It’s summertime, which usually equates to a lot of time outside. And with pools open and all the lakes here in Michigan, that often means time in and around water. While swimming and playing in water are fun and great exercise, it can also be very dangerous. In fact, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has a new flag warning level for the Great Lakes. Because of the increased danger lakes and pools have, water safety for children with autism, or any child, is extremely critical.
Why water safety is so important for children with autism
Children with autism, as well as Down syndrome, often wander, which can obviously be very unsafe if they get close to water unsupervised. Additionally, drowning can occur without making any sound. Children may also be unaware of things such as water depth, water temperature, water currents, or slippery surfaces. Not every child likes to be in the water, especially children that struggle with sensory issues. However, all children should still be aware of water safety in case of accidental slips or falls into a pool or lake.
This statistic is scary and sobering, but every parent of an autistic child needs to know – drowning is a leading cause of death for children with autism. We’ve compiled some tips and ideas to teach water safety to your child with autism to help you prepare for this season.
Get your child in swimming lessons
Every child should learn to swim, and for children with special needs, it’s important the skill is taught in a way that resonates with them. Make sure the teaching environment is not too distracting or overwhelming for your child.
There are many programs that provide adaptive swimming lessons for children with special needs. You can start by contacting your local YMCA. And the National Autism Association’s Big Red Safety Toolkit for caregivers provides an excellent guide and resources for managing wandering, as well as how to find swim lessons in your area.
Have reinforcers and preferred items available when your child performs important or difficult tasks related to water safety. This could include tolerating getting into the water, using appropriate safety gear, getting out when a whistle is blown for “adult swim time,” or leaving the pool when instructed.
Visual learning of water safety
Use video narratives, social stories, or visual routines to teach water safety. The Swim Angelfish channel on YouTube, for example, is a great resource which provides a variety of videos that can be utilized to teach water safety to kids with disabilities.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder are rules-driven, so use that to your advantage. Set specific rules for how they are to behave around water. Then practice those rules in real world situations. And if you have a pool at home, or live on/near a lake, consider placing “STOP” or “DO NOT ENTER” signs on doors that open to the outside, or gates to the pool.
Use appropriate swim gear
Even if your child knows how to swim, it’s still a great precaution to use a life jacket or flotation device around water, whether they are planning on swimming or not. It can also offer reassurance when attempting a new skill and teaching independence. The especialneeds website is a great place to purchase special needs and sensory-friendly water gear, if needed.
Teach key information
Because of the high percentage of wandering in kids with autism – nearly 50% – make sure your child knows his or her name, address, and phone number in the event he or she is separated from you. If your child does not speak, make sure they wear a bracelet, tag, tattoo, etc. with their name and your name and phone number.
Set up your environment vigilantly
Even if you feel confident that your child thoroughly understands the rules of water safety, accidents can still happen. It’s important to prepare for the worst so that nothing slips through the cracks. When preparing your environment near water, consider installing fences or gates with alarms around the body of water, if applicable. Additionally, you should also think about placing alarms or chimes on doors that open to bodies of water and keep toys of interest away from the water when not in use. Taking these measures will ensure that life-threatening wandering doesn’t take place.
Communicate with others
Talk with your neighbors, whether at home or on vacation. Ask them to contact you immediately if they see your child wandering alone outside your home or property. Even if you don’t own a pool, but your neighbors do, ask them to be particularly aware of your child wandering near their property.
“Challenging behaviors” are defined as “behaviors that can be disruptive and/or difficult to manage.” Challenging behaviors may manifest in several different forms including avoidance, aggression, self-harm, destruction, eating inedible items (otherwise known as Pica), elopement, tantrums, screaming, and more. These behaviors can happen in any setting, whether it’s in a public place or in the home. But depending on the cause (or “function”) of the behavior, there are ways to lessen the likelihood of behaviors happening. Likewise, there are ways to respond when they do occur. We have gathered strategies for managing challenging behaviors for children with autism from our Director of Clinical Standards, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA.
Why Challenging Behaviors Happen
While behaviors often have a driving reason for their occurrence, they can sometimes be dangerous. If your child is engaging in behaviors that put them or someone else at risk, we strongly recommend you seek professional help. When it comes to managing challenging behaviors in children with autism, it is important to remember that behavior is communication.
There is always a reason for a child’s behavior. For example, the behavior may be the result of the child wanting to get something or to get away from something. This, in simple terms, could be a person, place, activity, or type of internal/external stimulation. Dr. Thomas says that challenging behaviors “often have more than one cause,” making it difficult to pinpoint why they occurred. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) has the expertise to help parents. Through careful observation and data collection, BCBAs can determine why a behavior is occurring. Based on this, they can craft an individualized plan to help teach parents how to respond in a way that will minimize behaviors and maximize success.
How to Prevent the Likelihood of Challenging Behaviors Occurring
While specific expertise is needed to craft a plan to decrease severe challenging behaviors, there are some tips that can help parents plan ahead to decrease the likelihood of these behaviors occurring in the first place. It is important to remember that having good communication between yourself and your child is a great starting point! While this is no easy task, there are ways you can prepare your environment(s), and your child, so that these behaviors are less likely to occur.
“Set your child up for success,” says Dr. Thomas, by recognizing the components that are likely to cause behaviors. This can be done by being observant. Look for patterns such as similarities in context or environment that a behavior happens, similarities in reactions to certain events, and changes in setting and mood before, during, and after a behavior occurs. Physically make note of these patterns, if possible, to reference and help yourself to make mental connections. Doing so can help you identify and plan ahead to possibly prevent a behavior. This is also great information to provide to your BCBA.
The following are some tools to help prevent challenging behaviors:
Having a consistent communication method (AAC device, PECS, signs, gestures, vocal language).
Carrying sensory toys or snacks with you.
Having headphones or sunglasses available in public places to reduce sensory irritations.
Prepare your child’s expectations before doing something difficult or novel.
Bring fun activities or snacks to make undesired activities or outings a bit more fun.
Make trips short, if possible.
Avoid areas that you know may trigger your child, if possible.
How you respond to your child’s challenging behaviors depends on the behavior that is occurring and what the trigger is. The cause of behaviors, Dr. Thomas emphasizes, oftentimes lies at the root of a communication struggle, impulsive behaviors, or issues with emotional regulation. Dr. Thomas says it is helpful to think about what the child is trying to communicate and to be observational. This is the first step in figuring out how to respond when a behavior occurs. As every child’s situation is unique, professional expertise is necessary when formulating a specific way to respond. It is also helpful to teach your child calming strategies, in addition to focusing on some of the other areas of struggle.
Some coping strategies may include:
Taking deep breaths
Some children are easily redirected if you can draw their attention elsewhere during a behavioral episode. This may be effective in the moment but is not a long-term solution. The most important thing to remember when trying to manage a challenging behavioral scenario with your child is to “get safely through that moment and know there is another learning opportunity to come,” says Dr. Thomas. Also, remember to have compassion for your child and yourself as you’re going through this tough and often stressful situation.
Where to Get Help with Managing Challenging Behaviors
ABA Therapy is a very effective resource for addressing challenging behaviors. In ABA Therapy, we focus on teaching ways to communicate and behave. “Children should always have a functional way to get their needs met,” Dr. Thomas says. This is where Functional Communication Training, or FCT, comes in. Functional communication can be as small as the child pointing to something they want, as a means of asking for it, or handing over a picture icon of an item.
“We begin by teaching a communication task that children find easy, this varies based on skill level. The idea is to give children another, more appropriate skill to use to communicate in lieu of using a challenging behavior.” If your child is already in ABA Therapy, their Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, is a great resource. For children enrolled in a school program, an Individualized Educational Program, or IEP, can be a great resource to reference. If your child has not had a developmental evaluation, and is exhibiting challenging behaviors, it may be time to seek out a pediatric or developmental psychologist. From there, a psychologist would be able to perform assessments that could determine if there is anything underlying the child’s behaviors. Healing Haven’s Testing & Assessments services can help with this process, as well as contacting your child’s pediatrician.
The behaviors you encounter from your children can sometimes be difficult to manage, but keep in mind that you are not alone. In addition to the professional resources we have shared, there are other parents who understand. Finding community is important in helping share ideas and reducing your own stress.
If you’re thinking you need more help in how to manage your child’s challenging behaviors, please contact us for information about our ABA Therapy for kids with autism. And our testing and assessments services can empower you with information on how to best support your child.
We hope that throughout this article you were able to find useful information that can be utilized going forward. Don’t hesitate to share this piece with others, as well as comment, if you found it helpful!
Have you ever tried working in a cluttered area? Or been distracted by noises or lighting while trying to focus? Most of us would not feel very successful if we were attempting to be productive in such an environment. For individuals with autism, distracting, messy work and play spaces can only magnify the struggle of focus when gaining new skills. Whether it’s your home or your child’s play area, keeping an organized space for individuals with autism reaps many benefits.
Why Organized Spaces for Individuals with Autism
A clean environment is an important element to the success of individuals with autism. In fact, it influenced the design of our clinics. Our Executive Director Jamie McGillivary intentionally chose the colors of the walls, the use of natural light and artificial natural light, simple layout and organized spaces. And these principles can carry over into the home environment too.
Many individuals on the autism spectrum experience excessive sensory input. Consequently, distraction is common. Too much unnecessary clutter and detail can derail a child’s focus. Even minor messes that may be easy for a neurotypical child to ignore could cause attention issues for those on the spectrum. Minimizing unhelpful sensory experiences aids in their ability to focus for individuals with autism.
Specifically, consider visual and auditory senses when designing a distraction-free space:
Keep walls simple in decoration to prevent overwhelm. Many kids with ASD notice minute details in the area around them. Tucking away supplies and toys in bins or cabinets out of sight reduces temptation to interact with them while also reducing distractions. For colors, utilize solid, soft tones such as green, blue and pink and avoid yellow as it can be overstimulating.
Sensitivity to noise is a common symptom for kids with ASD. While neurotypical children may function easily with sounds considered background noise, those sounds may be incredibly distracting for children on the spectrum. Keep your child’s space as free as possible from traffic noises, humming machines, loud ticking clocks, and other potential “noise clutter.”
Enhances Organizational Skills
Organizational tasks that we deem simple may require more effort and practice for individuals with autism. A clean work environment promotes organization and productivity, which in turn helps a child acquire new skills. Designating organized areas helps individuals with autism predict what will take place in their workspace. Labeling areas such as drawers and cupboards can help kids practice putting their supplies and toys away when finished. This also helps reduce long-term clutter and ensures smoother transitions to new activities. Color coding is another fantastic way to make organizing easier for kids on the spectrum, as different colors represent different purposes for an area.
Reinforces Routine and Expectations
Organization helps an individual’s success and independence in following instructions. If a space is cluttered and messy, they will likely get more confused when trying to learn skills and complete routine tasks. According toresearch, organized and structured learning spaces aid kids in staying on-task and performing well academically. Structure helps you as a parent as well, as it can reduce the need for your assistance.
If you believe your child could benefit from some decluttering and organization at home, here are a few ideas to get started with over the summer. And remember, you don’t have to try all of these things at once!
Organize toys, art supplies, school materials, etc. into labeled areas and bins
Paint your child’s room a new, calming color
Tackle one room at a time and identify items you can remove or put away for a simplified and, hopefully, less stressful setting.
These ideas may not only benefit you, but your whole family may begin to feel some stress lift as a result of creating organized spaces for your child with autism.
Children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs often benefit from occupational therapy (OT), to support many areas of their development. Occupational therapy is typically characterized as exclusively addressing fine motor strength and coordination. However, there are many other areas of a child’s development that occupational therapy can positively impact. Skills OT’s work on include balance, core strength, body awareness, sensory regulation, executive functioning, attention, and greater independence with participation in school and self-care.
The benefits of occupational therapy for children with special needs are numerous. Occupational Therapists are skilled in using a variety of strategies to address motor development, self-regulation and sensory needs. Additionally, they work on social participation, adaptive skills, and daily life skills. This means activities like brushing teeth, toileting, opening containers, writing, and getting dressed. OTs also incorporate sensory integration techniques to help children who struggle with sensitivity to touch and clothing textures, light and sound sensitivity, as well as balance and body positioning in space.
Occupational therapy for children with special needs is built upon a foundational belief that children learn best through engaging in their natural “occupation” of play. Their goal is that the “work” should be FUN! They use a variety of play-based materials such as yoga balls, animal walks, scooter boards, swings, obstacle courses, and resistive tunnels to address gross motor skills. They also incorporate board games, crafts, and other manipulatives to teach fine motor coordination through play. It’s obvious our OTs enjoy building a variety of skills through fun and engaging child-centered activities. A constant cycle of assessment and treatment through engagement in such activities allows children to keep advancing their skills in a developmentally natural progression.
Occupational Therapy at Healing Haven
As our ABA Therapy services grew, we added additional therapies to support our clients’ development. Doing so also provides one service location for parents. We first added Speech Therapy and then in 2018, we added Occupational Therapy services. This provides collaboration opportunities among the professionals supporting a child. In fact, all our OTs receive ABA training and know how to work collaboratively with our BCBAs and RBTs.
From the Beginning
Our first OT on staff has a long history working with our Founder Jamie McGillivary. Long before she ever ever considered studying to become an Occupational Therapist, Julie worked with Jamie at Beaumont’s HOPE Center. She was the Motor Room Expert in the Parent Training Program. She later went on to manage the summer programs in the early days of Healing Haven.
From Behavior Therapist to Occupational Therapist
Julie first met Jamie through a family she worked with more than 20 years ago doing in-home therapy and respite care. This family motivated her to work with individuals with autism and their families full-time. As a result of that experience, Julie studied to become a BCaBA – Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. After several years working in ABA Therapy, she decided to pursue education to become an Occupational Therapist.
As Healing Haven grew and Julie studied to become an OT, she knew from her previous experience of working with Jamie, that she wanted to return to work here. She rejoined Healing Haven in January 2018 after receiving her Master’s in Occupational Therapy from Eastern Michigan. Her years of experience in ABA combined with her education and training as an Occupational Therapist are a powerful combination.
Julie describes her current role as her “dream job”. The primary reason she was drawn back to Healing Haven is that “the kids are so much fun!” She likes the saying ‘when you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism’. The reason is she has witnessed it lived out. Each child is unique, and Julie loves the challenge of discovering what motivates them. Julie also appreciates how the staff acknowledge each other for hard work. “I could not ask for better people to surround me each day.”
Expanding Our OT Services
As our ABA Therapy clinic grew into two clinics, and then to three clinics, serving kids from 2-16 years old, we recognized the need to also grow our Occupational Therapy services. Over the past five years we have added several more highly qualified and passionate Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants to our team. Their breadth of experience are a tremendous asset to our clients. Many of them have years of experience working with children with special needs.
Michelle Cody, OTL, is Healing Haven’s Director of Occupational Therapy. She graduated from Western Michigan University and throughout her 30 years of Occupational Therapy experience has focused on pediatrics with children who have autism, ADHD, and developmental delays. She has experience working in schools, out-patient, and hospital settings.
Michelle operated her own clinic for a short time where she was able to sharpen her managerial skills, as well as develop an appreciation for clinic operations as a whole. She has a great passion for certain specialties within the pediatric OT realm which include sensory integration, feeding difficulties, and teaching bike-riding skills. Michelle is a mother of two older children and in her free time “loves to get outside and enjoy the sunshine – even on snowy days!”
Jordan Gardner, MSOT, OTR/L, is a licensed Occupational Therapist who joined our team in May of 2022. She graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree in 2015. Her background includes working with children with autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorders, fine and gross motor incoordination, traumatic brain injuries, mood disorders, attentional deficits, and developmental delay.
Jordan has always had a passion for pediatric-based occupational therapy. After participating in the development of an emotional impairment program within a community school system, Jordan sought to educate young adults in self-regulation strategies and sensory-based coping skills. When Jordan’s son was born, she was reminded of her desire to apply her skill set within the pediatric population, wanting to help as many children as possible reach their full potential.
Jordan loves the holistic and collaborative nature of occupational therapy services at Healing Haven, holding appreciation for how frequently interprofessional and parent collaboration occurs. “As each child is so unique, their goals must be also,” according to Jordan, and she greatly values the opportunity to tailor each child’s goals to meet their needs and the creativity that ensues.
Maddie Gildner, MSOT, OTR/L joined our OT team in early 2023. She graduated with her Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University in December of 2022.
Maddie has always enjoyed working with the pediatric population, and she’s passionate about providing fun, effective, and client-centered care. Maddie “looks forward to partnering with and supporting children and their families to help them be as independent as possible in their daily lives.”
Jacey Lacanilao, COTA/L, is a licensed occupational therapy assistant who joined our team in November of 2021. She graduated from Macomb Community College with an Associates of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy degree in March of 2021. Healing Haven is her first place of employment in her COTA career.
Jacey has always had a passion for working with children with special needs. She emphasizes that no two kids are the same, and that each comes with their own fun personality. “Being a part of the journey that helps our kids grow into independent individuals is one of the best feelings,” Jacey says.
In her free time, Jacey loves to play volleyball, spend time with family, hang out with friends, eat, and travel.
Anna Weir, COTA/L joined the Healing Haven team in February of 2022. She graduated from Northwood University with a Bachelor of Business Management and an MBA in Project Management. However, after accruing experience working with children and raising her own family, she discovered her passion for the field of occupational therapy. She obtained her Occupational Therapy Assistant degree from Macomb Community College.
Fueled by the joy and determination of the children she works with, Anna thrives in the pediatric realm due to its variety and because it “allows me to use my creativity to motivate, teach, and promote daily life skills.”
In her free time, Anna enjoys horse riding, hiking, kayaking, swimming, playing tennis with her daughters, acrylic painting, piano, pilates, yoga and walking her family’s dog, Chloe.
Kaitlyn Wynne, COTA/L, is a licensed occupational therapy assistant who joined our team in February of 2022. She graduated from Macomb Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program in 2021, having earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wayne State University prior.
Kaitlyn is passionate about what she does, saying she loves “to create a challenging and nurturing environment for kids to inspire confidence and build the skills needed to meet their goals.”
When Kaitlyn is not at work, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, watching movies, and being outdoors.
Gabrielle Brod, COTA/L, is a certified occupational therapy assistant. After graduating from Macomb Community College in 2021, Gabrielle joined our team in July of 2022.
Gabrielle’s experience consists of working with a variety of clients aged 2 to 80 years old in settings such as pediatric summer camps, outpatient mental health facilities, and acute care facilities.
In her free time, Gabrielle likes to hang out with her family and “go on different adventures with them.”
Jenna Thill, COTA/L, is a certified occupational therapy assistant. She graduated from the Macomb Community College OTA program in 2009 and joined our team in January of 2023.
Jenna has experience working in a range of different settings as well as with a wide range of ages. She found her passion early on and has spent most of her career serving kids and families in the ASD community, as well as children with ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Down syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome, and more.
Jenna loves the creativity she can incorporate into her therapy sessions and enjoys being able to celebrate successes big and small. Additionally, she enjoys “working closely as a team to help kids and families achieve goals, reach their highest level of independence, and live full and happy lives.”
When away from work, Jenna adores reading, watercolor painting, crocheting, and spending time outdoors with her family.
Getting Started With OT
Healing Haven offers occupational therapy for kids with special needs within our clinics and via telehealth. In clinic provides one service location for parents seeking behavioral, speech and occupational therapy for their child. Additionally, OT services are open to individuals not participating in our behavior-based therapy programs. If your child needs occupational therapy, reach out to us! Fill out our Contact Us form, or give us a call at 248-965-3916.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a scientifically proven method for treating individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This method of therapy focuses on analyzing and modifying behavior patterns in order to improve social, communication, and learning skills. In this blog, we will explore the science behind ABA therapy and its benefits for autism treatment.
What is ABA Therapy?
ABA therapy is a behavioral intervention that seeks to modify behavior through a systematic and data-driven approach. It is a highly individualized form of therapy that is tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual. ABA therapy is based on the principles of behaviorism, which emphasizes the importance of observable and measurable behavior.
Typically, ABA therapy is provided in one-on-one sessions with a trained therapist to teach new skills and modify behavior. ABA therapy also involves the use of data collection and analysis to track progress and make adjustments to the treatment plan.
The Science Behind ABA Therapy
The effectiveness of ABA therapy for autism treatment has been supported by numerous scientific studies. One of the key components of ABA therapy is positive reinforcement, which rewards desired behavior to increase the future recurrence of that behavior. Positive reinforcement has been shown to be a highly effective technique for teaching new skills and modifying behavior in children with autism.
Another important aspect of ABA therapy is the use of prompting, which provides cues or assistance to help an individual perform a desired behavior. This tactic can be used to help individuals learn new skills or to modify existing behavior patterns.
Benefits of ABA Therapy
Some of the specific benefits of ABA therapy for children with autism include:
Improved social skills: ABA therapy can help individuals with autism improve their social skills, such as initiating and maintaining conversations, making eye contact, and responding appropriately to social cues.
Enhanced communication skills: ABA therapy improves communication skills for individuals with autism, such as using language to express their needs and desires.
Increased independence: ABA therapy helps individuals with autism develop the skills they need to become more independent, such as self-care skills and the ability to complete tasks independently.
Better academic performance: ABA therapy allows individuals with autism to improve their academic performance by teaching them new skills and modifying behavior patterns that may be interfering with their ability to learn.
While most ABA providers focus on servicing children from 2-7 years old, Healing Haven serves clients up to 16 years old because some individuals need continued support as they age. Contact us today to get started and discuss your child’s needs and possible solutions!
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
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!
In recent years we’ve experienced a noticeable increase in parents of younger children – 2-3 years old – contacting us for services. This means they are getting evaluations and receiving an autism diagnosis at younger ages than the national average. Data from the CDC indicates that the average age to receive an autism diagnosis is over 4 years old. Receiving an autism diagnosis before the age of 3 provides great opportunity for early intervention for autism to begin.
Early Intervention for Autism
But once parents receive that diagnosis, choosing the right treatment for their child can be as complex as the diagnosis. There are no miracle cures for the varied challenges that can come with an autism diagnosis. However, behavioral therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, is evidenced-based and the most frequently recommended treatment for helping a child diagnosed with autism.
“Research very clearly states that early intervention for children with autism and other developmental disabilities is vital,” explains Jamie McGillivary, MS, LLP, BCBA, Director of Healing Haven. “When children start therapies like ABA early on, they receive strategic learning opportunities that support them in the areas they need.”
Whether it’s communication, social and play skills, or activities for daily living (brushing teeth, eating with utensils, potty training), children who struggle with these skills can make great strides when provided early intervention support. Additionally, the likelihood of negative behaviors decreases because they learn appropriate behaviors from the beginning.
A child’s individual early intervention plan will address their unique areas of need. For instance, if it’s developing language and communication skills, the ABA therapist will work on helping the child learn to label items and appropriately request things they want or need. And the mode of communication will vary. It may be pointing to a picture, or handing a picture of what they want (Picture Exchange Communication System). And some may use a communication device (tablet), or verbal expressions.
In addition, if the child has negative behaviors their ABA therapy plan will address them. Some common negative behaviors include: damaging toys or property, non-functional crying and screaming, resisting transitions by falling to the ground or running away, aggression or self-injurious behaviors.
The behavior plan developed by the child’s BCBA will include strategies to address the types of behaviors listed above. They will work to pinpoint the reason for these behaviors and teach them skills or replacement behaviors to reduce them.
“For example, some children flop to the ground when transitioning to a new activity. Their ABA Therapist may address functional ways to communicate that the child may need a break,” Jamie explains. “Or they may introduce proactive strategies to warn the child that a transition is about to occur. Giving warnings and visual information about what is to come helps decrease the anxiety surrounding transitions.”
Generalizing New Skills
As a child makes progress on and eventually achieves their goals, we can work on scaling back one-on-one support. The ultimate goal is for the child to generalize the skills they’ve learned into their natural environments. We provide additional programs to support the child and family in this goal.
“We place a significant emphasis on parent training and involvement,” says Jamie. “When parents participate, we increase the likelihood that what children learn in the clinic will carry over to their natural environments.”
As a result of early intervention services, young children with autism receive a strong foundation to learn, develop and grow. It’s good to remember that autism is a spectrum and each child is unique. Some children need more support, while some need less. Some will need ongoing ABA therapy, while others will move on to their school environment with varying levels of support.
Losing a loved one, whether it is expected or not, is hard for anyone to navigate. It’s a process that involves accepting reality, seeking support if necessary, and allowing yourself time to feel natural emotions. So it’s not surprising that explaining the death of a loved one to a child with autism may bring some additional challenges.
Death is a difficult concept for any child to understand, let alone those who may have a hard time grasping abstract concepts. But death and loss are also unavoidable. That’s why we put together some tips to help your child with autism or special needs understand and deal with the process of losing a loved one.
Be literal and thorough when explaining the loss
When explaining the death of a loved to your child with autism, use literal terms. This may help the death make more sense to them. Avoid using terms such as “passed away”, “gone to sleep”, or “gone to another place”. Using these terms risks your child taking them literally and becoming frustrated when their loved one doesn’t wake up or come back.
Be direct when you are explaining the passing of a loved one to your child. The more direct you are, the easier it will be for them to understand. Allowing room for questions is key here and answering them honestly to the best of your ability should take priority.
Keep routines as unchanged as possible
Change in routines can be particularly challenging for individuals on the spectrum. The death of a loved one is a major life changing event. That’s why it is best to keep everything else within their routine as consistent as possible. People with autism find comfort with routine, and comfort is something we all strive for while grieving. Bedtime routines, playdates with friends, school and therapy may be part of daily routines. You should try your best to maintain these activities if they bring your child peace.
When helping a child (with or without autism) through loss and grief, it may seem best to exclude them from certain parts of the process, like attending a funeral with an open casket. While it largely depends on your child’s level of cognitive understanding, as well as your expertise in making the best-informed decision for your child, many professional sources suggest that shielding a child with autism from the complexities that come with loss will likely confuse them more. These sources suggest being transparent and asking your child if they would like to be part of a certain aspect (like the funeral, wake, or burial). With this, allow them to ask any questions they might have.
Another good option, as Alicia says in The Mom Kind, is “to have a celebration of life that they can attend instead of the funeral”. Doing this, Alicia says, “allows involvement without having to see all the grief”.
Prepare them, if possible
If you know that a family member or loved one is terminally ill, try and familiarize your child with all the places they will be during this time. This could be places like the hospital, funeral home, or cemetery. Remember to talk about the emotions they will see from others throughout the process. A great way to do this could be through pre-made “social stories”. Social stories use photographs to help explain and show the child what will happen before it happens in real-time. These photographs and descriptions of the photographs can include emotions that they will observe of others. More information on constructing a social story can be found here.
As we know, children who are on the spectrum can have an especially difficult time dealing with the unexpected, so it is a good idea to make the loss as “expected” as possible. Of course, this may not always be possible and sometimes a loss can be sudden. In this case, you can still do your best to show and tell your child what to expect. Use any photos you have available or pictures online to do this. More ways to prepare your child for loss and help them understand it can be found in this article from Child Bereavement UK.
Utilize books that help explain loss
When it comes to bereavement and children with autism, a lot can be gained from books that are specifically made for this life event.
Another book that is a good choice for the topic of grief is the interactive workbook, Finding Your Own Way to Grieve by Karla Helbert. This book is unique in that it encourages expressive techniques and exercises to help your child identify and process the feelings that accompany loss. This book is perfect for children and teens to work through on their own. They can also use it with the help of a parent or professional. Find this book here.
Lastly, How People With Autism Grieve, and How to Help: An Insider Handbook, is best suited for teens and young adults who need security and affirmation after losing a loved one. Though the book only bases suggestions off one person’s unique experience, it can prove helpful in relating to what your child might be feeling emotionally. Find out more about it here.
We all have different ways of dealing with loss. It’s important to make it known to your child with autism that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond to the death of a loved one. The most vital thing, though, is to ensure that your child knows there is support around them and that they have people to talk about it with when they feel sad or confused.
With the chilly months upon us again, many have started looking for new books to read this year. To help you build out your reading list, we’ve researched the latest books about autism published since our book list in 2020 to create a new autism reading guide for the year. There are several books for parents as well as books to help autistic kids, tweens and teens. Take a look at some of the latest books about autism to add to this year’s reading list.
We know that navigating the world of autism as a parent can present many unique challenges. Parents of all kids don’t always know how to handle the needs of their children. But having a child with autism adds unique needs that can be difficult to navigate. However, there are several new books about autism released in 2021 and 2022. These are written specifically to be beneficial to you as a parent of a child with autism.
Navigating Autism: 9 Mindsets For Helping Kids on the Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Deborah Moore
Joined by psychologist Debra Moore, Dr. Temple Grandin explores various mindsets that are effective when working with kids and young adults on the autism spectrum. You’ll find personal stories from Grandin with anecdotes from parents who have sought her insight. You’ll also discover advice from Moore who has 30+ years of experience in psychological work with kids on the spectrum. Not only is this a good read for parents, but helpful for anyone who impacts the lives of children on the spectrum. Check it out on Amazon.
We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation by Eric Garcia
Writing from personal experience, Washington D.C. reporter and journalist Eric Garcia helps give readers a better understanding of life from the perspective of an autistic person. Through this, he informs them on effective ways to help those on the spectrum. In this book, Garcia breaks down popular myths surrounding autism and uses historical facts to support his claims. For anyone who is interested in learning more about autism to better help a loved one, this book is available here.
It Takes a Village by Amy Nielsen
Educator, writer, advocate and mother of four children, including one with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, Nielsen uses her experience as a chance to help parents and family members of children with exceptional needs learn to build a strong support system. Nielsen covers how to make these important connections. In addition, she takes time to explain the importance of them in the special needs community. Having an emphasis on family involvement, the book includes worksheets to help readers track their progress in creating a support system for their loved one(s). To find out more about this book, go to It Takes a Village.
For Kids, Tweens and Teens
We are thrilled to find so many new books about autism specifically written for kids, tweens and teens! Here are a few released within the past couple of years to build out a reading guide for your tween or teen with autism.
I am Autism “In the classroom” by Blake Carter Desiree
Written by a child who has an ADHD and an autism diagnosis, Desiree delves into what school life is like. He goes on to explain how his diagnoses makes life difficult for him as a different learner. This book provides perspective that could be impactful for helping neurotypical children better understand neurodiverse peers. Desiree’s story can also help a neurodiverse child feel more understood and supported in a classroom setting. I Am Autism is available here.
When things get too loud: A story about sensory overload by Anne Alcott
This book is an excellent option if you are seeking an educational, vividly illustrated story that can be read to both neurodiverse and neurotypical children. This read is created specifically to help children understand and learn emotional regulation skills. It beautifully explains coping strategies for any child who may struggle with overstimulation and sensory-processing issues. This book is highly rated for its inclusiveness and thoughtfulness. Find When Things Get Too Loud here.
This Is Me! I am who I’m meant to be by Amy Pflueger
With her knowledge and experience, Pflueger, an advocate and mother of two autistic sons, wrote this book primarily for autistic children to relate to and help them better understand why they might be “different” than their peers, as they learn to engage in a world that’s already full of challenges and surprises. It promotes self-acceptance and is also a great source for siblings and classmates of autistic children. It can help them to better acknowledge, accept and understand autism on a deeper level, all while using simplistic and digestible words and pictures. If you’re looking for an awesome, educational story to share with your child, you can find this book here.
Have you picked up a new favorite book about autism that we don’t have here? Let us know in the comments!
And we hope you learned about some new books and resources through this year’s autism reading guide. If so, please share it with your community!
Valentine’s Day is a special time of the year. We often pause and express love to those who are close to us. However, communicating this love to each person in our lives takes a unique form. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages®, everyone expresses and receives love in a unique way. Children with autism are no different!
In my 10 years of working with children with an autism diagnosis, I have loved the challenge of finding ways to “reinforcer pair” with them. This is applied behavior analytic talk for “loving them in their own unique way.” For some children it can be as simple as providing them with their favorite toy. While for others, this can entail months of chasing them with hand puppets, blasting them up like a rocket, and working up a sweat to evoke one heartful giggle.
As parents and caregivers of children with autism, when we do the work of finding ways to show love to our kids — they return the love tenfold. Just like any relationship, it is always helpful to reflect on new ways to express our affection.
5 Ways to Express Love to Your Child with Autism
Using the wisdom of The 5 Love Languages®, here are a few ideas of how you can express love to your child with autism this Valentine’s Day:
Words of affirmation
Many children with autism are visual learners. As a result, they respond well to pictures, videos, and written words over spoken words of affirmation. Consider creating a photo book with pictures of significant memories with your child and a few words to describe each memory.
Children with autism seek sensory input in a myriad of ways. Some enjoy the physical touch of loved ones through hugs, tickles, cuddles, and kisses. While on the other hand, others find more enjoyment in the sensory input from the physical environment in which we live. This Valentine’s Day, if Michigan winter allows, try spending time outdoors with your child exploring the cold snow. For extra sensory input, take food coloring with you and watch a winter wonderland turn into modern art!
Our children receive demands all day long— “get dressed,” “clean up,” “do this,” “do that,” etc. As adults, it is challenging for us to spend time with a child without placing any demands. However, with some effort, perhaps this is a true gift we can offer your child this Valentine’s Day. Intentionally plan for one hour of praise, imitation, attention, and freedom to be exactly who they are in that moment.
Although chocolate and a teddy bear may be the perfect gift for some kids, there are other options too. A beautiful gift for any child could be the gift of a new experience. Depending on your child’s interests and preferences, here are some ideas to consider. You could take them to a sensory friendly movie, bake cookies from scratch, complete a science experiment, visit an indoor trampoline park, or explore the various children’s museums in Michigan. Additionally, find a winter activity in this blog post that would feed their need for sensory or motor input. Then purchase the items and package them together for a gift this Valentine’s Day.
Acts of service
As a twist, the recommendation for this category does not directly involve expressing love to your child with autism. As parents and caregivers of children with special needs, we spend much of our time caring for others. In order to give from a fuller cup, try scheduling time for self-care this Valentine’s Day. As little as 10 minutes of meditation can lead to decreased anxiety, physical pain, and even cardiovascular disease.
Remember, “The number of ways to express love within a love language is limited only by your imagination” (Chapman). Let your creativity soar this Valentine’s Day as you express love to your child with autism – and anyone else in your life!
For additional reading on this subject, our Founder & President Jamie McGillivary, MS, LLP, BCBA, LBA, spoke about it with Metro Parent in 2022 – What Love on the Spectrum Looks Like.