How to Manage Your Stress in Uncertain Times


As the Coronavirus global pandemic continues to be a major crisis, we all are in uncharted territory in our lives and our country. The stay at home orders continue and schools are closed through the end of the school year here in Michigan. The unknowns can be very stressful, where do we even begin to manage this stress? In addition, taking on new responsibilities of becoming teachers to our kids, managing the complete shake up routines, some have lost jobs and income – these are all incredible stressors. We are navigating being in close quarters with the same people day after day, as well as the fear of getting this novel virus. Social distancing also causes us to miss out on important socialization and support of our community. And on top of all of this, families of kids with autism and other special needs have additional unique stressors to manage!

So where do you even begin to manage your own stress so that you can be a more effective and present parent and partner to your family? Let’s first start with understanding how stress impacts our bodies and what it can look like so you can identify it. Then we’ll look at our perspective in stressful situations and how we can direct it. And then finally we’ll provide a variety of tools and techniques to help you manage your stress.

Stress and Our Bodies

Our bodies were designed to engage in the stress response for life-threatening situations – fight, flight or freeze response. Think lions in the brush. So, even when the stressor is not life-threatening, our bodies react inside like it is. Hormones in our bodies lead us to the fight, flight or freeze response. When our stress response kicks in, our behaviors and thinking patterns becomes less flexible. Also, chronic stress breaks down the body leading to a weakened immune system and an increased likelihood of disease.

What Stress Might Look Like


  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Memory problems
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Short attention span
  • Poor judgement
  • Anxious or racing throughs
  • Constant worrying


  • Tightness in muscles
  • Aches and pains
  • Headaches, trembling, sweating
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of sleep, nightmares


  • Moodiness
  • Easily upset or hurt
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, unable to relax or keep still
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness


  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits like nail biting, pacing, etc.

5 Myths About Stress

  1. Myth: In an ideal world, there would be no stress.
    Truth: A little stress is natural and healthy and can help motivate us.
  2. Myth: What is stressful to me is stressful to you.
    Truth: Perspective, culture & personal history play a role.
  3. Myth: Only unpleasant situations are stressful.
    Truth: New job, new home & a new love can all be positive AND stressful.
  4. Myth: No symptoms, no stress.
    Truth: Symptoms are a warning sign but might not be present or you might not be tuned into symptoms.
  5. Myth: Stress is inevitable, so you can’t do anything about it.
    Truth: Techniques can be learned to prevent some stress & be less impacted by stress that you can’t control.

Perspective Is Key

Our perspective of the situation we are in is KEY. Worrying about things we cannot control is not only fruitless but can be self-destructive. There are certain behavioral patterns associated with interpreting events less stressfully:

  1. Viewing potentially stressful events as interesting and meaningful
  2. Considering change as normal and an opportunity for growth
  3. Believing oneself as capable of having influence on some events

You Have a Choice in How Your Respond to Stressful Situations

In most situations, stress begins with a thought. We may not be able to control the event, but we can control our response to the event. Our choice is to respond with curiosity, interest, and an open-mind  (solution-orientated) or to respond with a closed mind, negative, dismissive & hopeless.

More effective ways to respond to a stressful situation include:

  • Gratitude: “I appreciate….”, “I am thankful for…”
  • Acceptance: “It’s ok….”, “I can go with the flow…”
  • Discovery: “I wonder…”, “What can I learn from this?”
  • Observation: “I am noticing….”

Identifying and Understanding Your Values

80th Birthday Party Exercise

A great way to identify and understand what your values are is to think about what you would want people to say about you at your 80th birthday part. Write down the qualities and characteristics you want people to know you for. Assess what is most important in your life. When your choices are guided by the values and goals that are most important to you, your life can be full and active, yet not stressful.

The Choice Point

Your choices either take you toward who you want to be, or away from who you want to be. The Choice Point is being in a difficult moment and experiencing difficult sensations and making a choice to move towards your values or away from your values. Taking action at a point in time that leads you towards your values, leads you to a more fulfilling life. Take a look at this video – The Choice Point: A Map for a Meaningful Life.

Psychological Flexibility

As mentioned earlier, our stress response kicks in, our behaviors and thinking patterns becomes less flexible. So here are some ways we can train ourselves to have psychological flexibility.

  • Being here now means being in the present moment (as opposed to thinking of the past or the future).
  • Accepting the way I feel means not avoiding unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Instead, sitting with them, experiencing them with compassion, curiosity and acceptance until they pass.
  • Noticing my thoughts means seeing thoughts as just thoughts. They come, they go. They are just what the brain does, makes thoughts. I don’t have to buy into my thoughts. They do not define me.
  • Doing what I care about means taking action to live life in accordance with my values.

Are Your Thoughts Helpful?

Check in with your actions or ‘away moves’ that take you away from your path, sometimes they are “good”, but not for long periods of times. If you are buying in to the story your mind is telling you, first take a moment to check out its WORKABILITY. Workability is when we see if our story helps us follow the path toward our meaningful life or does it move us away?

Thank your mind for your thoughts. This means you don’t have to buy into your thoughts. You can see them for what they are, thoughts. It also means you are not trying to replace your thoughts with more desirable thoughts, nor are you trying to stop or reduce your thoughts.


Avoiding our negative feelings and thoughts will not lead us to our values but to more suffering.

Avoidance of thoughts actually increases those thoughts in both frequency and strength and therefore their burden upon us.


Instead of avoiding our thoughts and feelings, embracing the present moment and sitting with those thoughts and feelings, in a non-judgmental way, with curiosity and acceptance, helps us move toward our values. Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.

A few mindfulness resources to check out:

5 Myths of Mindfulness – Dr. Russ Harris (3:25 min)

Body Scan – Dr. Joseph Ciarrochi (27 min)

Awareness of the breath – M. Rassmusen (10 min)

Managing Your Stress

It’s important to find some relaxation methods that you can incorporate into your life for better management of your stress, which leads to better health!

Taking care of yourself

Some of these seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a good reminder that during stressful times, these basic elements can help tremendously in managing your stress.

  • Exercise – Even minimal exercise leaves you feeling better!
  • Good Food – Fuel your body with healthy foods. Whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Sleep – Find ways to get that 8 hours of sleep. Get creative if needed.
  • Be realistic with your expectations for yourself and others.
  • Have patience and grace with yourself and others.
  • Use perspective taking to help understand other people – How you express your emotions, might not be the same as others.
  • Take a moment away for yourself when you need it.

Guided Imagery & Meditation

Guided Imagery & Meditation are essentially methods of focus. Focus on the breath, on a light, on a mantra. Benefits include decreased stress, increased focus, better sleep, improved heart health and immunity. Many exercises can be found on-line. Find one that resonates with you and find a quiet place to focus on yourself.


Yoga has many variations. Find the one that fits your needs and a quiet place to practice. Yoga increases strength, flexibility and mindfulness and improves balance, focus and posture. It has been demonstrated to decrease stress, anxiety, improve health factors such as heart and immune health, improve sleep and focus. Many apps and YouTube resources are available for your quarantine time.

The Joys of Quarantine?

It may seem like an oxymoron but try to find the joys of quarantine. It could be any number of things.

  • More time with your children
  • More time to connect as a family
  • Getting back to basics
  • More time to be mindful
  • More time to ponder our values

How to Manage Your Stress Recap

Check in with your stress levels during this unprecedented time. Look to see how your perspective is influencing your thoughts. Look at your choices to respond. Remember your values and what actions lead you toward them and which ones lead you away from them. Be psychologically flexible: “I am here now, accepting the way I feel, and noticing my thoughts, while doing what I care about.” Avoidance of negative thoughts just gives them more power, acceptance is more adaptive. Utilize stress management techniques like intentional focus on taking care of yourself, mindfulness, yoga, guided imagery and more! We hope these recommendations and resources are helpful as you seek to manage your stress during these challenging days.

Need Additional Help?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Resources

ACT books

  • Get Out of Your Mind and into Your Life by Steven C. Hayes
  • The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
  • Act Made Simple by Russ Harris

Counseling Services

Seek out professional support. We and many others have telehealth counseling services available during this time. And our counselors understand the complexities of being a parent to a child with autism. Contact us today for more details.

This content is from a webinar Dr. Jennifer Badalamenti, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA, Director of Clinical Standards at Healing Haven, and Danielle Harrison, MA, LPC, Counselor at Healing Haven presented to parents. You can download a copy of the slides here.

Moving from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance


A few thoughts on Autism Awareness Month

In the United States April is Autism Awareness Month. And now in its twelfth year, April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day as established by the United Nations. You may see people wearing blue on April 2. There will be buildings lit up blue and lots of social media posts about the day. However, we at Healing Haven have a different perspective on wearing blue and autism awareness. As an organization we don’t participate in the “light it up blue” campaign for a few reasons. The primary one being the controversial work and money management practices of the organization that launched the campaign, Autism Speaks. With all of their efforts, they do little to practically support families and their needs. Here is one mother’s perspective. We put our efforts in helping shift the focus to Autism Acceptance Month. In comparison, we just celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on March 21st (3/21 – three copies of the 21st chromosome and also established by the United Nations). But this day is not only about awareness. It is a day to celebrate people with Down syndrome, while educating our global communities on their potential. It’s about supporting them with programs and therapies so they can achieve more, recognizing their achievements and changing outdated perceptions of the most commonly occurring chromosomal disorder. World Down Syndrome Day sends a message of celebration and acceptance and we believe the same should happen for individuals with autism throughout the month of April.

It’s Time for Autism Acceptance Month

With a recently updated estimate of 1 in 54 individuals diagnosed with autism, it’s time to move from awareness to acceptance. Let’s face it, most of us are “aware” of autism. The majority of us have met or know someone on the spectrum. As a result, our perspective is we need to move the focus to autism acceptance month. And not just saying “I accept individuals with autism for who they are.” Let’s demonstrate autism acceptance with action. Acceptance without action isn’t meaningful. We need to share messages of acceptance of autistic individuals, celebrate the challenges autistic people overcome every day, and push for understanding of neurodiversity. Action can look like:
  • becoming a friend to an autistic person
  • hiring a person with autism
  • reaching out to a family impacted by autism – offer to make them dinner or take a tired mom or dad out for coffee
  • share educational resources on autism this month with the hashtag #autismacceptance

Advocating Every Day

We work with and advocate for autistic people every day of the year. So one day seems like a shallow attempt to make some people feel good that they did something for autism. Throughout the year we serve autistic children and teens, and their families with the goal of helping them learn to communicate and interact with the world around them. Our holistic approach to ABA therapy looks at the entire person and how we can support their learning, communication, play and pre-vocational skills. We do that while also helping to lessen any harmful behaviors that get in the way of the individual living a full life within their family and community. If you could hear the celebrations throughout our clinics when a client asks for something they want for the first time. We cheer them on when they gain a new skill that they’ve worked on for months. And we celebrate with families when they experience accomplishments with their child that they never thought possible. So for Autism Awareness Acceptance Month, we will continue to do what we do every day. But we may shout a little louder the worth of individuals our world views as “different”! If you found this information helpful, we’d love it if you’d share it with your network!

Shelter in Place Resources for Parents

Shelter in Place Resources for Parents

We are in a rapidly-changing, unprecedented time in our world as this global health crisis spreads throughout our country. As more drastic measures are taken each day to slow the spread of COVID-19 (Coronaviurs), to “flatten the curve”, we all are scrambling to figure out this new normal. Kids are out of school, many are people working remotely, or have been temporarily laid off. And in our case, our clients are not receiving therapy until we can roll out some support to our families through telehealth services.

So what are we to do as parents, caregivers and professionals? We’ve compiled a list of resources for parents to help you navigate this extraordinary reality we are now in.

Talking with your kids about Coronavirus

First, some of your kids may be asking specifically about coronavirus, or the results of it – why they are not in school or going to therapies? Here are several resources to help.

  • PBS Kids has tools to help you talk with your children about this novel virus.
  • The Autism Educator has a free social story to simplify the message for those who need it.
  • This Psychology Today article provides some great resources and tips for explaining this global health crisis to children with autism.
  • This Washington Post article is written by a Mom of with an autistic 8 year old son.
  • And for those who may be experiencing anxiety, here is some help for addressing that too!

Creating New Routines

We all know how important routines are for kids with autism, Down syndrome, and even typical kids! And now those routines are turned upside down. So here is a free downloadable routine schedule that you can customize for your child and situation. And here are some timely activities from the same resource – A Next Comes L – with activities to do at home in the month of April.

Home Schooling

One of the biggest changes the Coronavirus has brought on us is the closing down of schools. Parents are now tasked with continuing the education of their kids! For some that may come easy, but for most, it’s a whole new world, especially if your child has an IEP! So, in addition to whatever your child’s school is providing, we’ve compiled a list of resources that address this new educational reality facing parents. (*Note: Full disclosure, I have a daughter in 3rd grade. She also has Down syndrome. We already tried a few of these resources. I highly recommend you check them out!) If you’re wondering how to structure their day, or need worksheets to keep them busy, or want some interactive online lessons, and more, take a look at these tools.

Educational Tools:

And here are some fun entertaining, while educational resources – watching webcams of animals at the National Zoo, or of sea life at the Georgia Aquarium.

Therapy Resource

If your child is not receiving their typical therapies like OT and PT, definitely check out The OT Toolbox. From fine motor activities to sensory processing resources, they some amazing supports in their Parent Toolbox! And OT/picky eater expert and blogger at Your Kids Table provides some survival tips for parents during this social distancing time.

Get Moving

Being cooped up inside all day every day will make anyone go stir crazy. So you definitely will need to work in some time to get moving. Whether you go for a walk or play in the backyard, or use one of these online resources, these are great tools to keep kids moving during this self quarantine period. Stretch, move and bring a sense of calm through yoga from Cosmic Kids. A favorite “brain break” in many schools, GoNoodle can help get the wiggles out to focus on their next task. And Fluency and Fitness combines academics with movement, reinforcing learning, while getting up and moving!

Specific To Autism

In addition to the social story linked above, here’s a list of activities to keep a teenager with autism busy while they are out of school. And above we included resources from A Next Comes L. Sign up for her newsletter to get lots of great resources during this Coronavirus shelter in place!

We have some additional resources we will be providing our client families in the coming weeks too. We are developing a stress management webinar to equip parents during this understandably stressful time. Additionally, we’re planning on a companion stress management blog post. So stay tuned for that!

We are in this together and are developing unique ways to support our community and network during this unique and trying time.

If you found this information helpful, we’d love it if you’d share it with your friends and family!

2019 Gift Guide for Kids with Autism


As we enter the holiday season, we want to take some of the stress out of gift giving, especially when it comes to kids and teens with autism. Last year we wrote a post with a variety of gift ideas from our team of BCBA’s and Occupational Therapists. So, this year we are expanding on that list and going back to our expert staff for more of their top picks. We also had a parent submit her own child-tested gift ideas! Read on for some great ideas if your holiday shopping list includes a child/teen with autism, or other developmental disability.

Sensory Input

Textured sensory balls provide a variety of benefits for sensory seeking kiddos. Recommended by one of our BCBA’s, textured sensory balls are great for fidgeting, tactile input, stress and anxiety relief and more!

A big favorite with the kids in our clinics – water beads! These are great fun for sensory input, fine motor, sorting, colors and more! 

This Pin Art Game is awesome for sensory seekers. It encourages creativity, while providing tactile input. And the bonus is there is no mess to clean up!

Giant Exercise Balls are great for kids who have trouble sitting still. Using these balls not only can help kids focus, but also works their core at the same time. They are available many places, but this one from National Autism Resources is guaranteed not to burst and is a popular one with OTs and therapists.

Get Moving

Called “River Stones”, these varying sizes of plastic stepping stones help children work on balance and coordination. They are a great get moving gift for indoor fun during our cold winter months here in Michigan!

Fine Motor

BCBA Julie recommends Magna Tiles. They are popular among many of our clients and work on fine motor, spatial and problem solving skills.

Social Skill Development

For older kids and teens who could use help in developing social skills, BCBA Batoul recommends these games available from National Autism Resources – Smart Kids Social Skills Game and this Socially Speaking Game.  And for preschool and elementary age, Hoot Owl Hoot is an award-winning cooperative game. It’s fun while teaching colors, turn-taking, strategy, shared decision making and more!

Encouraging Academics

If you’re looking to help your child with academic skills, out ream recommends the “I Can Read” books to support readers at their individual level. With a variety of subjects/character themes at various reading levels, there are plenty of options to find something your child will enjoy, while encouraging them to practice their reading skills.

Stocking Stuffers

Another one of our therapists recommends any kind of slime for great sensory input. And if your child loves playing with bubble wrap and fidgets, this Dimpl is a fun cause and effect, sensory toy for all ages.

The holidays are a also great time to restock the sensory bin with fidgets. If your child likes a variety of different items for sensory play, this Fidget Set gives you lots of options – and will definitely fill out their stocking!

Don’t Forget the Parents!

If you’re a grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend of family impacted by autism, let’s not forget the parents! They juggle so much with their child’s diagnosis and are often under additional stress. Consider a gift that encourages self-care, like a mani/pedi or a massage. Many parents of autistic children and teens could use the gift of your time for a night out without the kids.

We hope these ideas help you find not only a gift that is helpful for your child, grandchild, niece or nephew, but also something they will have fun with! For our local Metro Detroit families who want to “buy local”, a great option for many of these toys and games listed above, is Toyolgy Toys. They have several locations as well website ordering available!

If you have a gift idea for someone with autism, please share it in the comments below!

If you found this information helpful, we’d love it if you’d share it with your network!

Autism Testing and Evaluation Services


With the increasing demand for autism testing and evaluation services, we are expanding to include this in our range of services. Our new Psychometrician can administer a variety of evaluations that support families in search of answers. These testing services also fulfill insurance company requirements for diagnostic evaluations as it pertains to autism and approving therapies.

So what is a Psychometrician?

Psychometrician? You may be wondering, “What is that?”
Psychometrician – psy·​cho·​me·​tri·​cian | \ ˌsī-kə-mə-ˈtri-shən  \, as defined by Merriam-Webster is:
1: a person (such as a clinical psychologist) who is skilled in the administration and interpretation of objective psychological tests
2: a psychologist who devises, constructs, and standardizes psychometric tests

Get to know our new Psychometrician

Kristofer Picano MA, TLLP, BCBA joined our team back in August 2018 as an ABA Therapist while pursuing his Master’s Degree. Kris received his Bachelor of Science, majoring in psychology from Rochester College (now known as Rochester University). In July 2019 he received his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology and certificate in Applied Behavioral Analysis from the Michigan School of Psychology. Kris’ breadth of education and experience are the perfect fit for expanding our services to include autism testing and evaluations.

HH: Why did you want to work with kids with autism / special needs?

KP: After years of working in related fields I always saw a need for better diagnostic and therapeutic services. Vulnerable populations can easily be taken advantage of, purposefully or even accidentally. As a result, I felt I could take my experiences and resources to create a more effective way to serve these populations. Using data gathered to generate an objective course of action minimizes trial and error and enables the potential for more effective treatment. In addition, being able to implement this to a young population greatly increases the potential for significant gains in the developmental process.

Additionally, I don’t want to overlook the parental figures and the role they take on when they have a child with special needs. The drastic changes in lifestyle, social pressures, anxiety, stress, among other things can greatly strain a relationship and/or household.

“Utilizing my experiences and education to the fullest enables me the privilege to collaborate with all levels of the family system. It provides a space to discuss worries and concerns, minimize anxiety and stress, and foster courage and hope.”

HH: Describe your career background and other experiences you have that are a benefit to the work you do here at Healing Haven.

KP: My background is diverse; however, I believe the breadth of experiences have prepared me for the work I am doing here at Healing Haven. I previously worked at a rehabilitation and treatment center for adults with acquired traumatic brain injuries. Additionally, I spent some time working at Henry Ford Hospital in their emergency psychiatric facility. I assisted in the overall care for individuals with severe mental illnesses. I also volunteered as a neuroscience researcher at the John Dingell Veterans Medical Center in Detroit. My work experience also includes a private practice setting performing neuropsychological testing and assessments with populations of all ages. Clients concerns ranged from developmental and cognitive impairments to ADHD, traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, and severe mental illnesses.

HH: What motivates you to come to work every day?

KP: Making a difference. Whether it’s the progress of the child or support I can offer for the family, it all motivates me. Knowing that I have the room and ability here at Healing Haven to create something that can be of such a benefit to all individuals of the family system.

HH: Describe the kind of work you do with clients at Healing Haven.

KP: My work at Healing Haven ranges from discussions with parents and family to actual activities with the children. But primarily I provide tests and assessments for comparative and progress reports, educational placement, intervention guidance, and diagnostics.

HH: What is a favorite memory of working with a client?

KP: It’s hard to pick just one specific memory as a favorite. But I can say that anytime I was with a client and they mastered a new skill was the greatest! Witnesses these accomplishments always gets me so excited for them!

And here are some fun things to know about Kris:

  • Favorite food: It’s a tossup between tacos and pizza too tough to pick
  • What radio station is on in your car? Or music on your iPod? I listen mostly to podcasts when I drive. I found it makes sitting in traffic a little more bearable than music. But when I do listen to music its mostly country or electronic. Depends what I am doing.
  • Favorite movie: Wedding Crashers or Step Brothers
  • How do you relax / de-stress outside of work? Exercise, hang out with friends, or I’m rebuilding a motorcycle so that keeps me busy and I enjoy it.
  • Coffee, tea or soda? I’ve been on a coffee kick lately, but mostly water.
  • Favorite book (either fiction or non-fiction): 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

Next Steps

So if you are in search of help for your child, wondering if they may be on the autism spectrum. Or maybe you’re on the waiting list for one of Michigan’s 15 Approved Autism Evaluation Centers. The wait can be long… 6-12 months, but you want to start therapy for your child. We can help by providing autism testing and evaluations that complete a Bridge Authorization. Fill out the Contact Us form and we will get back with you on next steps to having your child evaluated.

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Academic Instruction: Supporting Struggling Learners


Healing Haven’s Academic Instruction Program

Do you have a child who struggles with learning foundational academics like reading or math? Whether they have autism, Down syndrome or other learning challenges, you probably look for ways to supplement their academic learning – especially as we get back into the school grove after summer break.

Several of our BCBA’s were previously a Special Education Teacher. Inspired by our clients, we developed a program to help address this need. In January of 2019 we launched our Academic Instruction program, affectionately call “AI”, and it is growing rapidly.

We use Direct Instruction to teach academic skills in a one-on-one setting using scientifically proven methods and curriculum. Our academic instruction services all children, pre-K to 12th grade, who struggle with learning. 

In our pilot program, 17 students ranging from 7 to 14 years old received academic instruction services. They worked on either reading (decoding and comprehension) or mathematics, or a combination of both. In addition, one participant worked on reading, expressive writing and math.

Promising Results

Eighty-eight percent of the students received one hour of instruction per week in reading and/or math. The remaining 12% received 2 or more hours of instruction per week. We also custom tailored our program to students that are not yet verbal, with 41% of them using a speech generating device to communicate.

In only three months 15% of students increased one grade level in reading and/or math. And based on their first three months of progress, we project 35% will increase by two grade levels in one year. Additionally, it’s worthy to note that 40% of the students projected to make this progress use a speech generating device. In total, all students made gains, with the remaining surpassing their baseline levels.

What does this data show us?

First, we can’t assume that non-verbal communicators can’t learn in the same way that their verbal peers can. Second, when provided with an instruction method specifically designed to support struggling learners, some children who are behind their typically developing peers can make significant progress.

What is Direct Instruction (DI)?

Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons. The lessons provide small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminates misinterpretations, and as a result can greatly improve and accelerate learning.

Direct Instruction operates on 5 key philosophical principles:

  • All children can be taught.
  • All children can improve academically and in terms of self-image.
  • Every teacher can succeed if provided with adequate training and materials.
  • Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster rate than typically occurs if they are to catch up to their higher-performing peers.
  • All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students’ misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.

Why Does DI Work?

The main features of DI ensure children learn faster and more efficiently than any other program or technique available:

  • Instruction is at the student’s individual skill level
  • Instruction can be modified to match the child’s rate of learning
  • The design of the program is to ensure mastery of the content
  • The curriculum is field tested with actual students before publication

Next Steps

Parents interested in this program for their child should fill out the Contact Us Form, or call us at 248-965-3916.

You will initially meet with our Program Director to discuss academic goals, specifics about the curriculum and program. Additionally, you will learn about the important role you have, including overseeing homework. We encourage parent involvement for optimal results. Children are then placed into a level and assigned specific curriculum based on parent information, school reports and academic assessments.

If you found this information helpful, we’d love it if you’d share it with your network!

Supporting Autism Families: Meet Our New Social Worker


One of the unique services we provide here at Healing Haven is counseling for a variety of people impacted by an autism diagnosis. Our counselors support autism families through working directly with individuals with autism, as well as their parents and siblings.

Navigating an autism diagnosis can be complex for parents, as well as for some children and teens who feel different compared to their peers. Some may also struggle with social skills and interacting with others, or need help in understanding and controlling their emotions. We did a previous post on counseling and autism, featuring our onsite therapist Danielle. And now we are excited to announce the newest addition to our team, Mallory Meter. Mallory is a social worker who started providing counseling services for autism families here at Healing Haven in September 2019.

Mallory worked in the Chicago area for the past four years. She has a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Notre Dame where she majored in psychology. She then received her Masters of Social Work from The School of Social Service and Administration at University of Chicago. 

In preparation for her transition here to Healing Haven, we sat down with Mallory to get to know her better. Learn about her experience and approach to therapy, and how she might support you and/or your child:

HH:  Why did you want to work with kids with autism / special needs?

MM: I have always been passionate about working with children. I am a strong believer that children can teach us so much about ourselves and how to be better human beings. This is especially the case when it comes to children impacted by autism and developmental differences. While these children can face a number of challenges, they also carry so much creativity, potential, and strength. Being able to face challenges alongside these children, to learn from their resilience, and to witness their growth and change is endlessly exciting and a true honor for me.

HH: Describe your career background and other experiences you have that are a benefit to the work you will do here at Healing Haven.

MM: My first job out of graduate school was at a Chicago-area therapeutic day school for children with autism called Giant Steps. This role provided me with extensive exposure to interventions aimed at promoting social-emotional development in this population. Additionally, I learned how to navigate the world of public schools and IEPs. As a result of working closely with a multidisciplinary team made up of speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, BCBAs and special education teachers, this role provided indispensable opportunities to learn new and creative ways to intervene with and support children impacted by autism spectrum disorder.

Following this role, I worked as a social worker on the inpatient psychiatry unit at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago where I also completed my training practicum in graduate school. Here I was able to further develop my understanding of a range of psychiatric diagnoses and strengthen my skills in providing evidence-based treatments at an individual, family, and group therapy level. Most recently, I had moved into a new position within the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics where I provided case management, parent training, and therapeutic/educational support to families and children impacted by ASD, Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disability, and a range of additional learning differences. More than anything, my time at Lurie Children’s Hospital confirmed my passion for working with children and adolescents impacted by developmental differences, especially those impacted by comorbid mental health concerns.

HH: What motivates you coming to work every day?

MM: My favorite part of this work is partnering with children and families. I love helping them feel understood, accepted, and supported in a way they haven’t before. The moments when a caregiver or child communicates in some way these feelings of being seen, accepted, and supported are what motivates me to come to work everyday. Coffee is always helpful too…

HH: Describe the types of counseling you will do with clients at Healing Haven. Skills you will work on, tools you will incorporate to help clients grow, etc.

MM: I hope to promote a wide range of skills and areas of growth in my work at Healing Haven. These include emotional identification and regulation skills, perspective taking and social skills, and coping/distress tolerance skills. I would describe my therapeutic lens as trauma-informed, strengths-based, relational and family systems-informed. Attachment therapy is also a guiding framework in my work. Within this broader stance, I pull from a number of evidence-based treatments including: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Brief Solutions Focused Therapy to name a new. Additionally, a few specific tools I love to utilize in my work with autism families and children include mindfulness, Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, and Social Thinking strategies.

HH: What is a favorite memory of working with a client?

MM: My favorite memory was being staffed with a little guy on my caseload at Giant Steps. We had a field trip to a pool. He had previously been extremely scared (emphasis on extremely) of water. After a ton of work he was able to get in the pool and even go on the water slide! As a result, I’ll never forget his smile that day.

And here some fun things to know about Mallory 😊

  • Favorite food: Bread, bread, bread
  • Radio Station/Music on iPod: NPR or my own music
  • Favorite movie: Wild
  • How do you relax/de-stress outside of work: Spending time with family, yoga, reading (I’m a huge bookworm!)
  • Drink: Coffee
  • Favorite book: I don’t think I can pick just one!

As you can see, Mallory is a great asset to have on our team. We are excited to have her here helping autism families! If you are a parent in need of help for yourself, or your child is struggling with things related to their autism, ADHD, depression or anxiety, we are here to help! Simply fill out the Contact Us form and we will get back with you!

Autism Parenting: Help for Stressed Relationships


Having a child with autism, Down syndrome or any other type of special needs brings all kinds of new realities into your life. Some can be amazing – like gaining a whole new community of people you may have never met before. But other things can definitely add stress to the lives of autism parents. From more doctor appointments to navigating special education and IEPs, to scheduling therapies – all of these new realities can put stress on your relationships with your spouse, your family members and your friends.

With the help of Allie Young-Rivard, LLPC, we’ve compiled some information and resources to help autism parents with relationships that may be under stress.

Marriage – The odds are NOT stacked against you

There’s an often-quoted statistic that the divorce rate among parents who have a child with autism is around 80%. Or it’s at least quoted as being higher than the general population. This outdated figure was based on older, smaller studies, which can often lead to inaccurate data.

The Interactive Autism Network, which connects the autism community and researchers, breaks down the updated research findings in their article Under a Looking Glass: What’s the Truth About Autism and Marriage?:

“Researchers in Baltimore investigated the supposed 80 percent divorce rate for parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Unlike other studies, this one was particularly large – using data from almost 78,000 parents, 913 of whom had a child with autism – and included families from across the United States. The bigger the study, the less likely the results are due to chance or something unique about the pool of people studied. The researchers, from Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, found no evidence of an 80 percent divorce rate.9 In fact, parents of children with autism split up as often as parents of children who don’t have autism, according to their research.”

We hope this new information encourages you that even though you may face some stress in your marriage due to your child’s diagnosis, it doesn’t automatically mean your marriage is doomed because of autism. If your marriage is struggling, ask for help before it’s too late.

When Divorce Does Happen

Even with this hopeful news for couples who have an autistic child, there are still a lot of marriages under stress. Deciding to divorce is complex and difficult. This life-altering course can cause intense anxiety. It can also cause worry about how the decision to separate will affect your children. For parents of children with special needs, the choice to separate and/or divorce is particularly difficult because of the added needs and responsibilities.

Support for Your Child

Many children on the autism spectrum have difficulty adapting to change. So naturally it is common for parents to worry how their child will acclimate to their new reality, routine and living situation. It is important to prepare your child for the changes that are going to happen.  Providing your child with a visual schedule that outlines the custody arrangements will help them know what to expect. Having consistency at both houses will also be helpful. Work together to have a similar calendar at both locations that shows your child’s daily routines and notes what house he or she will be at. By using tools that prepare them you can help them understand their new routine and hopefully reduce some anxiety. Additionally, talking about the schedule ahead of time to avoid surprises is beneficial for everyone involved.

Another helpful idea is to create a social story explaining the changes and what to expect. If your child receives ABA therapy, talk with their BCBA about creating a personalized social story to prepare them for their new routine and the changes in their family situation.

Lastly, depending on the age of the child and their communication ability, seeking a therapist who specializes in adjustment could be helpful. We have counselors on our team who work with children and teens on the autism spectrum. Seeing an experienced therapist can help children process their new family dynamics and adjust to the changes. Please contact us if you would like to pursue counseling for your child.


It is important for a divorced couple to remember that is it about the child (or children). The definition of co-parenting is:

Verb; (especially of a separated or unmarried couple) share the duties of parenting (a child).

Keeping your focus on doing what is best for your child can help both parents stay on track and follow through on maintaining routines. Establishing and upholding proper communication with your former spouse will ensure support and success for your child. If communication with your ex is difficult, seek out family counseling and/or individual therapy if your former spouse is unwilling to join you. Counseling can help you learn how best to work together for the common interest of your child.

Family or Friends Who Don’t Understand Your Child’s Unique Needs

When your child is diagnosed with a disability it can often feel like you’re alone. Those close to you may not understand what you’re going through as you navigate therapies, doctors, support at school and situations that are difficult for your child. Some may spend less time with you and your family. This often stems from not really understanding the diagnosis. When a family member or close friend expresses criticism of your child’s behavior, or of you as a parent, it’s important to address it.

You can first try to explain what your child’s diagnosis means, how it impacts them medically, emotionally, behaviorally, etc. Explain the therapies and medical treatments they are receiving and why. Talk about what their education situation is like and how it benefits them. If your child has sensory issues, repetitive behaviors or stimming, difficulty with change, etc, it’s good to take time to explain them to your family. Being open and honest can help your loved ones understand and hopefully lead to support from them. 

Is It Time To Set Boundaries?

If, however, after explaining all of these things, they isolate you or stop talking with you, first know that it’s not you or your child. It is their inability to be sensitive and understanding of differences and supportive of those with unique needs. If you are facing criticism or lack of understanding toward your child, you may need to establish boundaries. This may mean limiting time spent at family gatherings, or not taking your kids to their grandparents’ house.

Whatever the situation you are facing, it’s important to remove yourself from unsupportive relationships and find support from others in similar situations. Setting boundaries with unsupportive family members can be tough, but putting your mental health and the child’s well being first is beneficial for everyone. Additionally, a professional counselor can help you develop coping skills to navigate strained relationships, as well as help you process your own feelings regarding your child’s diagnosis.

We hope you’ve found this information and ideas for autism parents helpful as you encounter stress in various relationships. And if you find you need some outside help and perspective, please reach out to us!

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Preparing For Your Child’s IEP


Preparing For Your Child’s IEP

There are a ton of resources out there if you do a Google search for “IEP tools” or “preparing for an IEP”. It can be overwhelming. We want to provide some information to help you sift through all the content so that you can walk into your child’s next IEP more confident than you did the last one.

One thing is for sure, when you have a child with autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, dyslexia, or any other condition that impacts their learning, becoming an expert in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process is necessary for parents. Read on for some tips and resources to help you in preparing for your child’s IEP.

Remember the law is on your side

First, there is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act establishing the framework for what students with disabilities are entitled to in school – a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

And more recently there is the Endrew F. Decision in which the Supreme Court ruled in March 2017 that Individual Education Programs must give kids with disabilities more than a de minimis, or minimal, educational benefit. The Supreme Court ruled on the meaning of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The case involved a boy with autism and ADHD, who made almost no progress on his IEP goals because his behavioral and academic needs weren’t addressed. created two helpful resources as a result of this decision

You are your child’s best advocate

Even with the law being on your side, the reality is, not all school districts are created equal. Whether it’s in the arts programming they provide or the special education services they offer, philosophies and services can vary widely from district to district and state to state. Know your rights as an equal member of the IEP team and be ready to step out of your comfort zone to advocate for what your child needs.

Walk in with the mindset that this is your child’s meeting, not a district meeting or a special education department meeting. Remember, you are the expert on your child. Come to the meeting with your own data – video of your child doing things, copies of their “’work”. They may not demonstrate their full potential during a standardized assessment, so compiling your own data can reinforce what you are advocating for!

Don’t forget the Parent Concerns Letter

Most IEP forms have a very small box for “Parent Concerns”. Know that you are not limited to how many words can fit in that box. You can draft an entire letter outlining your child’s needs and the concerns you have for their progress and learning. Here’s a great resource from A Day In Our Shoes specifically about the Parent Concerns Letter. Communicate your vision for your child and don’t allow anyone to change YOUR vision.

Framing the conversation

It is difficult to hear how your child stacks up to their typical peers. That’s the reality of the standardized assessments and evaluations presented by the IEP team. You know your child struggles with communication, fine motor, reading, math, or whatever it is. But to have that data in black and white can be quite sobering. Help set the tone by flipping weakness statements into strengths and needs statements. As this Brooke’s Publishing blog post states, by changing “can’t do” statements into “the student needs…” you will end up with an effective IEP that not only establishes high expectations, but also will meet your child’s needs.

What if you don’t agree with the IEP and/or others on IEP team

It’s OK to not finish within the first meeting. You can reconvene for a second (or third, or fourth) IEP meeting if necessary. And consulting with a special education advocate can be very helpful if your emotions are running high and you’re not feeling heard by the district. An advocate can help you with talking points, legality issues, and even attend the IEP with you to assist with communication between you and the school district representatives. Additionally, a free local resource for parents is Michigan Alliance for Families.

One of our own BCBA’s has 15 years’ experience in Special Education. She’s a valuable asset to our families and staff.

Additional Resources

There really is a TON of information out there to help you with your child’s IEP. Instead of making this post any longer, here are a few additional resources for you to check out:

We hope these tips and resources for preparing for your child’s IEP prove to be helpful for you. And if you have any tips that you find especially helpful, please share them in the comments!

The Benefits of a MiABLE Account for Your Child with a Disability


When you have a child with a disability there are often added expenses to raising and caring for them. Things like extra medical costs, therapies, academic tutoring, assistive technology and much more come into play. Getting help to cover these additional expenses can be difficult when you have an average income and don’t qualify to receive government support for your child with a disability. And then when you think about their future and whether they be able to support themselves, it can become overwhelming for parents to plan for, let alone manage the here and now.

Up until a few years ago, a person with a disability could not have more than $2,000 in their name or they’d lose their Social Security and/or Medicaid benefits. On top of that, if they are able to get a job, there’s actually a law that allows employers to pay employees with disabilities below the minimum wage. (Thankfully there is a bill in the works to stop this practice by the US Labor Department.)

So how can a person with a disability pay for all their daily living expenses like housing, food, education, transportation, if they can’t earn a living wage, or are unable to? And on top of that, they risk losing any government benefits if they have as little as $2,000 in their name?

Enter the ABLE Act

Thankfully Congress passed the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act in 2014. The ABLE Act amends Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Here is the official description of the intent of the ABLE Act from the ABLE National Resource Center:

“This transformative law aims to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified disability-related expenses, including education, housing, and transportation expenses.  Additionally, the funds contributed into these accounts will not adversely affect the person’s eligibility for public benefits, such as Medicaid. The funds in these accounts are meant to supplement, not supplant, benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the Supplemental Security Income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.”

A Powerful Tool for Michigan Families

Michigan established our MiABLE program in 2016. We had the representative from the Michigan Department of Treasury here in our clinics to present to families on the benefits of setting up an MiABLE account for their child with a disability. Scott de Varona shared all the specifics of how the program works, how to set up an account and answered a plethora of questions from parents.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • To be eligible, individuals must become disabled before the age of 26, and can prove their eligibility one of three ways: eligible for SSI or SSDI because of a disability (but do not have to be drawing on those benefits), have a condition listed on SSA Compassionate Allowances List, or self-certification with a physician diagnosis and documentation.
  • Qualified Disability Expenses (QDE) include much more than the original 529 College Savings Plans. MiABLE accounts can be used to pay for the expenses of everyday living for the person with the disability. QDE’s include: education, housing, transportation, employment training programs, assistive technology, personal support services, healthcare and medical costs, financial management services, legal fees, and end-of-life expenses.
  • The maximum contribution per year is $15,000. And account holders can have up to $100,000 in an ABLE account before their SSI benefits may be suspended. Once the account falls back below the $100,000, SSI benefits can resume.
  • ABLE assets are excluded for Medicaid eligibility. There is no asset threshold as there is for SSI benefits.
  • Investment options include a range of conservative to aggressive stock. Additionally, for those who want easy access to use their account now, there is a money market savings accounts with a debit card option.
  • If you have a Financial Advisor, you can allow them to manage your investment options. They need to complete the Agent Assisted Enrollment Form.
  • An MiABLE account doesn’t replace a Special Needs Trust. It’s another “tool in the toolbelt” to provide for an adult or child with a disability.

Tax Benefits

  • ABLE accounts are funded with after-tax contributions and can grow tax-free when used for qualifying disability expenses.
  • In addition, the State of Michigan features one of the largest tax deductions for contributions to an ABLE account. Single filers can receive a $5,000 tax deduction and a married couple filing jointly can receive a $10,000 tax deduction.
  • Many parents may have already set up a 529 College Savings Plan for their child before they were ever diagnosed with a disability. Those funds can be transferred to an ABLE account without penalty, and then can be used now for a broad range of expenses!
  • Others can contribute to an individual’s MiABLE account to help it grow. Family members and friends can make contributions through the online portal or by mailing in a check – and if they are Michigan residents they can take advantage of the tax deduction too. Additionally, some states offer a deduction to ABLE account contributions in other states.

The Greatest Benefit

There are so many benefits to creating an MiABLE account for a child with a disability – or an adult who became disabled before the age of 26. But the greatest benefit has to be empowering individuals with a disability to save for their future and creating a way for them to truly achieve a better life experience!

For more information, visit the MiABLE website or call them to have your questions answered: 844-656-7225. And the ABLE National Resource Center has a lot of helpful information too.

And for more information about Healing Haven and the services we provide families of children with autism and other special needs, visit Our Programs.

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