As we move into November, Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

 

Not only is now the perfect time to perfect your pumpkin pie recipe, but you should also ensure that you are planning celebrations that the whole family can enjoy, including those who may be neurodiverse.

 

After all, for children with autism and related conditions, large events such as thanksgiving parties and celebrations can be a cause of great stress. There are various reasons for this. For example, they may be forced to deviate from their routine or be surrounded by crowds and loud noises at parades.

 

However, this does not mean that they cannot join in the fun of this family celebration.

 

With that in mind, here are some simple steps you can take to ensure your thanksgiving celebrations are autism-friendly.

 

Invest in noise canceling headphones.

 

Whether you’re heading to a parade or are cooking for a houseful of lovely, but very noisy guests, noise-cancelling headphones can be a lifesaver for children who display sensitivity to sounds and loud noises. Explain to others guests that they are not being rude or trying to get out of the conversation, they’re simply keeping themselves comfortable.

 

Let them choose what’s on their plate.

 

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is the food – and while you may want to encourage your child to diversify their palette and eat all their veggies, it’s not worth pushing these changes at a time when they may already be feeling overstimulated. Instead, let them choose what they would and would not like to eat – and don’t push them if they aren’t feeling super hungry.

 

Put together a routine for the holidays.

 

As mentioned above, disrupted routines can sometimes leave children with ASD feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This is because they rely on the familiarity that a routine provides. One way in which you can make this time a little easier on them is by putting together a routine for the holidays – this way, they know what to expect from each day. You should also spend some time discussing your plans with them, so they can ask any questions they might have.

 

Discuss the holidays in therapy.

 

Whether your child attends family therapy or occupational therapy, discussing the upcoming holidays with their therapist can also be a great way to prepare them for the changes and oncoming chaos. For example, it could give them the chance to develop coping skills that they can apply when they feel overstimulated.

 

Help them find familiarity in unfamiliar spaces.

 

Your home is likely your child’s safe space, again due to the fact that it provides them with a sense of familiarity. However, as many of us travel to spend time with family over the holidays, it’s important that you find a way to help them find familiarity in unfamiliar environments. For example, you should bring along some of their most treasured toys and belongings. You could also make it easier for them to fall asleep by bringing their favorite bedding along, so the guest room feels a little more like home.

Children with autism spectrum disorder often have particular food preferences.  Chicken nuggets, crackers, macaroni and cheese, and bread tend to be foods that these kids accept and love.  Gently expanding that list of foods can be excellent for nutrition and getting new sensory experiences.  Here are some ways to get started:

 

Present a new food..

 

But take away the pressure of eating it!  Eating a new type of food can be an overstimulating sensory experience.  New smells, colors, textures, and tastes can be too much all at once.  Place the novel food on the child’s plate without the expectation that they’ll eat it.  Tolerating the food on their plate is a significant first step for exposure to new foods.  If it is too much to have it on their plate, keep putting it on yours until they are more acclimated to it.

 

Play with your food!

 

“Don’t play with your food” is outdated, especially for kids with special needs.  Children with ASD benefit significantly from having a positive experience with food.  Make pictures by putting yogurt or hummus on a plate and letting them trace lines into it with their fingers.  They might even have a taste before they are finished.  Have some fun by making popsicles with fresh fruit or building a structure with grapes and toothpicks.

 

Use food bridges

 

Food bridges are an excellent strategy for kids of all ages and abilities.  Start with food that the child is comfortable with, say, salty crackers.  This will be the base food.  Now change one thing about that food.  In this case, it might be the shape, the brand, a whole wheat option, or a dip that they can add on themselves.  Keep changing only one thing at a time.  The progression might look like: Salty cracker à whole wheat cracker à whole wheat cracker with yogurt dip à whole wheat cracker with yogurt dip with ½ a teaspoon of peanut butter added, and so on.  If the child doesn’t accept the next step in the food bridge, go back to their last successful step and make a shorter bridge.

 

Model healthy choices

 

While it is easier to make one meal that everyone will eat, try not to get stuck in the routine of planning meals around those limited preferred foods.  If kids don’t see nutritious options regularly, they are more likely to avoid them altogether when encountering those options in the future.  For some kids, seeing something on another person’s plate without explanation or expectation actually piques their interest.

 

Keep it tiny!

 

When placing a new food on a child’s plate, make sure it is small in amount.  Don’t start with a raw carrot stick if you’re introducing carrots.  Instead, cook it (this texture might be easier for some kids to tolerate), and offer a quarter of a sliced baby carrot.  This is less intimidating for kids, and if they do try it, an outstanding small win for everyone!  They might even ask for more.

 

Adults and children alike rely on their senses to obtain information about our environment.  The five senses that people commonly think of are touch, taste, sight, and smell – these senses give us information about the world around us.  However, three other senses provide us with information about our own bodies: Proprioception, vestibular input, and interoception.  Interoception is the process of interpreting information that comes from our internal organs.  These signals tell us that we feel hungry or thirsty, need to use the bathroom, or even if we feel unwell.  This sense helps us realize that our heart is beating too fast, that we have butterflies in our stomachs or feel dysregulated.  While crucial to our well-being and ability to function, interoception is often overlooked.

 

Examples of children who could benefit from intervention include:

 

-A child who has a meltdown before lunch but cannot identify that he feels dysregulated because he is hungry

-A child with an anxiety disorder who withdraws when transitioning to gym class

-An older child who has frequent accidents or realizes they have to urinate when it is nearly too late

-A child who gets over-excited and therefore dysregulated when there is a notable change in the schedule

 

Intervention helps children process the sensory information coming into their brains and communicate what they need.  When a child identifies that they need rest, water, or a bathroom break, they can fulfill that need.  Only when that need is met can they reach the higher level executive functioning skills needed for learning.  Try these strategies to help children process and interpret information about their bodies:

 

Practice observing other senses. Interoception is more abstract than the sense of sight or smell, especially to children.  Before diving into interoception, practice with the sensation of touch.  Explore hot and cold, soft and rough, or clean and dirty.  Start to think about if the sense brings up an emotion such as discomfort or calm.

 

Experiment.  Give children an opportunity to observe their bodies at rest.  Then challenge them to a brief but intense exercise period (jumping jacks or sprints work well for this).  Allow your students to observe and compare how they felt before and after the exercise.

 

Be detectives.  Use a poster of the body and let older students brainstorm different sensations from different body parts.  Focus on one organ at a time and ask them guiding questions or provide examples as necessary.  This is an excellent tool for visual learners.

 

Give examples.  Having the right words to describe the concept can be a barrier for many individuals with interoception challenges.  Share how different cues make you feel.  Maybe when your stomach is empty, it feels hollow and rumbling.  Challenge yourself to open up about your signals to help give your students the tools and language they need.

 

Zones of Regulation. Already using the Zones of Regulation curriculum?  Help children align how they react from their internal signals with the zones.  For example, a child might be in the yellow zone when their heart beats too fast or the blue zone when they feel overtired.

 

Mindfulness.  Use a guided meditation to tune into different body functions (like breathing).  You can also practice using a moment of silence to check in with your body.  This can be as simple as asking preschoolers to check in with their bodies to see if they need to use the bathroom or as thorough as a complete guided body scan.

 

Many parents feel overwhelmed when their child receives a diagnosis for autism or a related condition, as they wonder what kind of impact this will have on their lives. And, while it’s important to note that autism is not a debilitating condition that will stand in the way of your child’s long-term success, there are certain steps you can take to make their day-to-day life easier.

 

For example, you could explore a range of therapies, such as Intensive ABA therapy or online therapies. Alternatively, you could focus on making changes within your home, such as by creating a sensory room or curating a consistent routine. In recent years, varying studies have also found that owning a pet can be incredibly beneficial for children with autism and related disorders.

 

Of course, it goes without saying that pets are good for children on a general scale. They provide them with companionship, while also teaching them to be more responsible and mature.

 

The main benefits of owning a pet, or pet therapy, for those with autism, are:

 

Improved communication skills. Children with autism or related disorders may sometimes struggle to communicate effectively or find their voice. And, while they’ll not be able to have a “conversation” with their pet, the way in which they interact with them may help them to improve their communication skills. This can be particularly useful for those who “communicate non-verbally, as they will find other ways to interact and create a strong bond with the animal.” (1)

 

Lower levels of stress and anxiety. Those with autism or ASD are also more prone to dealing with anxiety disorders, both as children and adults. For example, a recent study found that “20% of autistic adults have an anxiety disorder, compared with less than 9% of typical adults”. (2) Owning a pet is scientifically proven to lower anxiety, given that playing with your pet will increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine that your body produces. These hormones are famed for the ability to calm and relax the nervous system.

 

The opportunity to follow a routine. As mentioned above, children with autism and related disorders thrive in stable environments (i.e. when following routines). Many pets, such as dogs and cats, also respond positively to routines. For example, they like to go for walks or be fed at the same time each morning/evening. This means that owning a pet can help your child follow a routine, giving them the structure they crave.

 

Pets are trusted companions. One of the major benefits of owning a pet is that they provide you with companionship and friendship, no matter which animal you choose to own. They are also non-judgmental, which can be incredibly comforting for children (and adults) who often feel judged in their daily lives. To put it simply, your pet will always be there for you.

 

Increased sense of empathy. It’s a harmful myth that those with autism and related disorders are unemotional, they simply express themselves in a way that is slightly different to their neurotypical peers. That being said, owning a pet can help them strengthen their empathy, or at least their outward expression of empathy as they learn to care for the complex needs of their pet.

 

References:

 

1) Golden Care Therapy, “PETS AND ANIMAL THERAPY FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM”.

 

2) Spectrum News, “One in five autistic adults may have an anxiety disorder”.

 

Kids with autism spectrum disorder tend to have play patterns that they repeat over and over.  Her favorite character from Netflix?  It’s the only one she’ll play with.  His cars that he seems to adore?  He only wants to line them up again and again.  Children on the autism spectrum tend to engage in stereotyped, restricted, scripted, and solo play.  So how do we guide children to expand these play patterns so they can learn and grow?  Here are seven things to try.

 

 1. Tap into their interests.

 

Take some time to intentionally observe the child at play.  What do they enjoy?  What gets them excited?  You’ll want to have a solid idea so that when you offer opportunities to extend their play, they’ll accept due to their peaked interest.

 

2. Look closely at the ‘how.’

 

You likely have an idea of your child’s interests, so now look closer at how they engage with their play interests.  Think about what kind of play the child gravitates toward.  Some kids enjoy visual stimulation and can be found spinning tops or bringing toys close to their eyes so they can inspect them more clearly.  Others like to bang toys together to create sound or feel various textures.  Take note and inspiration from how your child engages.

 

3. Provide structure.

 

Many children with ASD have difficulty with the open-ended nature of play.  Slowly and gradually provide strategies to give activities more form.  If they enjoy lining up cars, use tape to make parking spots and demonstrate parking the vehicles.  This will take some time and patience, but they’re much more likely to engage when you use this strategy alongside the child’s interests.  Other ways to add structure include:

 

        Practicing taking turns

        Modeling play

       Using a visual schedule

       Adding more steps to a play routine

 

4. Be present.

 

While adding structure can be a great way to learn and grow, be sure to follow your child’s lead during play.  It is a delicate balance.  However, creating these learning opportunities on the spot is beneficial to their learning and eagerness to try something different playfully.

 

5. Identify their strengths.

 

These are unique for each child with and without an ASD diagnosis.  Some children excel at math, and others are very caring toward animals.  When you offer play opportunities, tap into your child’s strength.  For example, the child who loves animals and math may be interested in counting and feeding the animals in a barnyard toy.

 

5. Reinforce.

 

Provide positive reinforcement when your child tries something new during playtime.  Even simply reminding the child, “I enjoy playing with you!” can reframe their perception of play.

 

7. Address toy clutter.

 

The environment around the child impacts their success with play.  When toys are disorganized, are placed on open shelves, or too many options are available, the child is more likely to flutter from activity to activity without meaningful play.  Offer limited and versatile options for a more profound play experience.

There are plenty of guides out there that offer advice for parents whose child has just had an autism diagnosis, but very few that consider this process from the perspective of the child.

After all, as the average diagnosis age is three for boys and four for girls, children are often too young to understand what the diagnosis actually means. While this doesn’t mean you should overburden them with complicated language and leaflets, you should make an effort to bring it into conversation with them.

With that in mind, here are some simple ways in which you can begin to talk to your child about autism, their diagnosis, and how it may impact their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

To put it simply, there’s no ‘right’ way to talk about autism with your child. As their parent, you will know them better than anyone else, meaning you’ll know what you need to say and do to make them feel comfortable and supported. However, you must maintain a positive mindset. We now understand autism and related conditions more than ever, meaning that the services available to the neurodiverse community are getting better and better each day.

 

Symptoms Of ASD

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, manifests itself differently in every person who has received a diagnosis. This is, in part, what can make diagnosis difficult – as the symptoms can be far-ranging and often overlap with other neurological conditions, such as Aspergers or even OCD.

 

As a result, it is essential that parents seek not to armchair diagnose their children – but instead pay attention to some of the signs and symptoms of autism in different age groups so that they can ensure their child gets the support they need.

 

However, some symptoms of autism are less frequent than others. For example, around 40% of children receiving autism therapies have a language delay – making it one of the more common indicators for parents to keep an eye out for. Others may be harder to spot – or you may not even recognize them as a symptom whatsoever.

 

With that in mind, here are three lesser-known symptoms of autism. (Note: this blog should not be considered a method of diagnosis – and you should reach out to a healthcare professional should you require more support).

 

Seizures.

 

For a long time, the link between autism and an increased likelihood of dealing with a seizure was unknown – despite the fact that 1 in 4 children with autism also had a seizure disorder. More recently, however, researchers have identified specific gene mutations that occur in both autism and epilepsy.

 

If your child has a seizure, try to move them to a safe environment, such as the floor/ground, where they cannot hurt themselves. Remove any hazards from the surrounding area and seek medical help. During this time, you should try to time the seizures. As medical scenarios such as doctor visits can be more daunting for children with autism, you should also make sure healthcare professionals know their condition ahead of time.

 

Hypo-reactivity.

 

Sensory processing issues are common in children and adults with autism and related disorders. However, common assumption means that we expect this to manifest itself in a strong (and noticeable) dislike of certain sensory factors, like textures and smells. This kind of response could be labelled as hyperreactivity, where responses appear a little over the top. However, the opposite can often be the case for children with autism, meaning they under-respond to certain stimuli. This is known as hypo-reactivity. For example, your child may constantly talk over others as they are unaware of how loud they are speaking.

 

Lack of Hazard Perception.

 

As a parent, we’ll always want to make sure our children are safe – which is why it can be particularly daunting when we notice them participating in behaviors that could be reckless or dangerous. However, while many children will learn to fear danger naturally – children with autism or related disorders may not develop this knowledge or insight at the same rate as their peers.

 

There are various reasons for this. For example, we are wary of hazards because we can imagine what goes wrong if we do not bear them in mind. Children with autism and related disorders may not think of what could happen – as they are focused on non-negotiables and black and white facts. They may also find it harder to understand situations that they have not experienced directly.

 

If you believe that your child has autism or a related disorder, please do not hesitate to get in touch today. We have decades of experience supporting children with ASD through extensive clinical services and one-on-one support, enabling them to reach their full potential.

Neurodiverse children and adults experience the world in different ways to neurotypical people. For example, they may respond differently to sounds, sights, and sensations due to how they process the things happening around them.

 

However, the issue is that the world is built for neurotypical people and their comfort, meaning that the varying needs of the neurodiverse population are not taken into account. While there has been plenty of positive change in terms of inclusivity (such as sensory-friendly film screenings) in recent years, there is still a long way to go.

 

As a result, psychologists have developed a range of intervention techniques used to support those with autism and related disorders so that they can reach their full potential. One such intervention is therapy.

 

In this guide, we will walk you through some of the different forms of therapy available at our clinic and how to decide which program is right for you.

 

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis.

 

Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a therapy program based on our behaviors, habits, and thought patterns. It teaches children with autism and related disorders how one action can lead to another – making it a great way to promote positive behaviors and decrease those that may be problematic.

 

During ABA sessions, children will:

 

ABA therapies were designed with conditions such as autism in mind, meaning they are suitable for any child who has received a diagnosis. However, you may find them particularly beneficial if your child showcases a lot of negative behaviors.

 

Speech therapy.

 

As the name indicates, speech therapy targets any problems the user may have with speech or communication. It has been used to support those with various speech impediments since 1919 – making it an incredibly reliable intervention technique.

 

During speech therapy, children will:

 

You may find speech therapy beneficial if your child is non-verbal or finds it hard to communicate with others. Ahead of time, your therapist will be able to talk you through the program and the different techniques that will be used. For example, one way in which we improve speech during our sessions is by practicing exercises that strengthen the muscles in our mouth, jaw, and neck. They will also be able to inform you about what kind of progress you can expect during your time together.

 

Occupational therapy.

 

Occupation therapy is perhaps the most popular therapy for children and related disorders. It focuses on helping children develop a range of daily living skills to better navigate the world around them – touching on both cognitive and physical skills in doing so.

 

During occupational therapy, children will:

 

As a result, occupational therapy can be useful for all children with autism and related disorders due to the wide scope of skills it covers. As your program can be tailored to your child’s individual needs, it can be used to cover any gaps in their knowledge or skill set that would otherwise stand in their way of reaching their full potential. As such, it may be beneficial for children who are experiencing developmental delays. For example, you may notice that your child reaches certain milestones much later than their older sibling did.

 

Group Therapy.

 

Whenever we think of therapy sessions, it’s easy to think of the way they are depicted in movies – where you lie on a sofa and work with a therapist one-on-one. However, this is not always the case. To begin, therapies for children are much more active, as this is often the best way to make progress. Furthemore, group therapy – whether that be in the form of family sessions or peer support groups, can also prove to be very beneficial when it comes to autism and related disorders.

 

During group therapy, children will:

 

Group therapy can be an excellent way for your child to come out of their shell, especially as it helps them interact with other children who experience the world the same way they do. It can also be a valuable tool for families, as it gives you a greater insight into what your child is experiencing and gives you the chance to connect with other parents. For siblings of those with autism, it can help them learn why their brother/sister acts a little differently.

At Alee Behavioral, we’re passionate about helping children with autism, and related disorders develop the skills they need to thrive in all aspects of their life – from social interactions to schooling. One way in which we achieve this goal is by offering a wide range of therapy services that target different areas in which they may need support.

For example, we use speech therapy to help children with autism develop their communication skills and find their voice. Another effective therapy practice is known as occupational therapy.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a service that aims to help the user develop a range of daily living skills that allow them to navigate their way through a complex world. These services are often used to help younger users transition into the school environment, connect with their peers, and learn how to take care of themselves. They can also support those who may deal with sensory processing issues – which is a common complication for those with autism. In fact, a recent study found that approximately 80% of children with autism deal with some form of sensory processing issue.

During occupational therapy sessions, your child will work one-to-one with Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) and could work on any of the following:

To find out more about occupational therapy or the other clinical services we have on offer, please do not hesitate to get in touch today. We’d love to hear from you!

Speech Therapy

 

Our success, both within our personal lives and in the professional realm, is often dictated by how we are able to communicate with those around us. After all, so much of our time is dedicated to social interaction and interpersonal relationships, even during the pandemic when the majority of these interactions occurred behind the screen.

 

However, for children with autism and related disorders, developing effective communication skills is harder than it would be for the average neurotypical person. In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of people with autism are nonverbal – with many others finding verbal or face-to-face communication difficult (AutismSpeaks)

 

While no two people experience autism in the same way, those with autism or related disorders may face communication barriers such as:

 

 

However, there are various steps you can take to help your child with autism find their voice – with one of the most effective methods being therapy services such as speech therapy.

 

What is Speech Therapy?

 

Speech Therapy has a long and well-documented history and rose to prominence in the early 19th century. While it is an effective tool for those with autism and related disorders, it is also used to support children and adults with learning difficulties, language disorders, and those who experience hearing loss (amongst others).

 

During the typical speech therapy session, participants will work alongside a licensed therapist to develop a wide range of communication skills that will enable them to thrive in any environment.

 

These services often help children with autism and related disorders in all aspects of their life. For example, they may find it easier to communicate with their peers and develop better interpersonal relationships as a result. They can also help ready teens for entering the professional world. However (and perhaps most importantly), speech therapy can help children with autism, and related disorders discover the benefits of self-expression. When they can communicate more effectively, they’ll be able to let others know when they are unhappy and why – which could reduce the chances of them dealing with meltdowns or emotional outbursts.

 

What skills are developed in Speech Therapy?

 

Again, the nature of the speech therapy support will vary depending on the individual in question. However, these sessions often include:

 

 

At Alee Behavioral, we provide children with autism and their families with a range of therapy services – including speech therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis, and home-based therapeutic services. Get in touch to find out more!

Any questions? Give us a call!

401-228-8303

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