Autism Acceptance and Finding Community

autism acceptance and finding community
parents meeting for coffee

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

The Difference Between Awareness and Acceptance 

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

Taking Action by Finding Community

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

How Support Groups Can Help

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

Where to Find Support

In Michigan:  

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

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

In All States and Online: 

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

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

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

The Benefits of Autism Acceptance

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

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

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

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.. 

Toilet Training Tips for Kids with Autism

toilet training and autism

Toilet training is a fundamental skill to teach all kids. But it can be a tricky skill for children with autism to master. Some parents may find toilet training a smooth process, while others find it a huge battle. Many parents try to start the process and feel discouraged, then decide to take a break. Wherever you are in your child’s journey to using the toilet independently, know that success is definitely possible.

Is Your Child Ready for Toilet Training?

The first step in helping your child with autism use the toilet? Determine if they’re ready. Our Director of Clinical Standards, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, suggests a list of pre-requisites to consider before starting the toilet training process.

Can your child…

  • sit on the toilet or potty chair for a few minutes?
  • pull pants up or down?
  • hold urine for at least 30 minutes?
  • imitate skills such as sitting and wiping?
  • find the bathroom or potty chair in the house?

Your child doesn’t need to be proficient in each of these steps all at once to start toilet training. However, keep in mind that the process will be easier and more successful if your child can complete most steps first. If your child struggles with fine motor strength and control, consider occupational therapy (OT). OT can help with skills such as pulling pants up and down, wiping, etc. Additionally, there should be minimal behaviors occurring with bathroom use. If behaviors arise often, be sure to address them prior to starting the toilet training process.

Reinforcement and Encouragement

It’s important to utilize reinforcement and encouragement when working on toilet training your child with autism. You can reinforce their success in using the toilet in a variety of ways, including:

  • Food, such as candy or a small treat
  • A sticker chart
  • A highly preferred activity such as tablet time, a game or favorite toy

Along with reinforcers, use lots of verbal encouragement. Make sure it’s specific and descriptive: “I love how you asked to go to the potty.” Or “You did an amazing job sitting on the toilet for x amount of time!” etc.

Barriers to Toilet Training

Toilet training kids with autism can definitely have its setbacks. You might encounter challenging behaviors from your child, such as fear of using the toilet, refusing to use it, misusing toilet paper or other materials, or tantrums when encouraged to use the toilet.

Some children with autism might be hesitant to use the toilet due to sensory issues. If this is the case for your child, identify the sensory issue. It could be that the toilet seat is uncomfortable, they may feel cold, or feel afraid of the loud flushing sound. Perhaps utilize a toilet seat and let your child hold a stuffed animal or toy while sitting to help them feel safe and comforted.

Another barrier to toilet training is constipation. Kids with autism can be prone to constipation due to selective eating. If you notice your child struggling to void with bowel movements, consult your pediatrician.

General Tips for Toilet Training Kids with Autism

  1. Take toilet training one step at a time! While many parents are eager for their child to gain independence in the bathroom, try not to rush through the process.
  2. Have your child use pull ups or underwear as they transition from diapers.
  3. Use visuals in the bathroom such as a step-by-step laminated sheet with photos to help your child remember the toilet use process.
  4. When starting toilet training, plan a time to be at home with your child (Ideally, a week).
  5. Take data. You could create a chart, take notes in a notebook, or find a data sheet that works for you through an online search. For each toilet session, list the date, time, accident, success, location, and any independent requests.
  6. Make the experience fun and rewarding! Ensure your child is comfortable on the toilet by having them pick out a preferred toilet seat. Keep toys and books in the bathroom and even play music. The more enjoyable the experience is for your child, the more likely they will pick up skills and move towards independence.

If your child receives ABA therapy, check in with your child’s BCBA. They can give suggestions specific to your child as well as general support throughout toilet training.

Toilet training, though necessary, is a huge task to undertake as a parent. While it can be discouraging at times, remember to celebrate the successes. And with encouragement and consistent reinforcement, your child will learn in his or her own time.

Winter Activities for Kids with Autism

boy plays outside in snow.

We can all probably agree—winter is often hard to get through. Cold, icy days nix the option for frequent outdoor play. If your child needs some cabin fever relief, we’ve compiled some DIY winter activities for kids with autism. These projects are ridiculously easy to assemble and extremely cost-effective—it really doesn’t take much for kids to have fun! Many of these activities require similar materials that you can buy in bulk and have on hand. Additionally, these winter activities for kids with autism promote sensory input, social interaction, and fine and gross motor skills.  

Indoor Winter Activities

Create fake snow

This is a sensory activity that incorporates textures. It’s great for kids who seek tactile sensory experiences. All you need is some shaving cream and baking soda for some fun with fake snow. Squirt some shaken shaving cream into a bowl or plastic bin. Add baking soda until the mixture reaches a moldable consistency. Kids will love squishing their hands in the “snow,” building mini snow people, and creating little winter wonderland worlds. 

Our expert team of Occupational Therapists (OT’s) share the importance of sensory activities like this one. “The combination of soft, squishy textures with the coarseness of the baking soda provides a variety of input to the tactile system that is both alerting and regulating,” said one of our OT’s. They also suggest having your child create the snow with you, which increases processing and executive functioning skills. “For example, have your child measure and/or pour out the ingredients with you and stir them together to combine. This is a great naturalistic opportunity to incorporate fine motor skills, tool use, and bilateral integration as your child stirs while stabilizing the bowl.” 

Materials Required:

  • Plastic bowl or bin
  • Shaving cream
  • Baking soda

Frozen treasure hunt

This winter activity only requires a little bit of prep! If your child loves “heavy work,” or activities that involve applying and/or receiving pressure, be sure to have them try this. According to our OT Team, “heavy work is organizing for the proprioceptive system, helps your child integrate new information about their body’s position in space to develop body awareness, and incorporates pressure regulation skills.” 

To create, fill a plastic tub with water and place items in it such as toys, plastic snowflakes, pinecones, or other winter-themed objects. Place the bin in the freezer overnight until it’s frozen solid. The next day, remove the ice block from the bin by running warm water over the bottom. Place the block in a larger container and have kids “dig” around for the items. Digging tools can be silverware, toy hammers, or any other child-safe item. Picking at ice keeps kids engaged and motivated to find the treasures! For safer tool options, we suggest having your child use basters or eyedroppers to dispense warm water across the ice to melt it.

Our OT’s like activities like this, as they provide excellent natural opportunities to develop fine motor skills, pincher grasp and finger strengthening as well as visual motor skills. Using motivating characters, figures or toys will be more likely to hold your child’s attention. 

Materials Required:

  • Plastic tub
  • Plastic toys, snowflakes, foam cut outs, pinecones, berries, anything winter-themed
  • Silverware, toy hammers, eyedroppers, basters

Make snow ice cream

There’s no better way to utilize fresh snow than making it into a tasty treat. Collect 8 to 12 cups of clean snow. Add vanilla extract and condensed milk and stir into snow. Add more snow if needed to reach an ice cream-like consistency. Scoop into bowls or cones and add toppings! 

Materials Required:

  • 8-12 cups clean snow
  • Vanilla extract (or other flavorings, like chocolate syrup)
  • Condensed milk
  • Toppings such as candy, sprinkles, crushed cookies, etc.

Build an Indoor Fort

Gather some comfy pillows and blankets to help your child build a relaxing space of their own. You can even create a special bin/area full of your child’s favorite comforting items for this specific purpose. Incorporate reading, pajamas, a movie or even a nap into this- everything is better in a fort! 

Sensory Winter Activities

Squish bags

Sensory squish bags are a hit for children who love squishy things. And fortunately, they’re super easy and cheap to make—a perfect winter activity idea for kids with autism. Fill a sealable plastic bag with hair gel and add snowflake glitter, beads, confetti, water beads, buttons, beans, or anything else that would entertain your child. You can also seal the edges of the bag with patterned packing tape to ensure the bag won’t open. Check out this snowman sensory bag to stick with the winter theme. 

Materials needed:

  • Sealable plastic bag, any size desired
  • Glitter, beads, confetti, water beads, buttons, beans
  • Clear hair gel
  • Food coloring (just a drop or two)
  • Patterned packing tape

Sensory bin 

Sensory bins are great for fine motor skill practice. Fill a bin with cotton balls, foam snowflakes and snow people. Give your child fine motor tools such as plastic tweezers and ball scoopers and let them practice picking up items. Or they can just use their hands!

Materials needed:

  • Plastic bin
  • Cotton balls
  • Foam snowflakes, snow people, other winter themed shapes
  • Plastic tweezers, ball scoopers, anything that promotes fine motor skills (such as this tool kit)

Sensory bottle

Many kids with autism are entertained by just watching sensory-pleasing items with color, texture, and shine. Sensory bottles are yet another winter activity for kids with autism with very simple assemblage required. Find a clear water bottle with a screw-on cap. Next, put wintery glitter and snowflake confetti in the bottle. Use a drop or two of blue food coloring if desired, fill with water, screw the cap on, and shake it up. (Sealing the cap with glue is a good idea for children who might be tempted to open it.) 

Materials needed:

  • Clear water bottle
  • Glitter, snowflake confetti, etc.
  • Food coloring
  • Glue

Outdoor Winter Activities

Snow maze

After a big snow, there’s often lots of sledding or the building of snow people. But have you ever tried making a snow maze? Create a twisty path in the snow with your feet (or use a shovel) and pack the snow down. You can make one big maze or multiple small ones to keep kids entertained and active for a while. 

Tic Tac Toe in snow

Use rocks, leaves, sticks, paint, or pinecones to create a Tic Tac Toe board in the snow. Maybe organize a family tournament!

Paint snow

In the midst of a white wonderland, color is pleasing to the eye. Have kids create their own colorful outdoor artwork by creating a frame with sticks and painting within it. Be sure to use non-toxic, water-based paint to avoid clothing stains. Using jars to hold the paint works well, as you can sturdily plant them in the snow. 

Materials needed:

  • Non-toxic, water-based paint
  • Jars
  • Sticks or rocks
  • Paintbrushes

Kindness rocks

Based off The Kindness Rocks movement, this activity is a fantastic way for kids to create messages of kindness. And with all the negativity in the world, we need all the kindness we can get. On winter days with less or no snow, have kids collect smooth rocks. Clean the rocks. On the back of the rock, write or paint #TheKindnessRocks project. Then decorate and help kids write kind messages on the front. Seal with an outdoor sealant spray to prevent fading. 

Materials needed:

Social Activities

Parallel Play

Encouraging your child to give or share a toy with a playmate can be an effective play technique, if appropriate. If this is not something easily attainable for your child, even inviting a peer over and having them sit next to your child in the same room while engaging in a separate activity can benefit your child’s social skill development.   

Games

Any type of game, whether it be a simple game of Simon Says or a board game that promotes imitation, turn-taking and cooperation can be a great way to get social with your child. Remember, it doesn’t matter so much if the game is played correctly- it’s all about participation and fun!  

Be Mindful of Screen Time

While it may be challenging to reduce your child’s electronics use, it is important to monitor and be aware of how much time they are spending “plugged in”, especially during the winter when it is easy for them (and you!) to lose track of time while being indoors. Instead, encourage other activities like reading a book or putting together a puzzle.  For more ideas on managing screen time, check out this post

We hope these winter activities for kids with autism provide some fun during these long cold days, while also providing sensory and fine motor input. We’d love to hear about your experiences as well. Please comment below!

AAC: What It Is and Why It’s Important for Children with Autism

There are many means of communication used in our world. The most common ones used today are spoken words, gestures, eye gaze, facial expressions, print, sign language, and even GIFs. When it comes to individuals with speech and language delays, it is possible to augment and provide alternative options for them to efficiently communicate with others. Children with autism, Down syndrome, and other speech and language struggles benefit from access to additional communication tools. In this post we will explain what AAC is and why it’s important for children with autism. 

AAC stands for Augmented Alternative Communication. What does augmentative mean, you might be wondering? Augmentative simply means to make something greater by adding to it, and alternative, as we know, is to have multiple options or possibilities available in a situation. So, when thought about it in literal terms, AAC is something every person uses to communicate. 

Types of AAC

There are two different types of AAC. The first type is what most people use in addition to or instead of verbal communication, which includes some of the examples we listed above. However, many children (and adults) with an autism diagnosis utilize aided AAC, which can be “high tech” or “low tech”. Low tech AAC can be anything that involves using pictures or icons to communicate. High tech describes communication apps on an iPad or tablet, such as TouchChat or LAMP Words for Life. Any type of computer with a voice, or even large buttons that talk, would also be considered high-tech AAC.  

Myths Surrounding AAC

When it comes to AAC, many people, including parents and professionals, are misled by the myths that have historically surrounded it. The most common myth is that AAC will hinder speech development. While this may seem easily believable, we have seen many examples in our clinic and elsewhere of children who build more speech due to having another opportunity as a bridge to spoken language.  

Another popular myth regarding AAC is that it’s not necessary so long as the child or person can communicate their basic wants and needs. At Healing Haven, we support not just the very basics of communication, but each individual’s growth and independence. This means making friends, expressing ideas, showing interest in hobbies and activities, showing love, and much more. Everyone deserves the opportunity to do these things.  

Effective Use of AAC

While AAC, whether high tech or low tech, is a bountiful means of communication, there are reasons it may not be effective, which can be discouraging to families.  

AAC is most successful when parents, caregivers, and school staff have been educated to personalize the device and present models appropriately. Presenting models “appropriately” may look different for different children based on their language level, processing time and interests. When these factors are not taken into account, ineffectiveness and inefficiency can result.  

It is important that families who are adjusting to a new form of AAC have the resources and support they need to effectively integrate the form of communication into their child’s life. At Healing Haven, this is a large part of the parent training we offer to each individual and their family. 

Teaching AAC with Spoken Word Communication

One must remember that AAC is just another avenue to communication for those with language and speech processing challenges. The autistic community themselves say they need more than one avenue to communicate. Many times, speech and language professionals teach an individual AAC and spoken word communication simultaneously. Through the therapy we provide at our clinic, the two will always go hand in hand. It is important to us that every child has more than one option in their modes of communication. 

It is important to understand your child’s style of language processing to personalize the vocabulary and provide appropriate models. Please reference the “User Tips for AAC” section below to learn more and see the link to our blog detailing Analytical Language Processing and Gestalt Language Processing. The Speech and Language Pathologists at our clinic are highly skilled in helping parents and children personalize AAC based on the child’s style of language processing. 

Setting Your Child Up for Success with their AAC Device

There are many steps you can take to ensure your child with autism has a pleasant and successful AAC experience. While some of these may be easily overlooked, they are vital in encouraging and teaching your child to communicate. Some of these steps are:  

  • Ensure the AAC device is always readily available. This includes having necessary AAC accessories such as cases with handles and straps.  
  • Learn how to edit and add new content to your child’s AAC device.  
  • Allow your child to explore the device as much as they please. Even if it seems like the child is just playing or “stimming” with the device, this interaction is still helping to familiarize the child with the AAC and its functions.  
  • Model consistently and often on the AAC device.  
  • Ensure everyone involved with helping your child communicate (family members, school staff, caregivers, etc.) knows how to effectively and comfortably model language on the device. This includes knowing and educating yourself on your child’s style of language processing. 
  • Do as much as you can to encourage your child’s use of the device. This could look like modeling on the device to talk about your child’s favorite cartoon character, food, or activity, or creating communication opportunities that are appealing to your child and their interest.  
  • Always ask your child’s SLP for help when needed. These individuals are AAC experts and should be able to help with whatever you may need to be as fluent as possible with AAC communication! At our clinic, the SLPs and BCBAS collaborate and work seamlessly to support the child’s communication. You have a team of resources. 
  • Lastly, ensure the form of AAC is consistent across all professionals and/or providers (the child’s entire team should be using the same type and same brand of high or low tech AAC). 

User Tips for AAC

When it comes to children with speech-language deficits, communication is most effective when it is used naturally. With that, we encourage you to follow your child’s lead with their communication attempts and always react with praise at any attempt they make to communicate. It is best to simply model alternative ways to communicate, as opposed to requiring a response from your child before giving them what they want.  

Many children with autism are Gestalt Language Processors (GLPs). For GLPs, there are four stages of language development. What stage your child is at determines the setup of their AAC device. If your child is at a stage 3 or higher, or once they get to that point, they are working on the freeing of single words and the combining of 2-3 words. This is where it’s important to know the difference between core vocabulary and fringe words.  

Many AAC devices have a core board, which is a page on the device, typically the main page when opening the app, that includes both “core” words and phrases and “fringe” words. The exact configuration of these words depends on the device and app being used. You can then use these words and phrases to help your child build their vocabulary and customize it to fit their wants and needs. Alternatively, if your child uses lower-tech AAC, such as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), you and your child’s speech team can customize the words based off of the child’s interests and needs.

AAC Resources

If your child has an assigned Speech Language Pathologist, they will be your best AAC resource. Additionally, the internet is abundant with resources that can help you navigate and utilize your child’s AAC device. Here are some of the top websites we recommend to parents of AAC users:  

And of course, learn more about AAC by connecting with our speech team at Healing Haven, operated by Gigi’s Kids Speech and Language Therapy, which the information in this post comes from.  

We hope this post has helped enrich your knowledge of AAC and answered some questions you may have had surrounding it. If your child has benefited from the use of AAC, please feel free to share in the comments. Let’s continue to make communication all-inclusive! 

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!

Sesame Street’s Autism Resources

Helping our world “See Amazing in All Children”

Can you believe that Sesame Street has been producing quality educational programs for children for almost 55 years? And it’s been six years since Sesame launched their first puppet on the autism spectrum. Julia appeared on her first episode of Sesame Street on April 10, 2017. She originally was created in digital form when Sesame Street launched their autism resources in 2015.  

The iconic television show has a long history of inclusive representation of individuals with disabilities. They often featured children with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, as well as kids in wheelchairs, blind, or other disabilities. They were doing this when individuals with disabilities were rarely, if ever, seen in entertainment. Doing this sent a message of inclusion to children- that being “different” is okay. But the creation of Julia is the first time a puppet has had a specific disability.

See Amazing

The Sesame Workshop’s autism awareness initiative is called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.” What an encouraging message for families impacted by a disability! Everyone has something to offer, even if they struggle to talk or learn in the same way other kids do.

One of Sesame Street’s autism resources are Daily Routine Cards. These are digital social stories to show kids about various activities or daily skills. Visuals like this can help prepare children for things that may cause them anxiety (like getting a haircut), or other daily living and social skills. We work on many of these things in our ABA Therapy, as well. 

In addition to visuals, other autism resources from Sesame Street include helpful information for adults. They have a guide called Taking Care of the Caretaker with tips on reducing stress and taking care of yourself so you can take better care of your child. This falls directly in line with our philosophy of stress management for parents and caregivers.

“The Amazing Song” celebrates how every child has something amazing to offer. And it’s wonderful to see how inclusive it is by showing how some kids talk with a digital device, others struggle with eye contact, and others may flap their hands. But it’s all displayed in a way that’s made to show it’s okay and normal.

Creating Inclusive Places

Another aspect of these resources is the Provider Guide. It’s filled with ideas and suggestions for providing autism-friendly atmospheres and events that organizers can create within their communities. With this kind of focus it’s no surprise that Sesame Place, the Sesame Street themed amusement and water park, was the first theme park in the world designated as a Certified Autism Center by the IBCCES.

Even though the program states the goal is to provide resources “designed to serve autistic children and their families”, simply by including Julia as a friend of Elmo and Abby communicates a powerful message to all neurotypical kids watching. Children can learn at a young age that the classmate they have who is like Julia can be a friend.

In addition to the website, you can search the hashtag #SeeAmazing on social media to find content related to this initiative and even include it in your own social media posts.

We are huge fans of Sesame Street Workshop. They educate children on the fundamentals like letters, numbers, colors and shapes. But they also do an incredible job of teaching even more critical skills like friendship, acceptance, diversity, inclusion, and care for one another.

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

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

Mom with son, and son is feeding Mom a cookie.

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

Learning to Communicate

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

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

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

What is Gestalt Language Processing?

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

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

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

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

How to Know if Your Child is a Gestalt Language Processor

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

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

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

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

The 4 Stages of Gestalt Language Processing Development 

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

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

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

Becoming a Detective of Your Child’s Communication 

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

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

Thoughts to Consider when Communicating with Gestalt Language Processors 

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

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

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

Bridging the Gap between ABA Therapy and Gestalt Language Processing  

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

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

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

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

Educational Resources on Gestalt Language Processing 

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

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

We hope this post has been helpful to anyone learning about Gestalt Language Processing. Please feel free to comment or share this post with others in your community. And reach out to us if you are looking for a speech or ABA therapy team who can support your child’s unique communication needs and development!