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.

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.

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!

Top Tips For An Autism-Friendly Christmas

 

The most wonderful time of year, whether you’re hosting a big family event or spending hours decorating your Christmas tree – the holidays are simply magical. However, for children with autism and related disorders, they can also be a little daunting. This is due to the fact that they’re leaps and bounds away from their usual routine; with unplanned visitors popping by, time off school, and the potential for sensory overload at every possible corner. 

 

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of elements of the festive period that your children are sure to love – from giving and receiving gifts to rewatching their favorite holiday movies. As with any celebrations, from birthdays to thanksgiving, it’s easy to make the event as autism-friendly as possible, it simply requires some careful planning ahead of time.

 

With that in mind, here are some top tips for an autism-friendly Christmas! 

 

Keep routines consistent where possible. 

 

Putting together a clear routine is a great way to help your child thrive in any environment. This is due to the fact that it can provide them with the structure and stability that they require to function as normal. While it may be impossible to stick entirely to your usual routine during the festive period, being as consistent as possible in your day-to-day activities will go a long way towards helping your child feel more comfortable. For example, you could ensure that you: 

Think carefully about your decor.

 

Whether you prefer an artificial tree or the real deal, decorating your home for an autism-friendly Christmas can be a lot of fun – especially as it is an activity that the whole family can get involved in. However, when decorating, you should be particularly mindful of any sensory issues that your children may deal with as you do not want to make them feel uncomfortable in their own home. For example, while fairy lights are a great way to bring some sparkle into your lounge, they aren’t always the most autism-friendly choice of decorating, especially if they blink on and off or change colors frequently. 

 

Keep the Christmas songs on a low volume.

 

Playing (and replaying) your favorite Christmas songs is a great way to get the party started – whether you’re a fan of Mariah Carey or Michael Buble. However, if you want to keep your party as autism-friendly as possible, you should ensure that you keep the noise down to an acceptable volume. This is due to the fact that children with autism and related disorders often react negatively to loud noises. In fact, a recent report from the interactive autism network found that approximately 65% of children with autism are sensitive to noise. It may also be worth purchasing some noise-canceling headphones for your child.

 

Put together an autism-friendly Christmas menu.

 

While each and every child experiences autism in a different way, many children with autism and related disorders are also quite specific regarding the kinds of food and drink they enjoy. Again, this is often linked to the way in which they approach certain senses, such as taste and texture. For example, they may not like the texture of certain foods, or the way they feel in their mouth – and as a result, will refuse to eat them moving forward. While your parents may always have encouraged you to eat everything on your plate, it’s important that you do not force your child to eat something they do not enjoy. Instead, you should ensure you put together dishes and meals that you know they will enjoy. 

 

Listen to how they are feeling.

 

Listening to your child, and encouraging them to find ways to express themself is another great way for the whole family to enjoy the holidays. For example, when you put together your schedule for the holidays, you should discuss it with them in-depth and ask how they feel about certain events or activities. If they express discomfort, you’ll be able to soothe their worries or put alternative plans in place.

Top Tips For Autism-Friendly Thanksgiving Celebrations

 

Whether your favorite part of thanksgiving is the famous football matches, spending time with your family, or second (and third) helpings of pumpkin pie – you’ll likely already have put some plans in place for how you plan to celebrate the big day. After all, many thanksgiving celebrations were put on hold last year, meaning that we have twice as many reasons to celebrate in 2021.

 

However, when a child deals with autism or a similar condition, enjoying a big family event can be a little more difficult. This is due to the fact that celebrations not only mark a clear deviation from their usual routine, they are also busy, loud, and over-stimulating – which could leave your child feeling incredibly uncomfortable. However, this does not mean that they have to miss out on the fun!

 

With that in mind, here are some top tips for planning the perfect (autism-friendly) thanksgiving celebrations.

 

What To Do If You Believe That Your Child Has Autism

 

As a parent, you will always want what is best for your child. As a result, if you begin to suspect that they have a condition such as autism, you may be feeling concerned or even worried about what the future may hold for your child. After all, children with autism or related conditions experience life differently from their neurotypical peers and may need certain support fixtures in place to ensure they can reach their full potential. 

 

First things first, however, it’s important to remember that an autism diagnosis is not a bad thing. Therefore, if you are beginning to suspect that your child may have autism, it is important that you do not panic. We all have qualities that make us different from each other, and autism is simply one of these differences. Furthermore, those with autism can fully achieve their goals – no matter what they may be. That being said, getting that autism diagnosis can make a real difference to your child’s life for the better, as it means you’ll gain access to the appropriate support networks. 

 

According to recent reports, approximately 1 in 54 children in the US have been diagnosed with ASD, though it is also estimated that a quarter of kids with autism go undiagnosed. This is likely because autism manifests itself differently in each person – and there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ list of symptoms that you can apply to receive a diagnosis. 

 

Nevertheless, if you suspect that your child may have autism, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that you give them the support and love they need. For example, you should: 

 

Research the different signs of autism. 

 

As mentioned previously, no two people with autism will have the same experiences and symptoms, but parents can be on the lookout for certain signs of signifiers. As detailed by autism speaks, these symptoms may present themselves at different stages of your child’s development. For example, some of the earliest indicators of autism or a related disorder can be identified when a child is around six months old – such as limited eye contact or a lack of expression. Furthermore, when your child reaches their first birthday, you may notice a lack of babbling or chatter, alongside a lack of response to their name. 

 

Despite this, most autism diagnoses happen when children are around four years old – though boys are often diagnosed much quicker than girls. Other common symptoms of autism that you may notice during this time include: 

 

Autism Speaks have also put together a quick survey for parents who may be considering looking into their child’s behavior further, which could give you some of the answers you are looking for. You can try it out here.  

 

Speak to a health professional.

 

After doing your research, if you still feel your child may have autism or a related disorder, it is time to look into getting a diagnosis. In some cases, medical professionals may prefer to wait until your child is over the age of two before they diagnose them. This is because all children develop differently and at different rates, so early diagnoses are sometimes discouraged – even though they can be beneficial.

 

Doctors and health professionals will diagnose children based on behavioral studies – as there are no medical tests that can actually be carried out. Once your child receives a diagnosis, they will also provide you with information on what you can do to best support them moving forward. For example, they may consider that you look into therapy services

 

At Alee Behavioral, we have a range of different therapy and clinical services on offer that can be specifically tailored to each child. For example, if your child is non-verbal, we can support them through speech therapy. 

 

Make lifestyle changes.

 

Once your child has received a diagnosis, you will then introduce changes into your daily life that enable them to reach their full potential. In addition to connecting with therapists, this could include putting together a daily routine that helps your child thrive by providing them with structure. You’ll also be able to figure out ways to slowly and safely introduce your child to change without overwhelming them. For example, you could begin by scheduling ‘surprises’ into their daily routine – by adding a question mark to a calendar and displaying it within your home. This way, your child knows that they will be trying something new and can prepare themselves a little for these changes. 

 

Don’t panic.

 

As mentioned previously, the most important thing to remember if you believe your child has autism (or if they have just received their diagnosis) is that you must not panic. Autism will not stand in the way of their success in any way whatsoever – and getting that diagnosis means that you’ll be able to provide them with additional care and support.

 

Why Autism Representation Is Important In The Media (And Where It Has Fallen Short)

 

As both adults and children, the media we consume is often partly responsible for how we formulate opinions or view the world around us. This is because it often provides us with a framework that we can use when navigating situations that may be new to us or when meeting new people. Furthermore, it is important that children of all ages see themselves – or characters that look, act, and think in the same way they do – in media such as TV shows, films, and books. This is because it helps them feel seen, respected and shows that they too have a story to tell. It also promotes inclusion while ensuring that the culture we devour is representative of the whole population – as opposed to a select few. 

 

However,  media representation can also create subconscious biases and spread misinformation when certain characters or stories are not portrayed correctly. Unfortunately, this is often the case when characters with autism and related disorders are shown on our screens. For example: 

 

In 2020, music-star Sia released her directorial debut film, Music, which chronicled the life of a child with autism and her sister that cared for her. However, despite claiming that she merely wanted to represent autism on screen – Sia was criticized for what ultimately became a portrayal that relied on myths and stereotypes. Furthermore, many critics stated that some of the advice given within the film regarding how to support a child with autism is harmful and outdated – which could lead to a lot of trouble further down the line. 

 

This is troublesome for various reasons but can be particularly harmful to children with autism who do not deserve to see their behaviors reduced to a stereotype. They should be able to look at a character on screen and go; He’s like me because he’s smart, and he likes to do ____. They should feel validated by what they see – and not because they are made to be the butt of the joke. 

 

While Sia’s movie is not only concerning, it is not alone. In fact, Music can easily be added to a catalog of films where autistic characters are forced into stereotypes – even though autism is not a set of rigid behaviors and affects every person in different ways. Whether you are watching Rainman or Atypical – these problems present themselves again and again. 

 

With that in mind, when it comes to parenting a child with autism, how can you find materials for them that are not only suitable but will not leave them feeling reduced to a certain (incorrect stereotype)? After all, despite what these cinematic blunders may have made you think – children with autism and related disorders are not anti-social people who are happy to sit on the sidelines. In fact, with the proper support, therapy, and care, they can thrive in any situation that comes their way. 

 

Thankfully, with a call for better representation coming directly from the autistic community, there are ways in which you can help your child in this matter. For example, you can:

 

 

In short, while consistent, authentic representation seems to be missing from popular culture – it is slowly finding its way into the mainstream. As such, you should continue to seek out this material wherever possible. 

Top Tips For Parents Whose Children Have Just Had An Autism Diagnosis

 

In the USA, the average age for an autism diagnosis is around 3.8 years for boys and 4+ years for girls. This is because this is around the time when their differences to their peers become more apparent, whether this relates to how they carry themselves or socialize with others. However, many individuals with autism and related disorders do not receive their diagnosis until much later in life, sometimes even into adulthood (70% receive a diagnosis after turning 18)

 

Nevertheless, while you may have noticed the signs of autism in your child from an early age, receiving an official diagnosis can feel daunting. 

 

With that in mind, here are some top tips for parents whose child has recently received their diagnosis on the steps you can take moving forward. 

 

The Best After-School Activities For Children With Autism

 

Whether your kids are attending online school or have already returned to the classroom, with the new school year underway, it’s likely that they are going to be spending a lot of their time learning. However, while their academic pursuits are important, you should also ensure that they have plenty of fun outside of the classroom. After all, studies suggest that children learn just as much at home as they do in class – and having fun is a great way to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety in children of all ages.

 

With that in mind, here are some of the best after-school activities for children with autism and related disorders.

 

Sports Activities. 

 

As a parent, you are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that your children understand the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle. While there are various ways to achieve this goal, encouraging them to exercise regularly is a great way to get started. That being said, sometimes it can take a little while to find the sport that best suits your child – especially when children with autism and related disorders may prefer solo sporting endeavors instead of team sports. However, that does not mean that there is not an activity out there that they will fall in love with!

 

If your child is looking for a solo-sporting activity, then you may want to consider the following:

 

– Swimming
– Running
– Athletics
– Martial Arts
– Gymnastics
– Golfing

 

However, while they may take a little adjusting, team sports can prove incredibly beneficial for children with autism and related disorders. This is due to the simple fact that it encourages them to formulate better relationships with their peers while improving their ability to communicate. Great examples of team sports include:

 

– Soccer
– Baseball
– Basketball
– Dancing
– Tennis
– Badminton

 

Creative Activities.

 

Creative activities, especially those related to the arts, are a great way to foster creativity within your children and encourage them to express themselves more clearly. This shows them that there are plenty of different ways to communicate with others or express how they may be feeling.  Therefore, your child may benefit from spending some of their time outside of school participating in a local arts program. This could include:

 

– Theatre Classes
– Singing Classes
– Dancing Classes
– Painting/Sculpting Classes
– Model Building Classes

 

Group Activities. 

 

When looking for the perfect after-school activities for your child, you should keep an eye out for activities that will encourage them to hang out with other kids their age more often. This can be instrumental in helping your child step out from their shell and make new friends. As a result, you may want to sign your child up to join some form of society or group activity – perhaps one that is centered around their special interests or hobbies. For example, this could include:

 

– Girl Scouts
– Boy Scouts
– Trainspotting Club
– Photography Club

 

Family-time. 

 

While structured activities such as those listed above can be highly beneficial in supporting your child, you should also ensure that you leave time in their schedule for some much-needed family time. For example, you could head out for a daily walk or cook a delicious meal together each evening. Spending time with loved ones is another great way to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation – and it is just as beneficial for you as it is for your child – meaning that it is a win-win situation.

 

Put your child in charge.

 

As your children get older, you must let them take control of their own schedule and decide how they spend their time. After all, this helps them develop a sense of responsibility and agency that will carry them into adulthood. It also encourages a healthy sense of independence as they decide how they want to allocate their time. However, you should also be prepared to offer some guidance from time to time – especially if your child thinks the perfect after-school activity is playing the same video games over and over again.

 

In short, if you are searching for the best after-school activities for your child, you’ll be glad to hear that they are not in short supply. In fact, there are simply hundreds to choose from that simply did not make this list – but that does not mean they aren’t out there! If you would like more specific advice on how you can help your child – whether that be through finding the perfect hobby or through clinical services such as speech therapy or applied behavioral analysis -, please do not hesitate to get in touch today. We look forward to meeting you!

Any questions? Give us a call!

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