What We Can Learn From Julia: Sesame Street's New Friend With Autism

5 Things We Can Learn From Julia: Sesame Street’s New Friend With Autism

This fun-loving friend is the newest member of one of our favorite childhood shows. The only difference with Julia is that she has Autism. In an attempt to increase awareness and provide resources to families of individuals with Autism, Sesame Workshop created Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children. These resources include videos from all different points of view, visual supports for daily routines, a visual storybook of Julia and Sesame Street friends, tips for anyone who wants to learn more about Autism, as well as, an outlet to share your own story.

Here are some things everyone can learn about Autism from Julia:

  1. Communication comes in all different forms. Individuals with Autism may use several What We Can Learn From Julia: Sesame Street's New Friend With Autismdifferent means to communicate their wants and needs. These may include vocal communication, sign language, picture communication systems, voice out-put devices, simple gestures or eye contact, or a combination of several. No one way is better than the next, it all depends on the child.
  2. Sometimes less is more. Speaking in fewer, more succinct words, can help individuals with Autism process the information more quickly. It’s important to allow people to be successful in their environment.
  3. Be patient. All learning takes time. Once skills are learned, that time is worth it.
  4. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. Just because someone has a diagnosis of Autism, doesn’t mean they aren’t just as different as each other individual to the next. Finding and incorporating what makes them happy can create better and more long-lasting relationships.
  5. Sometimes everyone needs a break and time alone. Just like all children, sometimes individuals with Autism enjoy receiving attention from others, and sometimes they want to enjoy more simple things in life like calm and quiet. Be respectful to all of your friends and family and just remember, we’re all amazing.

Meet-With-An-Applied-Behavior-Analyst

pumpkins

MORE Tips To Help Your Child with Autism Enjoy Halloween

 

Halloween is fun and exciting holiday for many children. It gives the opportunity to dress up in their favorite costumes and get a lot of candy. While these traditions seem easy and effortless for most children, for a child with autism it may not be so easy. With the proper preparation Halloween can be a very fun holiday for any child with autism and below are a few steps on how to make Halloween an enjoyable experience.

Help Your Child With Autism Have a Happy Halloween With These Tips:

  • Let you child pick out his costume so you know it is something he will want to wear.MORE Tips To Help Your Child Enjoy Haloween
  • Make sure your child is able to wear the costume around the house prior to going trick-or-treating. This will allow him to get used to how the costume feels and allow you to make any necessary adjustments to the costume to make it more comfortable for your child.
  • If you are planning on trick-or-treating, take walks around your neighborhood or wherever you plan on going in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Also, you may want to practice walking up to the doors of people you know and ringing the doorbell.
  • Read your child social stories about Halloween traditions and trick-or-treating.
  • Make a schedule of the events that will take place the night of Halloween. Show this schedule to your child frequently so they know what is coming next. You could even make a map of each house you will be going to and they can cross off each house they go to.
  • If your child has limited verbal skills, make a picture they can hold up that says trick-or-treat, or if possible have a sibling do all of the talking.

Click here for more simple tips to prepare your child with autism for Halloween.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Halloween and Autism

Simple Tips To Prepare Your Child with Autism for Halloween

 

It’s that time of year again: the leaves are changing, the weather is getting cooler, and children and parents alike are beginning to feverously plan Halloween activities and costumes. While this may be an exciting experience for most families, it can be a difficult and anxiety-provoking experience for families with children with autism.  Children with autism may interpret and react differently to Halloween festivities and costumes, which can be an overwhelming experience. However, this doesn’t mean that children need to sit on the sidelines and avoid Halloween activities altogether. With the following tips, parents and their children with autism can have a stress-free and enjoyable Halloween.

Costumes

Costumes are a quintessential part of Halloween. It is important to remember that costumes are possible for your Simple Tips to Prepare Your Child with Autism for Halloweenchild with autism, but should be safe and comfortable for him or her to wear. This is especially important if your child has sensory difficulties. Take into consideration how the fabric and the fit of the costume will affect your child: Is it a fabric the child is used to wearing? Is the fit too tight or too loose? A great way to decide if a costume works is by practicing wearing the costume around the house. This allows your child to become acclimated to the costume, and lets you know whether or not the child will be able to tolerate wearing the costume for extended periods of time. With practice and knowledge that a costume works, you can avoid meltdowns and last-minute costume changes on Halloween.

Social Cues

It is not everyday that we ask our children to walk up to a stranger’s house and socially engage with the stranger for candy. This is a break in typical social rules that children normally follow. This break in rules may be difficult for a child with a rigid understanding of rules and expectations of the world. One way to help your child overcome this change in rules is through setting a schedule and script that your child can follow for trick-or-treating. For example, the script and schedule may look like the following:

  1. Ring doorbell
  2. When an adult opens the door, say “Trick or Treat”
  3. Allow the adult to put candy in your candy bag
  4. Say “Thank you” and walk away from the house

This script and schedule allows your child to understand the expectations and rules of Halloween while also creating an easy timeline that they can follow and refer back to with parents. Similarly, you may want to practice this script with your child prior to Halloween at your own household. The child can put on his or her costume, and practice ringing the doorbell and asking for candy to simulate trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Know your Child

Even with extensive preparation, Halloween can be an overwhelming and tiring experience. Know and recognize when your child has had enough and is ready to call it quits for the evening. The point of Halloween is for your child to have an enjoyable time, whether that lasts 30 minutes or 2 hours. Halloween is all about maximizing your child’s fun while spending time together as a family.

With the right knowledge and planning, families with children with autism can have a successful and happy Halloween!

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

rainbow-autism-FeaturedImage

Fostering EARLY Learning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

When we think of learning in childhood, we often think of what happens in the classroom, but learning starts very early on in life. A child’s early learning includes a combination of watching the world around them, seeing how the world then responds, and imitating what is seen. However, these tasks can be more difficult for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Let’s take a look at how children with ASD may interact differently with the world around them:

  1. More focus is on the non-social environment vs. the social environment: A child throwsEarly Learning and Autism a toy while in a crib and waits for the loud crash. The child may have learned that this noise attracts her parent’s attention, and then anticipates her mom or dad walking in the room. The child may then look intently at her parent’s facial expression in order to create additional meaning. A child with ASD may ignore the toys altogether and be focused on the moving fan in the room. If the child’s mom walks in the room, the child may continue to express interest in the fan rather than look over to see who has entered the room. As a result, the child has missed an opportunity to learn and practice communication and socialization.
  2. Likelier to be more interested in objects vs. people: A child with ASD may tend to explore objects in unusual ways (i.e. smelling, looking at an object at an angle) while typically developing children tend to be more interested in facial expressions, gestures, and words.
  3. Imitation: When the natural instinct of a typically developing child is to imitate, children with ASD tend NOT to imitate. A child with ASD has difficulty with copying others’ behaviors, sounds, movements, and does not understand that her behavior effects the behaviors of others. In typically developing children, this is the primary source of learning.
  4. Behaviors that interfere with learning: Children with ASD tend to become unusually interested in objects and may engage in repetitive behavior or play (lining up toys for hours, stacking blocks, spinning the wheels of a toy car). They can also become irritated when their play is directed to something else, which can lead to a tantrum. These difficulties with transition or rigidity are commonly observed in youth with ASD, which makes it difficult for these children to focus their attention on the learning opportunities that are happening around them!

So what can we do to help children with ASD become more engaged with their environment and enhance their learning?

Research has shown that areas of the brain that are responsible for socialization, learning, and language are underdeveloped in children with ASD, making it difficult for children with ASD to make sense of the world around them. These studies have indicated that early intervention is key to fostering an environment that will be conducive to learning (Rogers, S.; Dawson,G.; Vismara, L., 2012). This and other great information can be found in the book, An Early Start for your Child with Autism by Drs. Sally Rogers, Geraldine Dawson, and Laurie Vismara.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Autism and a Gluten Free Diet

Should Your Child with Autism Avoid Gluten?

The Atkins Diet. Weight Watchers. Paleo. Coconut oil. Gluten Free. Casein Free. You may be familiar with some of these diet trends. People are constantly on a quest for the perfect diet that will shed the pounds and keep them off. Others are looking for diets that regulate their digestive systems and keep their stomach calm. And if you are a parent of a child with autism, you may have heard people maintain that a gluten-free or casein-free diet can be used to help manage behaviors associated with autism.

With the idea of placing a child on a diet for management of symptoms, many questions arise. Does aShould Your Child With Autism Eat a Gluten Free Diet? gluten-free diet make a difference for children with autism? What does the research say? How do you know if it’s working?

Let’s back up a little bit and look at why specific diets for children with autism are being considered. Gastrointestinal problems are often described in children with autism, however the prevalence of these issues has not been consistently proven to be higher than in the general population.

Unfortunately for the sake of determining benefits of a gluten free diet, every child with autism presents differently and will likely have different responses to dieting. Also, unfortunately, the literature is extremely limited and providing conclusive evidence that a specific diet improves behaviors associated with autism has yet to be done. Some studies have yielded positive results (improvements in symptoms), while others have yielded negative results (no improvements noted). It is important to note that none of these studies have provided conclusive evidence; studies reporting positive results were merely suggestive (the lowest level of certainty).

Now you may be thinking, what will it hurt to place my child on a gluten-free or casein-free diet? According to Mulloy et. al, these diets may put children at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Further, this population of children often encounters challenges to ingesting a typical diet to begin with, such as sensory processing difficulties that lead to limited food intake and restricted diets. This can make feeding your child difficult if they are already only accepting chicken nuggets and string cheese. Additionally, implementing a diet of this type is costly and time-consuming.

Should you decide to try a gluten-free diet for your child with autism, here are some important things to remember:

  • Keep objective measures: It will likely be hard for your child to accurately report how they feel given commonly associated language deficits in children with autism. Ask yourself, “How do I know that my child’s sleep is improved?”, or “How do I know that attention is improved?” Find a way to measure data for these questions, such as counting naps taken each day or minutes spent engaged in a task.
  • Involve others: Ask for help from people that spend a lot of time with your child. Ask them to objectively measure behaviors as best they can, and seek their results.
  • Keep a food diary: Track what your child eats for every meal, and any notable behaviors or improvements for each day. This ensures accurate implementation of the diet and gives you the ability to reflect on the weeks and months.
  • Be committed: In a systematic review, more positive results were yielded with longer implementation of the diet.  For example, studies yielding negative results were implemented for an average of 5 weeks while studies yielding positive results were implemented for an average of 18 months.
  • Keep other factors in mind: It is challenging to prove that improvement is due to one factor vs another. For example: If your child experiences improved sleeping patterns, perhaps eliminating sugary foods in general is the cause  as opposed to the removal of gluten. Always think twice before determining cause, and consider all potential variables at play.

If you are exploring diet options for your child, seek the guidance of a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure healthy implementation.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

References:

  • Mulloy, A, et al. Gluten-free and casein-free diets in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2009.10.008
  • Buie, T. (2013). The relationship of autism and gluten. Clinical Therapeutics, 35, 578-583.
siblings of a child with autism

Supporting Siblings of a Child With Autism

Having a child with autism requires a lot of time, patience, and planning which can take a lot of effort. Sometimes a child with autism takes so much effort that any siblings they have may at times be overlooked. Siblings of children with autism may deal a variety of different feelings, which if not addressed may turn into larger, more serious issues.

Common feelings siblings of a child with autism experience may include:

  • Anger – Feelings of anger may emerge when your neuro-typical child misses out on plannedSupporting Siblings of a Child with Autism events that get changed at the last minute. They may also feel anger because they may be witnessing problem behaviors on a daily basis which can create a stressful home environment.
  • Guilt – You child may feel guilty that their sibling has autism and they do not. They may also feel guilty that their sibling has difficulty doing simple tasks that come easy to others.
  • Confusion – Young children especially may not fully understand why their sibling is acting the way they are, or why they don’t want to play with them.
  • Worry – Common worries may include, who will take care of my sibling when my parents are gone? Will my sibling ever be able to take care of themselves?
  • Embarrassment – It is natural for kids to feel embarrassed by their sibling that is different than other kids and who engages in behaviors that others, especially their peers do not understand.
  • Jealousy – Children with special needs require a lot of attention, which may cause any typically developing siblings to feel left out or neglected, which in turn can cause jealousy.

How to help:

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings and listen to how they are feeling without placing judgment.
  • Be open and honest with your child. Do not hide the diagnosis and make sure that when they are old enough, to let them know exactly what autism and the associated characteristics.
  • For younger children, find books relating to the topic that you can read to them and then talk through it with them in a developmentally appropriate way.
  • Be sure you designate time to spend with your children who do not have autism so they do not feel left out or neglected.
  • Look for local sibling groups or support groups for your child to give them the opportunity to meet other children who are in the same situation.

Even if your child seems like they are doing well, it is important to take some time each day to sit and talk and let them know that you are always available to listen and support them in any way.


What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Resources:

 

the history of autism

The History of Autism

Over the last 10 years the word autism has become a very well-known term. With the rates of autism steadily on the rise, most people are now at least somewhat familiar with it. But many people probably don’t know when autism officially become a recognized disorder, and how it evolved into what we know today? Below is a time-line of the history of autism.

The History of Autism:

  • Early 1900’s – The term “autism” was first used by Swiss psychiatric Eugen Bleuler to describe athe history of autism certain a sub-set of patients with schizophrenia who were severely withdrawn.
  • 1940’s – Researchers in the United States began using the term autism to describe children with emotional and/or social issues.
    • Leo Kanner – A psychiatrist from Johns Hopkin’s University studied 11 children with normal to above average IQ’s who had challenges with social skills, adapting to changes in routine, sound sensitivities, echolalia, and had difficulties engaging in spontaneous activity.
    • Hans Asperger – Also studied a group of children who were similar to the children Kanner studied except the children did not present with any language problems.
  • 1950’s – Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist coined the term “refrigerator mothers.” These mothers were described as mothers who were cold and unloving to their children. He claimed children of cold and unloving mothers were more likely to develop autism. This has since been disproven as a cause of autism due the total lack of evidence supporting such a claim.
  • 1960’s1970’s – Researchers began to separate autism from schizophrenia and began focusing their attention more on understanding autism in children. Autism also started to be considered a biological disorder of brain development. During this time, treatments for autism included various medications, electric shock, and behavioral modifications, most of which focused on punishment procedures to reduce unwanted behaviors.
  • 1980’s 1990’s – Early in the 80’s the DSM-III distinguishes autism as a disorder separating it from schizophrenia. During this time, behavioral modification became more popular as a treatment for autism. The way behavior modification was delivered began to rely more on reinforcement instead of punishment to increase desired behaviors. In 1994 the DSM-IV expands the definition of autism to include Asperger Syndrome.
  • 2000’s – present day – Rates of autism begin to rise and various campaigns have been launched to increase the awareness of autism. The prevalence of autism has increased from 1 in 150 in the year 2000, to 1 in 68 in 2014. Children are now able to be reliably diagnosed as young as 2 years of age. Due to years of research, the effectiveness of different intervention used to treat autism is better understood. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is currently considered to be the “gold standard” treatment for individuals with autism.


What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Sources:

 

evidence-based-treatent-FeaturedImage

The Importance of Choosing Evidence-Based Treatments for Children with Autism

Your child just received an autism diagnosis and you want to get them started in some type of therapy, but how do you chose from the vast number treatments that claim to help children with autism?  In addition to the seemingly endless list of treatments you can find on the internet, there is also many fad intervention that occasionally pop up, which claim to “cure” autism.  These fads do not have evidence supporting their claims, and can be potentially dangerous. So how exactly do you sort out the good treatments from the bad? The answer is to remember these three words: Evidence-Based Practice.

Evidence-Based Treatments for Autismevidence based treatments for autism

What is evidence-based practice? Evidenced-based practice means that the intervention is based on scientifically valid and reliable research. The best example of an evidence-based intervention for individuals with autism is applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA has over 40 years of research supporting the use behavior analytic interventions to improve the lives of individuals with autism.

 Non-Research-Based Treatments for Autism

There are currently many popular treatments for autism which have little to no scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness, but are still widely used. These treatments include the following:

  • Special diets (Gluten-free and casein-free)
  • Biomedical interventions
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Therapeutic horseback riding
  • Music therapy
  • Facilitated communication

Dangers of Using Non-Evidence-Based Interventions for the Treatment of Autism

  • Wasting valuable time – I have heard many families say they are just going to “try” out a specific intervention to see if it works. While this may seem harmless, it can in fact waste very valuable time for the child. Any time spent on an ineffective treatment is taking away time where the child could be developing functional skills.
  • Wasting money: Most autism treatments are expensive, even those which are evidenced-based. Insurance companies are now beginning to cover more evidenced-based interventions such as applied behavior analysis. They do not however, cover those interventions which are not scientifically valid. Families have been known to shell out thousands of dollars for treatments which will have no lasting effect on their child.
  • Causing harm to the individual with autism: There many are current treatments that claim to “cure” autism by doing a number of potentially dangerous acts. A few of these interventions include: Chelation therapy, Bleach enemas, Chemical castration, and Miracle mineral solution (MMS). These treatments can all cause serious, life-long health issues, or worse yet death.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or are having trouble sorting out non-evidenced-based treatments, contact an autism professional to help you with this important decision. Always be weary of treatments which claim to “cure” autism, and remember if a treatment seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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NSPT offers ABA Therapy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

More information about autism treatment can be found at:

http://www.asatonline.org/for-parents/learn-more-about-specific-treatments/

References:

fecal smearing

How to Help Reduce Fecal Smearing in Children with Autism

Co-written by Jessica Wein MSW, LSW

In order to change or eliminate a behavior, such as fecal smearing, it is important to first understand the function of the behavior. There is a reason your child is engaging in this behavior, so understanding the motivation behind it will best inform the type of intervention/s to employ. One way to ascertain the necessary information, is to find out the “ABCs” of the behavior:

A- Antecedent; what occurs directly before and/or leading up to the behavior (fecal smearing)?
B- Behavior; the behavior itself
C- Consequence; what occurs after the behavior including reactions of caretakers?

Motivations to engage in smearing fecal matter can range from attention seeking purposes to serving a sensory input need. In some cases, there can be several motivations for the child to engage in this behavior.

Once you know the “ABCs” of the behavior, you can then manipulate certain aspects of the environment (i.e. the antecedent and/or consequence) as means to change or eliminate the behavior altogether.

For children on the autism spectrum, it is important to utilize a behavioral approach, using few (if any) words. It is also important for the caregiver to remain emotionally neutral when the child is engaging in fecal smearing. Specifically, not showing a positive or negative reaction. It can also be helpful for the caregiver to reward and provide consistent, positive praise when the child engages in more ideal behaviors. By giving attention to positive behaviors, the child will learn which behaviors earn positive attention and/or desired rewards.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

Some helpful tips to reduce fecal smearing:

  • Social stories which reinforce the routine of appropriate bowel care
  • Clothing which can inhibit access: for example back zip footed pajamas
  • Messy play

Children may seek different types of input from poop smearing such as scent, texture or the temperature. To accommodate these sensory experiences try:

  • Scent: smell sharp smelling cheese or play doh that is scented
  • Touch: play-doh; slime
  • Visual: finger painting; shaving cream

Resources:

  • http://www.thespeciallife.com/poop-fecal-smearing-and-the-autism.html
  • http://autism360.org/ask-autism360/fecal-smearing
  • http://www.netmums.com/children/guide-to-bedwetting/faecal-smearing

AAC: Speech Devices for Autism

For a child with autism, communication can be a challenging and difficult hurdle to manage. For some children, verbal communication may simply be an impossible or ineffective means of communicating. For these circumstances, an augmentative/alternative communication device (AAC) may be an answer.

What is AAC?

AAC is an acronym for Augmentative Alternative Communication and describes a communication tool that is substituted for traditional expressive speech to allow a child to communicate. These tools can be low-tech like PECs or an eye gaze board or they can be high-tech speech generating devices. Many insurance companies will cover AAC devices with the proper paperwork.

Use of AAC with Autism

AAC devices can be used at any age and across many settings. Research has been shown to support growth in attention, communicative initiation, expressive and receptive language and pragmatic skill development through use of an AAC.

Many children with autism acquire language early in life and regress quite suddenly. Other children with autism simply develop very few words, if any. With proper intervention, children with autism can explore a variety of options and find better ways to gain speech and language skills. Some research suggest that, when used in intervention, speech devices have resulted in faster progress in therapy.

Use of AAC with the Verbal Child

AAC devices can be used for children with verbal skills as well. One characteristic of autism is echolalia, or the repetition of heard speech. For children who script or repeat in conversation, an AAC device can assist is helping them to formulate novel utterances and to participate in more meaningful conversational turns. More importantly, use of an AAC device will not prevent your child from using and increasing their verbal skills.

Is AAC Right for My Child?

A speech-language pathologist with a concentration in AAC devices can assist you and your child in determining the appropriate device based on individual needs and skills.

To read about common misconceptions about augmentative and alternative communications, click here.

For more information and resources of AAC devices for autism, check out The Center for AAC and Autism’s website.