 Ways to Help Your Child with Autism Thrive

summer break fun for kids with autism

Many kids love the break summer brings – a relaxed schedule, sleeping in, a variety of activities like the pool, summer camps, and vacation. But for a child with autism (and their parents) the lack of the regulated school schedule can cause major struggles over summer break.

Having a predictable schedule helps kids on the autism spectrum make sense of their world. Knowing what to expect from day to day and even hour to hour helps reduce anxiety. So as a parent, how do you facilitate a summer break that provides the structure your child with autism needs, while also incorporating fun summer activities we love?

5 Ways to Help Your Child With Autism Thrive Over Summer Break

Create a Summer Schedule

Use visuals to show what your child’s “typical” weekdays, weekends, vacations and holidays will be on a calendar. Another great tool is to make a “typical day” schedule to show when they should get up, get dressed and eat meals. Also include activities and outings for the day. So if you plan to go to the pool or library on certain days – put them in the schedule to show them what to expect. And for days at home, read on for how to have a schedule on those days too. 

Review the schedule each day, or the night before, so they know what is coming up. Doing so will help to reduce the anxiety involved with the unknown. Here is one example from the Reading Mama that’s available for download. And a quick Google or Pinterest search will offer a variety of options.

Create a Back Up Plan

Work on teaching your child about a back up plan or “Option A” and “Option B”. If your schedule is to go to the pool tomorrow but thunderstorms are in the forecast, talk with them about a back up plan. Reviewing with them what you will do if they can’t do what’s on the schedule will help reduce behaviors associated with a “change in plans”.

Be Disciplined

If you stay home with your child in the summer it’s easy to get too relaxed and let go of any set schedule. But the more you can stick to a routine for meals, bed time and wake up time, and limiting screen time (see the next tip for more on this), the more well-regulated your child will hopefully be.

Create a Summer Vacation Rules Chart

The never-ending requests for the iPad, video games and TV are exhausting. Manage these requests – to a degree – with a Summer Vacation Rules list. The chart spells out a list of things they need to do BEFORE they get to use any technology. Some “rule” options include tasks like getting dressed and brushing teeth. Or include chores like making their bed, cleaning their room, and more advanced chores for older kids. You can also have a rule for playing – inside and outside for specific amounts of time. Additionally, include some academic work that is age appropriate – reading for 30 minutes, math work, or coloring for 20 minutes. Here’s one example from Thirty Handmade Days.

Also check out our post 5 Ways to Manage Screen Time for Children with Autism for more helpful ideas on ways to help manage screen time.

Start An Annual Tradition

Celebrate the end of the school year and the start of summer. Plan an activity or treat that you can repeat every year. Make their favorite dinner (or go to their favorite restaurant if that is an option for your family), or go out for ice cream. Or plan a fun activity like a trip to the zoo, visiting their favorite playground or making a picnic lunch to have at a special park or beach. Do something that you can repeat each year on the last day of school/first day of summer break. This creates a positive rhythm to the start of summer.

We hope these ideas help you create some structure AND fun for you and your family this summer! What are some ways you survive the summer months with your child with autism? We’d love to hear them!

5 Ways to Support Autism Acceptance Month

Autism Acceptance Month

Autism Acceptance Month

It’s April, and during this month at Healing Haven, we, along with many others, celebrate Autism Acceptance Month. And seventeen years ago, the United Nations established April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day.

However, autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), isn’t new. According to the CDC the prevalence rate of autism is 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with ASD. In other words, autism is more common than many may realize!

In 2021 Autism Awareness Month changed to be called Autism Acceptance Month. With autism becoming more common, the shift from awareness to acceptance is important. Awareness goes only so far and without action is meaningless.

So how can we take action?

1. Learn about Autism

Considering the diagnosis statistics, you probably know at least one child or family impacted by autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that can impair communication and social interaction. Individuals with autism often display repetitive behaviors, obsessive interests, communication challenges and may have learning difficulties. However, autism is a broad spectrum, and individuals can have a vast array of abilities and struggles.

Likewise, it’s important to know that not all individuals with autism look or act a certain way. Some may express themselves in a distinctly different way than most neurotypical people, whether through body language, speech, or body movements. But for many, you may not even know they have autism. Nevertheless, just because an individual’s autism may not be noticeable doesn’t mean they don’t have unique needs.

Check out these resources to continue your autism self-education:

Autism Alliance of Michigan

https://autismallianceofmichigan.org/

National Autism Association

https://nationalautismassociation.org/

2. Reach Out and Listen to Parents of a Child with Autism

Parents who have a child with autism often battle stress and isolation. Their child may be prone to challenging behavior outside of a strict routine, thus disrupting gatherings, which means invitations to social events may not be plentiful.

Invite a parent of a child with autism out to coffee or a meal and be a listening ear. Ask questions to learn how you can support them. Invite their family over and prepare any accommodations needed for their child. These actions will show parents you care.

3. Talk to Children about Accepting Individuals Who are Different

You may be out with your child and see another child engaging in stereotypical “autistic” behaviors. Children (and adults) often stare and feel uncomfortable. Instead of telling your child to stop staring, use the experience as an opportunity for discussion. You could say, “It looks like he/she is feeling happy/sad. Sometimes, people show how they feel in different ways. What do you do when you feel (insert emotion)?”

Additionally, your child may have an autistic classmate. Discuss how we all have differences, and some differences are more noticeable than others. Together, come up with ways to befriend them and include them in activities.

4. Recognize Strengths Rather than just Difficulties of People with ASD

While autistic individuals face many challenges, as well as their parents, their challenges do not define them. In fact, people with ASD often possess many incredible strengths and unique traits. For example, people with autism often have intense interests in one area, such as animals, music, or numbers. Autistic people’s passion for these interests can take them far in life and many have succeeded in great ways. And this story of one of our clients (and his Behavior Technician) learning to play the piano in our clinic is sure to encourage you.

People with autism can also possess a plethora of positive qualities such as the ability to deeply focus, fact retention, attention to detail, and high intelligence. They are complex and gifted individuals who offer a unique perspective of the world.

5. Advocate for Parents and Individuals

Show your support in social settings involving individuals with autism or parents of children with autism. If a parent is trying to access accommodations for their child in a school, religious or community setting, advocate for them. Listen and share your voice to help influence the decision makers.

Throughout this month, how will you look for ways to advocate for those with autism? You can even make it a family challenge and discuss what you discover.

Be sure to check out the blogs listed below for further education on autism and support for parents. We are in their corner and yours as we work toward a world with more awareness and acceptance.

Additional Reading on Autism Acceptance:

Autism Acceptance and Changing Perceptions

Never Underestimate Individuals with Autism

Healing Haven Hosting Open House

Life Skills Living Room
Healing Haven Life Skills Clinic Open House

We are excited to announce the addition of a fourth clinic on our one-of-a-kind autism therapy campus! To recognize Autism Acceptance Month and celebrate our new clinic opening, we are inviting families, doctors, school professionals, therapists and job seekers to attend our Open House Thursday, April 4 from 5-7 PM. Our brand new Life Skills Clinic expands on our existing services to support teens and young adults.

Additionally, we are excited to have one of our former ABA clients join us for this event. Christian graduated from our ABA therapy program and is now a senior in high school. He does a mix of Culinary Arts Vocational School and traditional High School. Chris also works one-on-one with a private chef on Saturdays to expand his training. Chris told his Mom when he was in middle school that he wanted to be a pastry chef and now he is realizing his dream with his culinary arts certifications and his own business, Christian’s Creative Cakes. We are honored to showcase Christian’s talents with his tasty, and allergy-friendly cupcakes, during this night celebrating individuals with autism and our new Life Skills clinic opening.

One-of-a-kind Autism Therapy Campus

Healing Haven is family owned, allowing us to place a greater emphasis on quality of care. Our innovative autism therapy campus for ABA Therapy, Speech & Occupational Therapies, Developmental Testing and Counseling is one-of-a-kind in Metro Detroit. We have four clinics creatively designed to support individuals ages 2 through young adulthood. We also provide developmental testing and autism evaluations.

Attendees of our Open House will have the opportunity to tour our brand-new Life Skills Clinic space, as well as the other clinics upon request. You will meet our Leadership Team and ABA Clinical Managers. In addition, you can connect with the heads of our Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Counseling and Testing and Assessments Departments.

Who Should Attend the Open House?

Parents

Parents in search of autism therapy supports for their children are welcome to attend the Open House. Additionally, parents with concerns about their child’s development our welcome to come ask questions about our evaluation process. You will leave empowered with information, which is the first step in knowing how to best support your child to be all they can be!

Pediatricians, Teachers and Therapists

Professionals working with individuals with autism and pediatricians are encouraged to attend. You will learn about the supports available to your patients and students.

Job Seekers

In addition, our HR Team will also be available for potential job seekers. Please stop by if you want to learn more about career opportunities working with children and teens with autism.

What to Expect?

Mark your calendars to join us at our Open House Thursday, April 4 from 5-7 PM. Attendees should arrive at our Life Skills Clinic at 30701 Barrington St. Suite 125, Madison Heights. Join us for refreshments, connect with our leadership team and community members, and learn more about our new clinic and innovative autism therapy services.

For more information contact us or call us at 248-965-3916. And please share this opportunity with your connections who would benefit from learning about our unique blend of services.

Our team is looking forward to a great evening and we hope to see you there!

Developing Relationships on the Autism Spectrum 

developing loving relationships when you have autism
mom hugging son

In the United States, our culture has predetermined ideas of what love looks like between parent and child as well as between adults. As most of us have experienced, relationships can be complicated, autism or not. And developing relationships when you have autism is just as important as it is for those who don’t. Autism can cause differences in communication, understanding of context and sensory perceptions. As a result, people often believe that individuals with autism don’t understand or even require love and loving relationships. However, that is simply not the case.  

The expression of love starts at a very early age as parents and others are teaching skill sets that children will need for the rest of their lives. Here in our clinics our team witnesses the many ways kids with autism connect with their therapists and show love. And, as professionals deeply invested in the wellness of our clients and their families, many of our team members read and learn about some of the less commonly discussed aspects of life on the spectrum — and that includes love. 

In this post we share some wisdom from our President & Founder, Jamie McGillivary. She shares what love for someone with autism may look like and how to help foster the ability to develop loving relationships. 

Start with understanding and acceptance 

Because love is universal and not limited by age, we will start with a couple of concepts about love on the spectrum for parents and loved ones to consider. 

First, it’s important to recognize there is a notable difference between feeling love and behaving in a loving way. And this difference applies to everyone, not only those with autism. Jamie says that when we consider autism as a way of being, rather than a disorder, an individual’s response to love makes a lot more sense. Essentially, loving behavior can look very different from one person to the next. Just because a person isn’t comfortable with hugging or kissing, doesn’t mean they don’t feel love. 

Second, individuals don’t have to excel at recognizing the emotions of others to have emotions of their own. Jamie points out a great irony regarding this idea. “As therapists, we teach the skills of putting yourself into another’s shoes, but, as so-called neurotypical people, do we do this when interacting with people with autism?”  

This concept is called “theory of mind”. It is the ability to understand the experiences of others, even if they don’t coincide with our own. For those of us who don’t have autism, we can show the greatest amount of love simply by extending understanding and acceptance. 

Expressing and receiving love 

Parents can gain a lot of understanding about how their child with autism, as well as anyone else in their lives, shows and accepts love by reading The Five Love Languages, a book series by Gary Chapman. There is a kid’s version too. 

The 5 Love Languages

Everyone has a preference as to what feeling loved means for them. The 5 Love Languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. You can learn more about each of the five love languages through Champman’s book, as well as in our post 5 Ways to Express Love to Your Child with Autism

Learning how your child expresses and receives love is an important skill. Jamie provides this example, “You can learn about your child’s love languages by observing their behavior. Are they in your space, do they say ‘mom, mom, mom, mom, mom’? This gives you a clue that they need you to fill their bucket with quality time.” 

If you sense that your child is feeling less connected, it might be that you or others aren’t communicating in their preferred love language. Receiving a gift can mean very little to someone who craves praise and acknowledgment. Some kids with autism want hugs but will never give them from the front. Thay may need a hug from the back or the side for it to be acceptable to them on a sensory level. 

Additionally, a common misconception is that kids with autism don’t want to be social. In reality, they may feel disconnected because you are not communicating in a way that’s meaningful to them. 

A common scenario most parents can relate to is when a preschooler wants to play with a peer but doesn’t know how to express they want to play.  So instead, they kick over the peer’s just-completed block tower. And the reverse of this is when a child asks another to come play but is ignored by the nonverbal child. The children in both scenarios have a need and a desire to be with each other. But unfortunately aren’t able to communicate it in a way that the other understands. 

This is called “negative reciprocal actions,” and when they add up, the person trying to connect eventually gives up. Socially, this is where we see a difference. Kids with autism express their needs on their own terms.  It’s important to learn how to speak their language of love.  

Setting a relational foundation 

As parents, you are the first role models for loving relationships. If you are accepting and open to your child’s differences, it opens the door to enter your child’s world. Follow your child’s lead and be a detective in how they communicate with you. When you figure that out, you will get more back in return. 

By recognizing your child’s way of connecting with others, it goes beyond your own parent/child relationship. You are helping them express their need for love to others. This sets the stage for teaching pivotal social interactions that can help them make deep friendships and develop loving relationships. Developing a connection with your child – or grandchild, friend, relative or love interest — with autism, is possible. The key is figuring out how they express and receive love.. 

Holiday Stress Management Tips for Autism Families

The holiday season can be full of wonderful activities, parties and family gatherings. But there is also an added level of stress during the holidays because of the extra “hustle and bustle”. Shopping, baking, decorating, wrapping and hosting – how much can we add to our plates? And when you are also parenting a child with autism or other special needs, the demands of the holidays can become overwhelming. With input from our Counselors on staff, we’ve compiled some holiday stress management tips to help you enjoy this season. 

Holiday Stress Management Tips

1. Acceptance

Something that may seem obvious is the ability to accept your child as they are and be flexible about their needs. An acceptance mindset can be a significant driver to reducing your overall stress. Mentally prepare yourself that during this busy season your child may engage in more self-soothing behaviors to cope with the changes in their routine and added stress. They also may not want to interact with all the extra family and friends that you see this time of year. Giving your child some control and choices may help as well. You can offer controlled choices about the time they go and leave from gatherings, if they want to go somewhere, or where some decorations should go. 

2. Flexibility

Also look at your own expectations around the holidays and try to be more flexible.  Realize that it’s OK that your child may not feel the same way about the holidays as other kids. Your child may not like the traditional holiday activities, so stop and ask yourself the motivation behind doing something (like taking a picture with Santa). If the motivation is that it’s a “childhood tradition”, it’s not worth having your child stress out, panic or go into a full meltdown getting near Santa. Try to develop a flexible mindset. If you have to make a last-minute change because your child becomes over stimulated, that’s not only supporting your child and their needs, but also a self-care practice for you! 

3. Set Boundaries

You know your child and how and where they are at their best. If your entire family is gathering at Grandma’s house, there are ways you can still participate. Plan to stay for an hour so that you leave before your child reaches their sensory maximum. It may be helpful to communicate ahead of time the boundaries you are setting with your family members to avoid any misunderstanding. Here is a great resource to share with family or friends who are hosting holiday gatherings. And thanking them for understanding the choices you need to make will help them to feel appreciated for being flexible. 

You could also plan to arrive at gatherings early in order to allow your child to slowly acclimate to the number of people showing up in real-time, which could help make them feel less overwhelmed. 

4. Say No

With so many invitations, activities and options presented to us during the holidays, we can end up finding ourselves in situations that may take away from the enjoyment. Furthermore, saying yes to an event when you actually want to say no can lead to feeling overwhelmed and also experiencing resentment. If you know your child will not do well at someone’s house, you can kindly decline an invitation. Remember, all you need to say is “I am sorry, we cannot make it – thank you for the invitation.” You do not need to give a reason or explain why you cannot make it to the event. It can be hard to say no, but if it will reduce the stress in your life, you need to do it for your own sanity. 

5. Pace It Out

Decorating your home for Christmas can be fun for some, but sensory overload for others. If you gradually get your decorations out, your child can acclimate to the new lights, smells and sounds slowly. Progressively introducing new decor into the living areas of the house allows your child to gradually adapt to the environment. Otherwise, you risk overloading them with the changes all at one time. 

It may also be useful to take time to familiarize your child with the destination or venue of any gathering as well as the guests that will be attending. This can be done through photos or preparing a photo album they can hold and refer to during the event, as well as reviewing it beforehand. This can help reduce the chance of surprises and help them feel comfortable in knowing the environment and people they will see.   

6. Find Balance

An important holiday stress management tip is to work in some quiet, soothing activities with your kids to help them balance all the additional sensory input that comes during this time of year. And those quiet moments can benefit you, too. Furthermore, find balance in the ability to indulge in the yummy treats of the season without feeling guilty. It is common for healthy eating habits to take a backseat this time of year. But if you can balance out the sweets indulgence by increasing your water intake each day, you may feel more positive about enjoying the holiday treats. 

It’s also important to make sure to set some time aside to indulge in self-care activities that help you relax, have fun, or feel energized. These activities could include talking with a friend, going for a walk, reading, listening to music, or whatever else you enjoy. The important part of self-care is not so much what you do – it’s that you make time do it.   

7. Keep Structure

You and your child have schedules – daily, nightly, weekly routines. Keep as many things consistent as possible. For example, if you have self-care activities such as attending a workout class or getting your nails done, keep that commitment even during the busyness of the holidays. If your child has a nightly routine of taking a bath before bed, leave the holiday event with enough time to allow your kiddo to complete their routine. Keeping your typical agendas will set you and your family up for success during this often hectic time. And if a change in your child’s routine is unavoidable, creating a holiday visual schedule can help them prepare and process what is coming. Here’s another great resource for holiday social stories and visual schedules

8. Avoid Perfectionism

So many caregivers are perfectionists by nature and the holidays can intensify the desire for things to be “just right.” Though this may be difficult, try and focus on the big picture of the holiday season by avoiding getting caught up in the little details. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect, write it down or say it out loud – “things do not need to be perfect this holiday season!” 

9. Consider Dietary Restrictions

As you likely already know, autistic individuals are more likely than others to have dietary restrictions. This is something to be aware and mindful of, as well as make known to others so that your child isn’t excluded in that sense. Even if there are no dietary restrictions, having preferred food items around for your child can be an effective tool in helping them remain calm and comfortable in stressful situations. With this said, also be mindful of extreme amounts of sugar available and accessible, as this could also heighten stress and anxiety during the holidays.  

10. Sleep!

This is a small one and may seem somewhat of a cliché, but getting enough sleep is so important for stress management- especially around the holidays. With all the things we have to get done during the holidays, sleep often gets neglected. But we also know that lack of sleep makes most people more vulnerable to irritability, mood changes, etc. Protect your time to sleep by prioritizing what needs to get done today verses what can wait until tomorrow so that you aren’t sacrificing sleep to get things done. Do your best to ensure that your child gets enough sleep, as well, as this can make a huge difference in their energy and behavior.  

Some of these holiday stress management tips may seem easier said than done. But we hope that you find at least a few of them helpful and easy to incorporate into your holiday season. Even if it’s just hearing that you CAN say no and set boundaries… doing so just may lead to a less stressful and more enjoyable season! 

And if you find your stress level increasing into the new year, our Counseling program helps parents of kids with autism, as well as children and teens on the spectrum. Contact us for more info. 

If you found these holiday stress management tips helpful, please share this post with others! 

Thankfulness and the Benefits of Gratitude

As we move into this season that places emphasis on gratitude and thankfulness, it can feel increasingly difficult to identify what we are grateful for given the ways of the world. Within the past few years, especially, it has been a time of increased stress, financial strain and even significant loss for many. We recognize that. But now more than ever it is important to stop to consider what you have to be grateful for. Whether it’s your health, your friends and family, career, your home, or something else, we hope you can identify at least one thing. So even with all the uncertainty in our world, we want to share this important information on the benefits of gratitude. 

The Benefits of Gratitude

The effects of practicing gratitude have been studied for roughly 15 years. As detailed below, practicing gratitude can directly impact our stress levels. One of our core beliefs here at Healing Haven is the importance of stress management for parents and caregivers, as well as for our staff. Whether you write thank you notes, keep a gratitude journal, or give a verbal expression of thankfulness to someone, you will experience many benefits both physically and mentally. And the practice of gratitude can have long term benefits throughout the year. 

Sleep Better

Many research studies show that having an attitude of gratitude helps individuals have a better quality of sleep. People experience falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. So, if quality sleep is a struggle, try writing down specific things you are grateful for. Taking a few minutes to do this before bed can have a positive impact on your sleep. 

Reduce Stress

Research reveals that people who practice gratitude are better able to manage the stressors that come in life. It could be that getting more sleep helps you handle stress better. Or it could be the dopamine that is released in your brain when you express thankfulness. 

In our line of work with individuals with autism and their families, we know how hard it can seem to be thankful due to the many areas of life that are made more challenging with an autism diagnosis. However, if you’re able to recognize and be thankful for the little things, you’ll experience the impact of a grateful mindset. 

Ease Depression 

There are specific gratitude exercises that can help ease depression. Experiments asking people to take part in an exercise to list three good moments or things at the end of each day reveal improvements in depression and overall happiness. Gratitude can reduce numerous toxic emotions like envy, resentment, regret, frustration and more, leading to an improved outlook on life. 

Healthier Body 

Researchers asked people how likely they were to participate in healthy behaviors like going to the doctor, exercise and healthy eating. They also asked them to rate their levels of gratitude. As reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found correlations between healthy behaviors and gratitude, suggesting that expressing thanks has a connection with people taking care of their bodies.  

Additionally, self-esteem studies reveal that gratitude can strengthen self-esteem by reducing social comparisons. A contributing factor in low self-esteem is being resentful toward others who have more money or better jobs. Those who practice gratitude regularly can more easily appreciate other people’s accomplishments, while simultaneously having security in their own self-worth, as opposed to those who don’t practice gratitude. 

There are so many benefits to having a grateful way of life that we can’t possibly list them here. This article on HelpGuide.org does a great job of listing and explaining the many benefits of gratitude! 

Incorporating Gratitude Into Your Life

Are you realizing you need to practice more gratitude in your life? If you’re looking for easy ways to get started, we’ve got you covered with these tips:

  1. Start and end your day with it. Say out loud one thing you’re grateful for in the morning and one thing right before you go to sleep.
  2. Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal – note one or more things you’re grateful for on a daily basis and write down your positive thoughts throughout the day.
  3. Switch it up. If you become aware of the negative of something or someone, switch it in your brain to a positive.
  4. Share it with others. Give at least one compliment or “thank you” daily. This can either be directly to someone or simply about your surroundings (I love how quiet the office is today.) And if you thank a coworker for a job well done, it may spread to others to recognize great work.
  5. Spare us the drama. Commit to not complaining, criticizing or gossiping for one week. This exercise may help you to realize how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts.

We hope these ideas help spark more gratitude in your life. But if you find yourself still struggling, please reach out for help! The numbers of people experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress is on a constant increase due to what’s happening in our world. Don’t go through this alone. We always have qualified counselors on staff that may be able to help you. Alternatively, consider reaching out to a friend for support. Remember – it’s OK to ask for help! 

Top Gifts for Autistic Kids and Teens

top gifts for autistic kids and teens
top gifts for autistic kids and teens

Do you enjoy shopping for gifts for the holidays? Some relish the hunt for the “perfect gift”, while others stress over what to get their family and friends. And when you have a child or loved one on the autism spectrum, you may think finding a gift is even more challenging. However, it doesn’t have to be. We have created several gift guides over the years for those with autism (linked below), and this year we are continuing the tradition. We know parenting and caring for someone diagnosed with autism can add extra levels of stress, so we’re taking the challenge out of finding gifts for autistic kids and teens.

Let Their Interests Guide You

Here are a few things to keep in mind: Every autistic child or teen is unique, so remember to consider their individual interests. If they have an obsession with dinosaurs, trains, music, Legos or a certain super hero, then go with what they love! You can also consider supporting their development with gifts that will help them with communication, fine motor, socialization and sensory needs. And if the gift combines both their unique interest and a developmental need, then you’ve struck gold! Additionally, you don’t always have to go with the age recommendation for the toy or game. What is more important to consider is the child’s interest and where they are developmentally right now.

Creative Play and Fine Motor Development

These gift ideas are great for creative play, while also using their hands for fine motor skill development.

  • Playfoam is a foam material that can be shaped into anything, will not dry out, is non-stick and not messy! Kids can squeeze and mold it into all kids of shapes.
  • Kinetic Sand is a popular item because of it’s non-messy nature as well as all the fun ways you can build and create with it.
  • Legos are a popular toy for autistic kids. Lego groups for autistic teens and kids are used in therapy to develop communication and social skills. The limitless ways you can build and create with them, along with the way they develop fine motor dexterity and strength make these an awesome gift for all kids!
  • There are several popular magnet building toys. However, Magz-Bricks are different than the usual flat, triangle, square and rectangle magnets, providing a new way to create and use your hands!

Sensory Gift Ideas

Many kids and teens on the autism spectrum have sensory needs. The following gift ideas are wonderful resources to support their sensory needs: This Thomas and Friends Pop-Up Train Tent is a great way to provide a quiet respite for kids who may become overstimulated. And if they love trains, even better!

An Inflatable Pea Pod will help a child who benefits from pressure (being squeezed and hugged). This one is designed for children ages 6-12 and this one if for little ones ages 2-6. These pressure tools can help them calm down before bed, or if they become overly stimulated. And a pressure vest may be a great option for teenagers.

For kids who move a lot, keeping their fingers busy with fidgets is a great way to help them focus. This unique weighted glove is great for sensory input, and it also provides proprioceptive input (stimulates muscles and joints) during handwriting. Not to mention it looks cool! You could also go with a sensory bundle pack to provide a variety ways to keep their hands busy and help them focus. And if your child has trouble sitting still, an inflatable seating disc may help them with attention and focus.

Communication

Many autistic children and teens have communication delays. Our amazing team of speech pathologists put together a list of toys and books and the communication goals to target when playing with them. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Potato head provide a wide array of speech and language development from receptive and listening skills to practicing two word phrases, using pronouns and more.

National Autism Resources

For a plethora of more gift ideas for autistic teens and kids, check out the National Autism Resources website for games to develop social skills, tools to build independence, and many more incredible ideas.

Remember the Parents

Let’s face it, parents of autistic kids and teens are often under additional stress and juggle more than parents of neurotypical children. So if you’re a grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend of a child or teen on the autism spectrum, consider a gift for their parents! Something that encourages self-care, like a massage or a mani/pedi. Or even a gift card for carry out dinner takes some stress off their plate. You could also give the gift of your time for the opportunity to get out of the house without kids!

Hopefully these ideas are helpful in finding a gift for your child, grandchild, niece or nephew. And if you’re local to us here in Metro Detroit and want to support a local business, there’s a great option for your shopping.   Toyolgy Toys has locations in Royal Oak, West Bloomfield and Bloomfield Hills, and they have website ordering available, as well as curbside pick up.

And for more gift ideas, here are the links to check our other gift guides: 

Great Gift Ideas for Kids with Autism

2019 Gift Guide for Kids with Autism

Gift Ideas for Kids with Autism

And if you have a gift idea for an autistic child or teen, please share it in the comments below!

The Value of Occupational Therapy for Kids With Special Needs

Children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs often benefit from occupational therapy (OT), to support many areas of their development. Occupational therapy is typically characterized as exclusively addressing fine motor strength and coordination. However, there are many other areas of a child’s development that occupational therapy can positively impact. Skills OT’s work on include balance, core strength, body awareness, sensory regulation, executive functioning, attention, and greater independence with participation in school and self-care.  

The benefits of occupational therapy for children with special needs are numerous. Occupational Therapists are skilled in using a variety of strategies to address motor development, self-regulation and sensory needs. Additionally, they work on social participation, adaptive skills, and daily life skills. This means activities like brushing teeth, toileting, opening containers, writing, and getting dressed. OTs also incorporate sensory integration techniques to help children who struggle with sensitivity to touch and clothing textures, light and sound sensitivity, as well as balance and body positioning in space.  

Occupational therapy for children with special needs is built upon a foundational belief that children learn best through engaging in their natural “occupation” of play. Their goal is that the “work” should be FUN! They use a variety of play-based materials such as yoga balls, animal walks, scooter boards, swings, obstacle courses, and resistive tunnels to address gross motor skills. They also incorporate board games, crafts, and other manipulatives to teach fine motor coordination through play. It’s obvious our OTs enjoy building a variety of skills through fun and engaging child-centered activities. A constant cycle of assessment and treatment through engagement in such activities allows children to keep advancing their skills in a developmentally natural progression.   

Occupational Therapy at Healing Haven

As our ABA Therapy services grew, we added additional therapies to support our clients’ development. Doing so also provides one service location for parents.  We first added Speech Therapy and then in 2018, we added Occupational Therapy services. This provides collaboration opportunities among the professionals supporting a child. In fact, all our OTs receive ABA training and know how to work collaboratively with our BCBAs and RBTs.  

From the Beginning

Our first OT on staff has a long history working with our Founder Jamie McGillivary. Long before she ever ever considered studying to become an Occupational Therapist, Julie worked with Jamie at Beaumont’s HOPE Center. She was the Motor Room Expert in the Parent Training Program. She later went on to manage the summer programs in the early days of Healing Haven.

From Behavior Therapist to Occupational Therapist

Julie first met Jamie through a family she worked with more than 20 years ago doing in-home therapy and respite care. This family motivated her to work with individuals with autism and their families full-time. As a result of that experience, Julie studied to become a BCaBA – Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. After several years working in ABA Therapy, she decided to pursue education to become an Occupational Therapist.

Julie

As Healing Haven grew and Julie studied to become an OT, she knew from her previous experience of working with Jamie, that she wanted to return to work here. She rejoined Healing Haven in January 2018 after receiving her Master’s in Occupational Therapy from Eastern Michigan. Her years of experience in ABA combined with her education and training as an Occupational Therapist are a powerful combination.

Julie describes her current role as her “dream job”. The primary reason she was drawn back to Healing Haven is that “the kids are so much fun!” She likes the saying ‘when you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism’. The reason is she has witnessed it lived out. Each child is unique, and Julie loves the challenge of discovering what motivates them. Julie also appreciates how the staff acknowledge each other for hard work. “I could not ask for better people to surround me each day.” 

Expanding Our OT Services

As our ABA Therapy clinic grew into two clinics, and then to three clinics, serving kids from 2-16 years old, we recognized the need to also grow our Occupational Therapy services. Over the past five years we have added several more highly qualified and passionate Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants to our team. Their breadth of experience are a tremendous asset to our clients. Many of them have years of experience working with children with special needs. 

Maddie

Occupational Therapist at Healing Haven

Maddie Gildner, MSOT, OTR/L joined our OT team in  early 2023. She graduated with her Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University in December of 2022.   

Maddie has always enjoyed working with the pediatric population, and she’s passionate about providing fun, effective, and client-centered care. Maddie “looks forward to partnering with and supporting children and their families to help them be as independent as possible in their daily lives.”  

Jacey

COTA at Healing Haven

Jacey Lacanilao, COTA/L, is a licensed occupational therapy assistant who joined our team in November of 2021. She graduated from Macomb Community College with an Associates of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy degree in March of 2021. Healing Haven is her first place of employment in her COTA career. 

Jacey has always had a passion for working with children with special needs. She emphasizes that no two kids are the same, and that each comes with their own fun personality. “Being a part of the journey that helps our kids grow into independent individuals is one of the best feelings,” Jacey says.  

In her free time, Jacey loves to play volleyball, spend time with family, hang out with friends, eat, and travel.  

Anna

Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Healing Haven

Anna Weir, COTA/L joined the Healing Haven team in February of 2022. She graduated from Northwood University with a Bachelor of Business Management and an MBA in Project Management. However, after accruing experience working with children and raising her own family, she discovered her passion for the field of occupational therapy. She obtained her Occupational Therapy Assistant degree from Macomb Community College. 

Fueled by the joy and determination of the children she works with, Anna thrives in the pediatric realm due to its variety and because it “allows me to use my creativity to motivate, teach, and promote daily life skills.” 

In her free time, Anna enjoys horse riding, hiking, kayaking, swimming, playing tennis with her daughters, acrylic painting, piano, pilates, yoga and walking her family’s dog, Chloe.  

Kaitlyn

Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Healing Haven

Kaitlyn Wynne, COTA/L, is a licensed occupational therapy assistant who joined our team in February of 2022. She graduated from Macomb Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program in 2021, having earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wayne State University prior.  

Kaitlyn is passionate about what she does, saying she loves “to create a challenging and nurturing environment for kids to inspire confidence and build the skills needed to meet their goals.”  

When Kaitlyn is not at work, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, watching movies, and being outdoors.  

Gabrielle

COTA/L

Gabrielle Brod, COTA/L, is a certified occupational therapy assistant. After graduating from Macomb Community College in 2021, Gabrielle joined our team in July of 2022.  

Gabrielle’s experience consists of working with a variety of clients aged 2 to 80 years old in settings such as pediatric summer camps, outpatient mental health facilities, and acute care facilities.  

In her free time, Gabrielle likes to hang out with her family and “go on different adventures with them.”  

Alexys

Alexys Anderson, MSOT, OTR/L joined our team in April of 2024, shortly after graduating from Grand Valley State University. With experience gathered from the school-based setting and inpatient rehabilitation, her role at Healing Haven is one of the first in her Occupational Therapist career.

The creativity involved in pediatric OT to make sessions fun and engaging is what fuels Alexys’ passion for the type of work she does. “I am constantly learning new things and the kids make each day a little brighter,” she said.

Outside of work, Alexys enjoys being physically active, hanging out with friends and family and spending time at her family’s cabin.

Getting Started With OT

Healing Haven offers occupational therapy for kids with special needs within our clinics and via telehealth. In clinic provides one service location for parents seeking behavioral, speech and occupational therapy for their child. Additionally, OT services are open to individuals not participating in our behavior-based therapy programs. If your child needs occupational therapy, reach out to us! Fill out our Contact Us form, or give us a call at 248-965-3916.

Halloween and Autism: 6 Tips to Prepare Your Child

Halloween is usually a favorite holiday for kids – candy, costumes, parties at school – what’s not to love? But for a child with autism, Halloween holds the potential for anxiety and irritation – itchy costumes anyone? Everything is “out of the norm” and most kids with autism thrive on routine. Our team here at Healing Haven incorporates the holiday into our therapy to help our kids learn to enjoy Halloween. So we’ve compiled some tips for families navigating Halloween and autism, to help you and your child  have a wonderful, and not frightful, holiday!

Make the Unknown Known

Talk to your child about Halloween for a few weeks ahead of time so when the day comes it’s not a surprise. Show pictures of kids in costumes, download social stories about Halloween, play videos of children trick-or-treating, etc. If you create a social story and have pictures of your kid(s) from past years, that can help to remind them of what this holiday is about.

Practice Wearing Costumes

By having a “dress rehearsal” you can help your child adjust to the uniqueness of wearing a costume. Costumes can make you hot, be itchy, feel tight. If their costume has a mask, they may struggle with seeing and hearing, make them sweat and their head itch. Costume practice is an element we incorporate into our therapy. We ask parents to send in their child’s costume a week ahead of time so we can work with them to tolerate it. For children with severe sensory issues, maybe make something homemade out of their clothes. For example, a black cat using black leggings with a tail attached to the back, and a black long sleeve t-shirt is super easy. But in the end, it’s also OK if your child just refuses to wear a costume at all. Get them a Halloween t-shirt and call it good!

Do a Neighborhood Walk Through

You know the houses who have the large inflatable Frankenstein, or have skeletons hanging all over their porch. A walk through your neighborhood at night – or the area you plan to trick-or-treat, can be helpful to check out the decorations. Doing this helps you plan for any houses you might want to avoid if your child may find it scary. And if you’re walking in your neighborhood, ask your neighbors if they are planning to dress up and scare trick-or-treaters. You may want to avoid their house too!

Practice Trick-or-Treating

Teaching your child with autism about the rules of trick-or-treating is an important part of Halloween prep. By going through the steps of how trick-or-treating works, you will help them feel more comfortable and confident.  When you think about it, this is a strange tradition we have of knocking on someone’s door and getting candy. And some kids who are obsessed with rules, may find it difficult to accept this deviation in the rule of never taking candy from strangers. If they struggle with this, you may need to focus your Halloween adventures to just the houses you know.

Be specific when you practice the steps: knock on the door, say “trick-or-treat”, say “thank you”. Also, train them to not go inside the house, but go to the next house. And if your child uses an AAC device, make sure these phrases are loaded and they know where to find them. And if you want to reduce the number of things they have to carry, there is a great resource for AAC users through Teachers Pay Teachers. They are offering free, downloadable and printable AAC trick-or-treat communication bracelets!

Practicing trick-or-treating is another element we incorporate into our ABA therapy – providing a practice session of trick-or-treating before the real event. We host a family and staff trunk-or-treat so our clients have the opportunity to practice. It is a highlight every year for the families we serve and the staff!

Pair Up With a Friend

Trying to remember all the rules and customs of Halloween can be overwhelming. If your child has neurotypical friends or family members, make plans to trick-or-treat together. This provides them an example to follow. And it helps to have another set of eyes on your child with autism in the busyness, and darkness, of Halloween. Speaking of the dark, having a glow necklace or light up tennis shoes can help you identify your child more quickly.

What To Do With All That Candy?

Creating a plan for handling the trick-or-treat haul they bring home is wise. And if your child has allergies or a restricted diet, it’s absolutely necessary. You need to know how to manage the inevitable treats that will come home. If you haven’t already heard of the Teal Pumpkin Project, it’s a great way to support those with food allergies. The project focuses on providing alternate types of non-candy treats. Also, talking about the issues with Halloween candy and allergies can help prepare your child for some items not being safe for them. If your family participates in the Teal Pumpkin project, you will have some safe non-food treats that you can swap out for the ones they can’t eat.

Even if your house has no allergies, it’s good to talk about what they can do with the candy after trick-or-treating is over. Can he eat 5 pieces or 2 pieces when he gets home? How many pieces of candy can she eat per day? Talk about these “rules” ahead of time.

Be Flexible

In the end, it’s important to remember that Halloween is supposed to be fun. So if your child is overwhelmed by all the elements of trick-or-treating, don’t force them to go. They could help pass out candy, or invite a few friends over who may feel the same way. Also look for alternate Halloween activities like the Detroit Zoo’s “Zoo Boo” and Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village.

We hope these tips are helpful and reduce some of the anxiety either you, or your child, may be feeling about Halloween!

Autism Evaluation Process: What to Expect

developmental testing and autism evaluation
developmental testing and autism evaluation

Are you a parent seeking a developmental assessment or autism evaluation for your child? Or did you try have your child start ABA therapy but ran into insurance issues due to an incomplete assessment? Whatever your situation, starting the journey to support your child’s development can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing. But you are taking the right steps in seeking help for your child – and you! That is why we want to provide you with information on our autism evaluation process. Here is a detailed breakdown of how it works.

Where to Start

Maybe you are concerned about your child’s development, or your pediatrician is recommending an evaluation due to signs of communication and developmental delays. Whatever the reason, it can be confusing to know where to start. In order to access the most common therapies for autism (such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speech or occupational therapies), most insurance companies require an evaluation that includes a series of standardized assessments. Additionally, they need a report with the data of those assessments to support a concluding diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. These evaluations are typically performed by a qualified psychologist or neuropsychologist. It’s important to note that most insurance plans require something more than a simple neurologist diagnosis; neurologists do not use the standardized assessments insurance companies look for.

What to Expect

The overall evaluation process at Healing Haven is not very long. It consists of three appointments which total roughly six hours altogether (depending on the child’s age and level of skill.) The turnaround time from the first appointment to receiving the final report averages about one to two months. But it’s important to note that time can vary depending on the facility performing the testing.

However, the wait to receive the assessment is generally the biggest issue. Most facilities that offer quality evaluations have waitlists of several months or up to a year. But time is precious when it comes to a child’s development. Those several months can make a huge difference when it comes to receiving therapy supports and interventions.

One of the most impactful things you can do as a parent is obtain a clearer understanding of your child’s struggles. At Healing Haven, we try to keep all evaluations–from the time parents contact us to when they receive results–within three months. This way, if intervention is necessary, your child can access it as soon as possible.

The Autism Evaluation Process

Our autism evaluation and developmental testing process is typically divided into three appointments. These appointments are after you complete the initial intake paperwork and questionnaire.

First Appointment

During the first appointment, a parent or guardian meets with the clinician. They will discuss background information, family history, and any concerns regarding their child’s development.

Second Appointment

The second appointment involves the direct assessment of the child. The clinician utilizes several standardized assessment tools to gather objective data on the child’s skills and their behaviors. The clinician will use this data to reflect the child’s developmental progression in comparison to other children of the same age.

Third Appointment

After these two first meetings, the clinician compiles all the information gathered into a report. In the third and final meeting, the clinician goes over the report with the parent(s)/guardian(s). Based on data and historical information, this meeting will specify whether a child may fall within the criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder. If the child does not meet the criteria, parents and guardians may learn if something else is going on that better addresses their concerns (e.g. speech delay, learning impairment, anxiety, etc.)

Whether your child is on the spectrum or not, a developmental assessment provides a detailed evaluation of your child’s current level of skill and developmental status. A developmental assessment identifies factors contributing to your child’s difficulties, rules out diagnoses that may mislead treatment, and provides you with direction to address your child’s specific needs.

A developmental assessment identifies factors contributing to your child’s difficulties, rules out diagnoses that may mislead treatment, and provides you with direction to address your child’s specific needs.

What to Look for in an Autism Evaluation Provider

The most important question to ask a facility offering evaluations is, “If my child is diagnosed, will this report unlock insurance covered ABA services?” You are embarking on a lengthy process. So you are entitled to all the necessary information to access insurance covered services (if needed). Make sure you know which questions to ask of your insurance provider to understand exactly what your plan requires for ABA services.

However, many facilities that offer autism evaluations are unaware of the specific insurance requirements for ABA services. As a result, many testing facilities may be honest saying that they can provide an autism evaluation but are unsure if insurance to cover ABA services will accept the type of evaluation provided.

At Healing Haven, we’ve had countless families who had their child previously evaluated, but then found their diagnostic report was missing components insurance requires. Thankfully, some insurance companies are lenient and allow us to fill in the missing components. Other times, too many components were missing, requiring an evaluation re-do. Obviously this is time consuming and costly. It is also a significant barrier to receiving services. So again, do your best to make sure that what the testing facility offers will be sufficient for your insurance.

Insurance Plans

Healing Haven is now in network with most major insurance providers in Michigan for developmental testing and autism evaluations. We accept: Blue Cross Blue Shield (Michigan and out of state), Blue Care Network, Priority Health, HAP, Aetna, Cigna, United Healthcare and Beacon Health.

An Important Note about BCBS/BCN of Michigan

Many families in our area have insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan or Blue Care Network of Michigan. For Michigan BCBS/BCN members it is important to know that they have a list of centers for which they will accept an autism diagnosis. These specialized locations are called Approved Autism Evaluation Centers (AAEC). The AAECs are spread throughout the state, but unfortunately can have long waitlists – sometimes up to 12 months. As a result of these long waitlists, and because early intervention is so critical, BCBS of MI and BCN will accept an autism evaluation from a qualified psychologist or neuropsychologist – if it meets their standards. They call this type of evaluation a “Bridge Authorization”. This authorization serves as a place holder, allowing families to access services while they remain on a waitlist at an AAEC.

We understand how time-consuming and worrisome the autism evaluation process can be as you strive to get support for your child. But we are here for you and you are not alone in this journey. If you have questions or want to start the developmental testing or autism evaluation process, please reach out to us today!