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.

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! 

Holiday Stress Management Tips for Autism Families

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

Holiday Stress Management Tips

1. Acceptance

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

2. Flexibility

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

3. Set Boundaries

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

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

4. Say No

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

5. Pace It Out

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

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

6. Find Balance

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

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

7. Keep Structure

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

8. Avoid Perfectionism

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

9. Consider Dietary Restrictions

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

10. Sleep!

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

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

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

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

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!

Halloween and Autism: 6 Tips to Prepare Your Child

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

Make the Unknown Known

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

Practice Wearing Costumes

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

Do a Neighborhood Walk Through

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

Practice Trick-or-Treating

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

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

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

Pair Up With a Friend

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

What To Do With All That Candy?

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

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

Be Flexible

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

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

The Power of Collaborative Autism Therapy

collaborative autism therapy

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

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

What Collaborative Autism Therapy Looks Like

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

How Collaborative Autism Therapy Works

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

The Benefits of Collaboration

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

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

What Sets Our Collaborative Autism Therapy Apart

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

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

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

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

positive relationship with child's teacher

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

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

1. Communicate well

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

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

2. Start communication early

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

3. Respect and trust

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

4. Go to the teacher first

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

5. Share about your child

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

6. Show appreciation

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

BONUS Tip: Be a participative parent

We have added this one since we first published this post, so this is our bonus seventh tip: participate in your child’s classroom activities and events, if possible! Not only does participating give you a chance to experience your child’s classroom atmosphere, it shows the teacher that you care and want to be involved. Doing this can also be a great way of meeting other parents and building a community.

A note if your child also does ABA Therapy

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

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

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

ABA Therapy Social Groups at Healing Haven

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

Early Intervention Clinic Groups

Group instructor leads social group in Early Intervention Clinic.

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

Young Learners Clinic Groups

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

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

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

Preparing for Elementary School

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

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

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

School & Community Readiness Clinic Groups

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Social Groups

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

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

– Healing Haven BCBA

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

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

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!