Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Knowledge is Power- Teaching Understanding and Acceptance

As we are quickly approaching Autism Awareness month, it's time to really start thinking about educating others about ASD. Abby just had a great post on birthday parties and the importance of fostering awareness and so I thought I'd take a different spin and write a post on educating kids about ASD. Kids are usually very accepting and understanding, especially if they have some knowledge and education about differences. In this post I want to share with readers a program called  Understanding Friends, which was developed by Catherine Faherty, an author and TEACCH therapist in Asheville.

Understanding Friends is a curriculum intended to be used for Elementary and Middle School children. It can be used in classrooms to help promote acceptance of differences. The presenter can chose to talk in general terms about differences or parents of a child with ASD may request that the presenter use this curriculum as a way of telling classmates about their child's diagnosis (it is a personal choice as to whether or not the child is present during the discussion). Also, especially in the case of peer tutoring programs, this curriculum can be used as a way of teaching mentors about the learning styles of their mentees in an autism classroom. 

Begin with an interactive discussion about abilities and what it means to be unique. Stress that everyone has abilities that makes them unique and that what we all have in common is the need to be accepted and feel understood. For more specific information about how to facilitate this discussion and a complete guide to materials etc. click here
After the basic discussion, the presenter can either reveal the specific student with ASD or Autism classroom or go ahead and move on to the "Experiential Activity Centers." Here you will divide the class into 3-4 groups where the students will rotate through various activities designed to foster awareness and perspective taking. The centers include the following:

Fine Motor Activity: At this center students wear gardening gloves while trying to string beads and screw nuts and blots, stimulating what it may be like to have fine motor difficulties.

Visual Activity: For the activity students wear goggles covered in petroleum jelly while trying to complete a worksheet requiring reading and writing.

Sensory Activity: Here students are asked to try jumping rope using yarn and walk along a piece of tape on the floor while looking through binoculars backwards.

Attention & Auditory Sensory Activity: Students wear headphones with distracting noises while given a timed activity to complete, simulating what it's like to have to concentrate with so many auditory distractions.

* At each station there should be an adult present to facilitate discussion about regarding the activities. Next come together as a large group and pick one student to help demonstrate the next activity, which is the:

Receptive Language Activity: With materials necessary to set up a table (spoon, fork, plate, etc), instruct the volunteer to set the table while speaking in a different language or a nonsensical language. Then after some time of repeating the instructions in various tones and using gestures, give the student a jig that visually shows how to set the table. 

Use this activity to discuss what it must feel like to not understand what is being said to you and how helpful visual information can be. Talk about how everyone has different learning styles and how using objects, pictures, or written information can help many people better understand their environment and our expectations. To wrap things up, Catherine Faherty also suggests providing some information on autism specifically. Depending on the age of the child, you might consider reading a children's book or in the past when I've given this presentation in a sibling workshop, we talked about Carol Gray's sixth sense, which is the "social" sense (Click here for more information). 

This presentation can be a lot of fun and it's amazing to see how kids react-- when given a little knowledge and education, they are so accepting and understanding and they can be great teachers to others as well!

- Molly

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Success with Autism and Birthday Parties

As I am preparing for my youngest child's birthday party today, I began thinking about how difficult this can be for those on the spectrum.  Parents can become quite anxious when thinking about planning for the child with autism's birthday but also attending those of peers.  With a little preparation and education hopefully we can make it successful all around.

The Peer Party
Starting when your child is young, you may get invites from kids in daycare, preschool, Mommy & Me, the neighborhood, etc.  These can be parents and children that you barely know but your child is "associated" with in these settings.  There are lots of factors to consider especially if you aren't as familiar with the family.
  • Get the Scoop - Contact the host and try to get a better sense of what the party will entail.  Will there be a clown that you know your child is deathly afraid of?  What is on the menu?  How many children are expected?  Having this information ahead of time is invaluable in planning but also making the decision if you wish to bow out.  If you know this will be too overwhelming for your child, consider letting them know that you will be unable to attend. 
  • Overstimulation - Children's parties can be some of the most overstimulating events ever!  I myself cringe when I think about being packed into a small space with 30 screaming, sugar happy children.  Now imagine it for your child.  If you can talk to the host before hand, find out if there is a quiet room that you can escape to if needed.  Also, the car, outside or simply a pair of headphones can be a way to have a few minutes to regroup. 
  • Food - Hopefully you talked to the host and found out what food will be served.  If you know this may be a difficult time to try something new, consider packing snacks or items your child will eat.  Alert the host ahead of time.  If they are unfamiliar with your child, they may be offended if they think your child chose to eat other food. 
  • Social Stories - Review ahead of time what is going to happen.  Prepare the child for loud singing, presents that will be opened (that won't be theirs!), taking turns on the playground equipment, etc.  Read the story many times before attending the party.  Trying to prepare as much as possible is important. 
  • Advocate - It is a personal decision how you wish to present your child to the host.  If you wish to use a diagnostic 'label' or rather just discuss it in terms of overall sensitivities is up to you.  Let the host know what may be hard for your child.  Inform them that you may not stay for the whole party, will need to 'escape' if things get too overstimulating or will be bringing some items from home to help your child cope.  Educating others is the first step in a long road to acceptance but it is important when others tend to make assumptions regarding behavior they see. 

Your Child's Party
This is supposed to be a fun filled day to celebrate the birth of your child but it doesn't always go as smoothly as you would like.  You cannot avoid every conflict or potential problem but try to steer clear of as many as possible. 
  • The Guest List - Take into consideration how many people you are inviting and their familiarity with your child and family.  We are conditioned to believe we have to invite everyone the child has ever met and this can make for a chaotic situation in itself.  I may not get 'Parent of the Year' but I have not tackled the peer party yet with my own children.  Sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can be enough of a group!  Try to think of it from your child's point-of-view.  What amount of people would make it a positive day for them? 
  • Location - Where is the best place to go for a birthday?  This is again a personal decision based on the needs of your child.  Sometimes home parties are more comfortable and predictable than other locations.  You have more control over your own domain and typically less unwelcome surprises.  Some children are perfectly capable of handling 'Chuck E. Cheese', a bounce venue, an arcade or maybe a circus so individualize for your child. 
  • To Sing or Not to Sing - I cannot count the number of times that the 'Happy Birthday' song has left those on the spectrum in tears.  This is again a personal choice and also based on your child's individual needs.  Sometimes you don't know unless you try if this will be overstimulating to your child.  Occasionally, it is not the noise but rather the unexpected noise that was the problem.  Preparation can make a huge difference.  You may decide that you don't want to sing, especially if you had bad experiences before, and this is OK!  Adjustments to make it a happy party for your child are not a bad thing.  We do not need to stick to the 'typical' party for those on the spectrum. 
  • Visual Schedules - Not everything can be planned perfectly nor go according to plan.  However, try to figure out the sequence of events ahead of time.  Review with your child prior to the party when things are expected to happen and the order.  Use pictures, objects, or a written list of activities that your child best understands; use the schedule during the party to understand expectations.
  • Social Stories - As with peer parties, try to review any difficult situations in story format before the party.  Talking about who will be there, what events will occur and other things to expect.
  • Educate & Advocate - This is the opportunity to handle any difficulties in others understanding your child.  Recognize that some people may not be adequately educated about autism, sensory processing disorder or other spectrum diagnoses.  Before the party, sit down with any individuals (including family members) that may need help recognizing why certain behaviors occur and what the underlying issues may be. 
Planning your child's birthday party can always be overwhelming and stressful but even more so with children on the spectrum.  There is no perfect party and having a party outside of the 'norm' is perfectly fine!  Do what will make the day most enjoyable for your child whether that be a huge party or just a relaxing day at home.  And no matter what, have fun!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Building Independence in Hygiene and Other Areas of Daily Living

As Abby eluded to in the previous post, hygiene skills, particularly as it relates to puberty can be hard for all adolescents and even more so for individuals with ASD. Taking Care of Myself by Mary Wrobel is a great resource for older children and adolescents on the spectrum. It breaks down topics in a simple, easy to use format. The book is intended to serve as a curriculum to teach individuals self-help skills, especially as they enter puberty. It is broken up into seven different units, which are:

* Hygiene
* Health
* Modesty
*Growth and Development
*Touching and Personal Safety, and
* Masturbation

The author uses stories written in first person to describe concepts in a straight forward fashion. Having said that, it is important to use this book only with individuals who are able to read the stories themselves. The vocabulary is intended to be simplistic, but I think this style also works very well for particularly bright students. She provides explanations on topics that we often don't think to explain, such as the purpose of bathing, using toilet paper, going to the doctor, and wearing deodorant. At the end of each unit, there is often a Question/Answer activity section to check for understanding and comprehension.

If you are a parent who is often unsure of how to bring up these topics with your child, check out this resource. It is easy to photo copy pages and discuss one topic at a time with your child without overwhelming him/her with too much unnecessary information. I have also used this resource many times with clients as a way to explain the purpose of hygiene and its importance. Oftentimes individuals need even more structure and support to promote independence in daily hygiene routines and we'll soon discuss specific systems to put into place to make toileting, showering, and other self help tasks more successful! Stay tuned!

- Molly

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Resource for ALL Middle School Girls

The middle school years are by far the most difficult for adolescents and this is no exception for those on the autism spectrum.  I have been highly impressed with a teenager that was able to write about her experiences being on the autism spectrum and middle school life.  Haley Moss, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.  Her parents were not given the highest of outlooks for her future but she has defied odds and become an amazing inspiration to others.  As an artist and writer she is sharing with others her talent and experiences. 

This book is a great resource for girls on and off the spectrum.  I truly believe some of her 'real life' strategies can be invaluable for adolescents.  "Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About" goes through many of the unspoken rules of school that are so difficult and often not taught.  I plan on using it for my own daughter when I reach that milestone with her because I think it is a perfect guidebook for parents. 

Haley's book is easy to read for parents and teenagers/tweens.  It is broken down into things that worked for her, perspectives of teachers along with other input from other adolescent girls with autism. 

Some of the highlights of the book:
  • Different teachers are easier to understand because of the way they teach; for example having a preference for teachers that use more visual information.
  • How to handle overwhelming situations both socially and sensory-wise such as the cafeteria and hallways.
  • Haley shows how to use daily schedules and set up morning routines to make the day start well.  She discusses how she prepares certain things the night before to make it easier in the morning.
  • Unspoken rules of friendships.  How to fit in with others and know enough about current 'fads' to be able to hold conversations outside of interest areas.
  • Understanding slang and the intentions of peers.  She also discusses peer pressure, stress and social influences through the Internet. 
  • What conversational topics to use; how to ask questions to start a discussion but not asking too many questions.
  • Haley often brings up reminders for girls to remember to be prepared for their period.  This is a very difficult time for all girls and she has some great tips on how to deal with this life-changing event. 
  • Great organizational strategies especially for preparing for tests, homework and long term projects.  Along with great tips for making the locker less of a headache.
I only touched on a few great topics in this book.  I really think it is a wonderful book for girls about to take the plunge into middle school or those already in the trenches.  I am excited to learn more about Haley Moss and look forward to seeing what other successes are on the horizon for her.  See Haley and her mother on CNN here.  She also has amazing artwork that definitely resembles Japanese anime; many individuals on the spectrum have an interest in anime.  Learn more about her art at HaleyMossArt 

Thank you Haley for this amazing resource!


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Conversational Skills & HFA/Asperger's

Reciprocity in conversation is generally a struggle for individuals with ASD and during evaluations we specifically look at this skill (among many others) when determining a diagnosis.  It is important to look not only at how often an individual follows up on our conversational leads, but also at the quality of the person's responses and initiations. What we find is that many individuals with ASD can carry on a seemingly natural and reciprocal conversation around their intense interests and favorite subjects and may even be asking us a question or two, but when the topic switches to something less familiar or less interesting, it quickly becomes clear how awkward and one-sided it is.

 Generally we don't even notice how much we are carrying the conversation by asking question after question and probing more and more. When assessing someone's conversational and communication skills, however, it is important to hold back and pay attention to how often he/she initiates (asks us a question or gets us involved socially). How persistent is the individual in getting our attention? Does he/she make eye contact? Can you follow the train of thought? Oftentimes the person may assume that we have more information about his/her personal experience than we do and start a story about "Aunt Joan" in the middle, not realizing that we have no idea who Aunt Joan is in the first place! These are all common difficulties we see when working with individuals with HFA/Asperger's so what can we do to help develop these skills?

** Provide Conversational Topics/ Have a Time To Talk about Preferred Topics:

You may have heard of the term "Theory of Mind." This means understanding that other people have thoughts and feelings that are different from your own. This can be hard for many individuals on the spectrum. Therefore, one reason people with HFA/Asperger's may talk on and on about dinosaurs, computers, Pokemon, or whatever the favorite subject may be is because they do not realize that you may not have the same passion for that topic. Reading social cues, such as when the person is yawning or even walking away from the conversation because of boredom, may not register as disinterest to the person on the spectrum so sometimes we have to bluntly say that we would like to talk about something else.

One way to practice talking about other topics is to put a bunch of different topic ideas in a cup and while at the dinner table, riding in the car, or any other convenient time, take turns picking a topic and talking about it for a few minutes. If a person gets off topic, then you and gently point to the topic in hand to redirect. In schools, I have seen Speech Therapists make cards of "Conversational Topics" on a key ring that kids can put in their pocket and discretely refer to it on the playground when they want to chat with a classmate but aren't sure of how to get that started. Having said that, we do not want to deprive anyone of talking about something they are so passionate about. There is a time and a place for everything so show the person by writing it down on a schedule when he/she can talk all about the favorite topic. Some topics are so driven that even if we verbally say, "we're going to talk about it later," this is too abstract and we need to be more concrete.

** Use Visuals to Specify"Conversational Rules" when Practicing: 

When practicing conversations, it is also helpful to lay down some ground rules when it comes to etiquette and WRITE IT DOWN so the person can refer to the "cheat sheet" when they need to. Again, if a rule is violated (for example, the person is slumping in the chair looking incredibly bored), then you can point to the conversational rule or reminder you have written down so you do not have to verbally prompt again and again. Of course this feels awkward at first, but these are skills that do not always come naturally to people with ASD and we need to practice; It will become more natural over time!

** Emphasize Directing Language Without Stressing Eye Contact:

We have learned from adolescents and adults (and some children) who have articulated this to us that it can be extremely hard to look at a person in the eyes and simultaneously process what he/she is saying. This is perhaps one reason that eye contact can be so hard for individuals on the spectrum; it may actually cause anxiety and make it much more difficult to process verbal information. Therefore, we have moved away from insisting upon eye contact. Instead, we teach individuals to direct their communication by facing the person, perhaps looking at their forehead or ear, tapping their shoulder to make sure they have their attention etc (we will discuss other ways to teach communicative intent for individuals with less verbal language in future posts). Since no two people on the spectrum are the same, we also work with individuals who actually engage in too much eye contact, to the point of staring, which is another issue that needs to be addressed with written rules.

** Use Scripts during Stressful Initiations/ Practice by Role-Playing:

Again, initiating conversation, especially around someone else's interests can be hard for many. Also initiating in group or public situations, such as asking for help at school or purchasing something at the store are skills we also need to practice. One strategy we use is to actually give the person the words by writing them out so they are available to them during a stressful situation. I can't count how many times parents have told us that their child didn't finish their test at school or the EOG because their pencil broke and rather than asking for help, they simply sat there until the testing was over. Was the child just lazy or unmotivated? NO. At that time, the initiation piece of asking for help was just too hard. It is amazing what a difference it makes to simply write out "If I need help, I can raise my hand and say I need help with ___ please."

It is never too early to start thinking about teaching independent skills. Next time you're going to the store with your child, practicing social skills in a group setting at school, or whatever it may be, think about role-playing asking the sale's clerk for help in finding a favorite video game (for example) ahead of time. Video modeling is also big now, which is a great way to make it visual-- don't forget you can always script it out and write it on a note card so our Asperger's/HFA kids, adolescents, and adults have the words during anxious times when the words may escape them. We don't always think about teaching these skills, but visuals and practice can go a long way!

- Molly

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Discipline, Redirection and Keeping Our Cool: Autism and Difficult Behaviors

Dealing with challenging behaviors is not a 'one size fits all' for any child and definitely not for a child on the spectrum.  I wish there was a simple formula for combating behaviors we would like to decrease but the complexity of the issue is more than I can even touch on in this post. 

Your child, or a child that you work with throws a tantrum.  Imagine you are in the community, what is the response you receive?  "Look at that spoiled brat", "Why can't they just control their child?" or "If that was MY child, I would just (fill in the blank)"  It seems easy when you are outside looking in but after getting to know children on the spectrum you realize the issue is much more than what you see on the surface. 

What we may not see? 

  • Overstimulation - I am always shocked at how I myself forget to look at this issue at times.  Your child is at a overcrowded restaurant, with a loud band playing, the air conditioning is broken in 100 degree weather, and you are patiently waiting for a table for over an hour.  OK, that is a worst case scenario but look at the environment.  What is the noise level, what smells are around you, what amount of people are around, or what clothing are they wearing?  We have to sometimes do some detective work to figure out what the environment looks and feels like to our kids.
  • Basic Needs - Don't underestimate the power of a hungry child or an exhausted child.  Make sure these basic necessities have been met.  Bring snacks if you will be longer from meal times to try and avoid these situations.  If you know a child has had little sleep the night before, adjust your expectations.  That may not be the day you tackle a new activity, transition or academic skill. 
  • Communication - Sometimes children with autism are communicating but not by means that we understand.  Many children communicate that they are frustrated by throwing themselves on the floor, hitting or screaming.  On the outside, it looks like a child is "out of control" or the parents are "spoiling" him/her.  Even if your child has language, communication is something that does not come easily especially during times of stress and frustration. 
  • Changes in the Routine - The children and adolescents that I work with have a knack for remembering things I can't (and they frequently remind me!)  The order of activities becomes embedded in the minds of many individuals as a way of understanding the world around them.  Due to the fact that people and life itself can be confusing, memorizing when and how things happen can be a way of having some control over the situation.  Keep in mind what things are different that may be enhancing the challenges.  For some kids, stopping by the grocery store after school may not be a big deal.  For some kids on the spectrum this could throw them into an hour long meltdown. 
  • Expectations - We all approach our day, certain environments and new situations with expectations.  Those on the spectrum are often reading different cues rather than realizing our intentions.  This is probably one of the most important underlying issues to consider.  If we don't explain our expectations in an understandable manner, then the individual will draw his/her own conclusion.  Often when we, Molly and I, are transitioning a child from our 'break time' to 'work/academic time' it can initially be difficult.  They could be under the assumption that I am going to take this marble run toy away from them, possibly forever, and make them "work" for 10 hours straight.  Although this wouldn't be my intent, it doesn't mean that the expectation couldn't be there.  Trying to make it clear what will happen and when they get to do things they enjoy is very important.

What does NOT work

  • Corporal Punishment - Otherwise known as, spanking or other forms of physical discipline.  I personally am from the stance that this teaches children on the spectrum nothing helpful.  Often, understanding consequences is a very challenging concept for the kids we work with.  Making the association between doing one action and the consequence being related, such as being spanked, can be challenging.  Additionally, "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work so well with these children and adolescents.  Therefore, if we are teaching not to hit and then ourselves go and hit the child this is sending very mixed messages.  Often, spanking is used when we, the adults, feel out of control and at a loss of what to do. 
  • Yelling and Screaming - Again, when we are at a loss we often resort to exerting out of control behavior.  Individuals on the spectrum also have difficulties realizing this is due to a behavior they exhibited.  If they do recognize this connection, it can have the opposite effect.  I worked with a bright young man that said he used to take kids' toys and bite them because they made funny noises and silly faces.  He didn't recognize the emotion behind these actions, being mad or sad/crying, but rather just the faces and sounds.  Don't assume that your anger will be seen as such.  If anything your red face, distorted expression and crazy noises may be a form of entertainment.  Individuals on the spectrum have trouble reading other's emotions and understanding the perspectives of others.  Because you are louder and more animated does not mean they are more likely to understand.  If anything, they are probably less likely and may shut down and tune out. 
  • Talking about the Incident Now -  Wait to talk about the situation.  Discussing what is going on in the moment will often escalate rather than de-escalate the situation.  If you recall the 'Peanuts' cartoon with Charlie Brown where all the adults make the sound "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah", that is probably what you sound like during the stressful event.  Individuals on the spectrum have difficulties processing language and the ability to process language is close to zero during times of stress and frustration.  Wait until later, with visuals supports, to discuss the situation for prevention in the future. 
  • Taking it Personally - The individual is typically not trying to upset you, disobey or irritate you beyond belief.  Those on the spectrum view the world very differently than we do.  This isn't wrong, just unique.  It isn't something to punish but rather understand and adjust.  Taking the personal aspect out allows us to focus on the details below the surface rather than attribute it to being person specific.  Try to take a step back and focus on the details of the problem rather than see the behavior as a personal attack. 

What To Do:
  • Desensitize the Environment - We discussed how overstimulation can contribute to behavior difficulties so learn how to subdue the world.  Every child on the spectrum is different and their sensory needs are different as well.  I have worked with many children that do great with headphones with or without music to cancel out noise or ear plugs to help subdue noise around them.  Weighted vests can help to modulate or feel where your body is in space and help to control implusive behavior when overwhelmed.  Sunglasses or tinted glasses are sometimes a 'cool' way of closing the world out when necessary. 

  • Show What will Happen - Don't say it, show it.  I can't repeat this enough.  Some of our kids are verbal so we assume that verbal directions and descriptions of events is the way to go.  Processing language doesn't always happen very easily so use visual information in the form of objects, pictures and words to show what will happen.  Write, draw or hand an object to represent what will happen.  Written, picture or object schedules of events can help the person to see what will occur and when.  As I said before, we need to clarify the expectations so they are clear.  This includes showing when activities will end.  Use timers (I especially love visual Time Timers) so they can see when something will end rather than relying on you saying "5 more minutes of video games". 

  • Ignore, Redirect and Remove - It is hard at the time but in the midst of a tantrum it is not the time to teach.  Remove the child if they are going to be a safety risk to themselves or someone else.  Ignore as much as possible if they aren't hurting anyone.  Redirect them to a calming activity or get them engaged in something else.  This is not a 'reward' for the behavior but rather a way of having the individual cope.  We typically use time out as a 'break time' or 'relaxation time' rather than a punitive time.  It is a time to cool off, use items that are relaxing to the individual and remove themselves from the problem.

  • Reward Systems - Work towards things rather than taking away.  A token system can be used to give small rewards towards TV time, video game time, special snacks, small toys, etc.  If you are trying to get your child to stop hitting his brother don't focus on 'No Hitting your Brother'.  Instead, focus on the positives.  Reward each time he shares with him, plays nice, talks nice, hugs gently, etc.  This way you are calling attention to what you want to see rather than what you don't want to see. 

  • Social Stories - Carol Gray has developed amazing ways of teaching children various appropriate behaviors through personalized stories.  Read more about how to write stories for your child here.  Use pictures to help visualize and understand.  These are things that should be reviewed when calm, long after the tantrum or meltdown has occurred.  This will help the individual on the spectrum prepare for a similar situation in the future. 

  • Find a Means to Communicate - Communication systems and strategies is a whole other topic but definitely something to keep in mind.  Many situations can be alleviated or avoided with adequate means to communicate.  Objects, pictures or written words can be wonderful tools to use to support even verbal individuals.  Work on labeling emotions and feelings (on that child's level of understanding) to make it easier to identify how they are in the moment. 

  • Support - Parents/caregivers need support.  If you are stressed, dealing with difficult behavior at home will be even more challenging.  Find groups in your area through the Autism Society or other local organizations.  Meet up with parents or chat in online forums; sometimes just hearing you are not the only alone can be therapeutic. 

  • Advocate - Let other's know what your child needs.  Parents, many of you deal with difficult behaviors on a regular basis.  If you know things that work, share!  Let the teacher, therapist, etc know routines, visuals supports and other strategies that work best for your child. 

Discipline is a topic that we will  discuss frequently because it is an issue that needs to be revisited often.  This is a very brief list of things to try but we hope to build on all of these strategies through further posts.  Also, here at The Autism Angle we have developed our own Coping Kit to help during these difficult times!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Let's Get Moving- Exercise and Autism!

There is lots of research showing the importance of exercise, especially for individuals on the autism spectrum. Team sports can not only be a great source of exercise, but it also helps kids begin to learn the importance of team work. The problem is, however, that many kids on the spectrum have a hard time with team sports in particular and parents are left looking for other ideas to get their children moving. Below is a list of activities that may help:

Martial Arts:  Many parents have reported to us the great success their children have had in martial arts classes. Check around in your area because there are often many instructors who have experience in working with individuals on the spectrum. Karate, Taekwondo, and other martial arts  are great options because classes are often very structured and the rules are clearly spelled out. Also, kids are able to focus on developing their own skills and still have the social interaction of working with others and establishing relationships with peers in the program.

Swimming and Other Water Sports: So many of our kids are fish in the water! Swimming is a great individual sport to get kids active. Many swim clubs have instructors who work with individuals with special needs in private lessons and many of our kids also excel on swim teams. Again being part of a team can be a great experience, but the child can focus solely on his/her individual performance and event. My brother who lives at the beach also told me about different surf programs for children on the spectrum. Surf Heeling is one such program that provides summer camp opportunities in several different states: 

Smart Cycle: Smart Cycle is a Plug-and-Play game where you hook the cycle up to your T.V and kids can play educational games while peddling and getting valuable exercise. The Smart Cycle is geared towards preschool age children and a parent recently told me that this option has worked great for her son who is not an "outdoorsy kind of guy." So many kids on the spectrum excel in and have an interest in letter and numbers so it can really build upon their strengths. Also there are lots of fun games, such Dora and Sponge Bob, which are favorite characters of many!

Trampolines: Trampolines and mini trampolines are often favorites for many on the autism spectrum, regardless of age. I recently came across a post on the Wrong Planet website (a forum for individuals with Autism and Asperger's) and one adult recently posted on the discussion board that he loves his and that it helps him get rid of "nervous energy" and to him it feels "like swinging," which is another activity that many individuals on the spectrum enjoy. This can be a great stress relief activity for people of all ages!

 Nintendo Wii: We all know that so many kids, adolescents, and adults on the spectrum often excel in video games and if it were up to them, they might spend all of their time doing just that! It may be impossible to throw video games out the window, although if you are a parent who struggles to get your child often the system and doing something else, you'd probably like to! The Nintendo Wii can be a comprise and a good option to increase activity and coordination. It uses a motion-sensored controller that requires you to mimic the motion of the activity or sport. Again, there are many game options to appeal to all ages.

This list is by no means conclusive so please write in with ideas that have worked for you or for your children. Remember, "like us" on facebook also and you will be entered into our drawing to win seamless socks and undies. Who knows these may even help to make aerobic activity more comfortable?! Can't wait to hear from you!


Friday, March 11, 2011

Sensory Friendly Socks and Underwear

How many kids are refusing to wear socks or wearing socks inside out because of seams?  Too many!  Seams in clothing is one of the common complaints from our families.  There haven't been many options in comfort for our sensory sensitive individuals.

SmartKnitKIDS came up with a product that has no seams on their socks and undies.  These items are super soft and comfortable.  The socks stay up in comfort without binding.  The underwear also offers the same comfort and seamless design.  Read more about this brilliant product here.

A frustrated mother designed the socks based on her own son's needs:

Tired of hearing her son scream “these sock seams keep bugging me,” a mom decided something needed to be done.  Every “seamless” sock her son tried had seams in it; there was not a truly seamless sock available.  After explaining the frustrating morning routine to countless friends of her son’s struggles with socks, she was finally given the name of Knit-Rite, a textile manufacturer, and contacted them with her request for a seamless kids sock. 

After several requests for seamless socks from "desperate" parents, SmartKnitKIDS socks were created.  Knit the same way a caterpillar spins its cocoon, SmartKnitKIDS socks are started at the toe and worked up toward the ankle.  This process insures a 100% seamless sock, so there are no seams to bug ya!  A form-fitting design also keeps those annoying lumps and bumps out of the socks. 

Since its launch in 2003, SmartKnitKIDS continues to find new markets and grow every year.  Super soft material and a seam free design make it the most comfortable kid’s sock on the market.
(About Us at SmartKnitKIDS)

Want to try these socks for your own child?  One lucky Facebook fan will win 3 pairs of socks and one pair of undies!  'Like' us on our facebook page and be entered in our drawing; follow us now on Facebook.  We will draw the lucky winner in April for Autism Awareness Month. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More Than Words by Fern Sussman

More Than Words is a wonderful book for parents of young children on the autism spectrum. It is targeted for children ages six years and under and teaches parents practical strategies of how to teach communication skills in natural ways. The book begins by helping parents to identify what "stage of communication" their child is in-- "Own Agenda Stage," " Requester Stage," "Early Communication Stage," or "Partner stage." I will say that the book is quite large and could initially seem overwhelming to many. Once you figure out which level of communication applies to your child, however, you can easily skip to those sections of the book to develop specific goals and learn concrete strategies (they are even color coded)!

These days parents are busy shuffling children around to various therapies and extracurricular activities and thinking of adding one more thing to your plate can seem like too much-- what I love about this book is that it teaches parents ways of interacting and communicating with their child in everyday life--throughout the day in fun and playful ways. Among many topics discussed, this book teaches parents some of the following skills:

  • Ways to set up situations that elicit communication for your child  by following his/her lead 
  • Ideas of how to keep interactions going in a back and forth way
  • Teaching your child social routines and beginning skills in identifying emotions
  • Tips on how you can adjust your language and simplify it in a way that is sensitive to your child's level of communication
  • Using "Visual Helpers," such as object, photograph, icon, or written schedules to provide predictability and to aid in understanding
  • How to use visuals in helping your child tell you about his/her day, and to start and keep a conversation going by greeting others, asking questions, and making comments
  • Ideas of how to use music and other possible areas of interest for your child to encourage interaction and communication
  • Ways to use books to encourage language and communication
  • Ideas of toys to help develop play skills in young children depending on their level of understanding 
  • Tips on how to structure play dates to be meaningful and successful for your child

Colorful illustrations accompany the explanation of activities, making it easier to understand and to actually put into practice. Parents are also able to make photocopies of visual schedule items provided in the book to use at home. Although the book talks some about manipulating the schedule, some children may need more individualized strategies to promote true independence (e.g. carrying cards with them to match schedule items to the location for children who are easily distracted), but I think the strategies mentioned are practicable for implementation in real life. I think families of children with autism will have a lot of fun using these methods to communicate with and engage their children while promoting learning along the way!


    Friday, March 4, 2011

    FREE File Folder Activities, Games and More! Make learning fun!

    As avid task makers, Molly and I are always looking for new ideas and concepts to appeal to those with whom we work.  For preschoolers and school aged kids we have found some great resources to keep our shelves stocked to the brim with fun tasks.  One great resource for tasks is the book 'Tasks Galore', which Molly discussed:  However, there are also great resources at the click of a button on the internet.  Many of these sites rely on revenues from their ads and don't have the greatest navigation tools but since many of the activities are FREE, that is the price we have to pay!

    • File Folder Fun  The name says it all!  I have made almost every task on this site.  File folder games/activities are secured to blank file folders.  This is great for being able to put a label on the tab and find the activities more easily.  You can then use contact paper or lamination to make them more sturdy.  On this website, once you figure out how to navigate and get past all the paid for items, there are tons of free tasks.  If you end up at paid for items, you have taken a wrong turn.  One of the most adorable tasks is their Monster Manners which is a fun way to sort 'good' and 'bad' manners. 

    • Adapted Monkey Books  The most adorable books are on this site.  This is a blog that is also a little challenging to navigate at times but it is worth it.  There are books for 'Why', 'What' and 'Where' questions involving monkeys made by an amazing parent of a child with autism.  She also has links to other books designed by other creative individuals.  I have yet to meet a child that doesn't love the monkey books!

    • File Folder Heaven  I haven't had a chance to use the tasks on this site yet but have downloaded some and I am looking forward to it.  There are many tasks that are for sale, however, there are lots of freebies as well!  You have to sign up for an account and 'checkout' with the free items but there are no charges involved on those specific activities.  Once the order is completed you can download the items.  They have several adapted books and file folder activities for free. 

    • Giggly Games  This site has about a dozen freebies.  There are some small books and printables that can be made into tasks and activities.  Some of the items have to probably be adapted to suit the needs of the child but pretty easy to make.  The link will take you to the free items but there are also some paid for items. 

    • Positively Autism  This site has some great file folder tasks to print out and encourage independence.  There are color matching, shape matching, math and more.  There are only a handful of tasks but a good resource to add to the list. 

    • Do2Learn  There are lots of products for sale but also a good amount of freebies.  From matching tasks to emotional awareness there are lots of great resources.  The picture cards are helpful and they show how to print some of the cards so you can make your own schedule and/or visual reminders. 

    • Enchanted Learning  This website is very overwhelming and busy!  However, there are some great gems if you are patient. There are some free sample items or if you become a site member you have access to tons of items.  The price of $20 a year (at the time of this post) is pretty low considering all of the items that are available; they advertise over 20,000 pages of activities.

    • Mormon Chic  This site has a few free printable folder activities.  There are cute ones of dressing a bear, matching shapes or a family tree.  Most of these are for preschool to early elementary development. 

    This is an ever-changing list as websites are being created or others are being deleted.  We have truly enjoyed the convenience of the internet and all of the wonderful, creative individuals that have shared these great tasks with us! 


    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome by Luke Jackson

    Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome is a delightfully humorous book written by a British teenager with Asperger's, Luke Jackson. He writes from his own perspective of what it's like to feel different and experience things differently than many people. Luke wrote the book in hopes of reaching out to other teenagers who, like him have Asperger's and often feel like an outsider in this world. He beautifully describes how his mind works in a way that is easy for people to understand. Although some of the topics he discusses are quite serious, he writes with such a positive, witty tone that keeps the reader laughing and wanting to read more.

    Luke begins the book with an introduction to his family. He has six other siblings, one of whom is also on the spectrum. He writes about his own diagnosis and the overwhelming sense of relief he felt to learn that there was a name for the way his mind works. Luke is a strong believer that the label was crucial in not only helping others to understand his thinking, but also for him to understand himself.

    This is a great book if you are just learning about Asperger's Syndrome and what it all means. Not only is it a great resource for other adolescents and adults with that diagnosis, but I think it's also a great resource for parents of children anywhere on the spectrum, as well as for professionals. Although he goes into the most depth about his own experiences (topics ranging from sleep, socialization, dating, and dealing with bullying), he also talks about strategies that have worked for his younger brother who has a diagnosis of autism and who is a lot less verbal that he is.

    I truly cannot say enough about this book. Luke provides the reader with the unique opportunity to see what it's like to live in his world-- a world where he has had to memorize and apply social rules that do not come naturally to him and conform to standards that he does not always understand. Individuals on the spectrum are teaching us stuff everyday-- with the hustle and bustle of life we do not always take time to listen and we do not always understand what they are trying to tell us. Let's take this opportunity to understand a different perspective, I think we will all become better teachers for doing so.

    - Molly