Introducing Your Child with Autism to Classmates

All parents hope that their children will meet new friends and have an active social life—this is not any Blog-Autism-Classmates-Main-Landscapeless true for parents of kids with autism! In fact, it is this very subject that is mentioned near the top of many parents’ wish lists when asked what their greatest hope is for their child on the autism spectrum!

It can occasionally be more challenging for friendships to occur naturally due to the reduced interest in social interaction demonstrated by kids on the spectrum. However, as with many of the academic, life, and self-care skills that are taught systematically to these kids, social interaction skills and rules of friendship may be slowly introduced and put into action!

In order for these skills to be taught and practiced, however, there are a few things that parents can do to set their child with autism up for success in this area:

  • Ask your child’s teacher about possible peers: There are frequently a few kids in each general education classroom that appear empathetic and interested in our kids with autism. These are great candidates for peer interactions and possible friendships! Your child’s teacher will most likely have a few ideas about whom might pair well with your child in this manner, within the first few weeks of school.
  • Observe your child’s classroom, if possible: Most schools have parent observation policies that designate times of day that are best suited to seeing what’s going on in the classroom. Take some time to notice which kids are approaching him or her and whether these might be kids to ask over for a play date!
  • Volunteer to present a mini autism lesson, if possible: There are countless resources online for helping typically developing kids understand autism spectrum disorders, and what they can expect from someone who is on the spectrum. One I particularly like outlines some amazing books to help peers understand your child and his or her diagnosis: https://www.angelsense.com/blog/10-great-books-for-families-of-kids-with-autism/
  • Reach out to parents: Upon observing a child approaching or interacting with your child (or upon recommendation from the teacher), attempt to contact that child’s parents, and set up a time for the kids to get together!
  • Plan your play date: It will be very important that both kids are having a great time! Try to think of activities that are of particular interest to your child, and bring that peer along. For example, if your child really enjoys going to the zoo, and has an interest in animals, plan to visit the zoo on the kids’ first play date. This will pair the typically developing peer with something that is your child’s absolute favorite thing, and could lead to a stronger relationship!
  • Speak to the BCBA/supervisor in charge of your child’s services about programming for peer interaction: This is very common, and should be an integral part of any child’s treatment plan. Ensure that this is being programmed for specifically, and that there are opportunities to practice the skills both one-to-one during therapy, as well as in vivo with another child!

With practice, patience, and mindfulness on the part of adults, kids on the autism spectrum can develop meaningful and fulfilling relationships with their typically developing peers!

For additional information, check out our other Autism and school blogs.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. 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!

Meet-With-An-Applied-Behavior-Analyst
This blog was co-written with Rachel Nitekman.

Rachel Nitekman

Rachel is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with over 10 years of experience working with children with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays.  After graduating from the Blitstein Institute in 2011, she went on to receive her Masters in Psychology specializing in ABA, from Kaplan University, while working full time as a pediatric behavior therapist.  Rachel has worked with children in a variety of settings, including home, camp and school. She also worked for KESHET, an organization that provides services for children and young adults with varying developmental delays. Rachel is passionate about her work in helping children succeed to their fullest potentials in life.

How to Help Your Child Cope with the Suicide of a Friend

For a child losing a friend through suicide brings up a lot of questions and emotions, such as why did this happen or what could have been done? A teen or adolescent may have copingwithsuicide-mainmany mixed feelings or may feel “numb.” Whatever they are feeling, your role as the parent is to help them and be supportive. Reassure the child whatever feelings they might experience, they have permission to let them out. If they want to keep to themselves for a while, let them. Don’t tell a child how they should or should not feel. Also, don’t discourage them from expressing negative emotions like anger. Talking about suicide will not increase the risk that others will go on to take their own lives. In fact, like a death from any other serious illness, suicide is now part of the family’s health history. Knowing the truth about mental illness and suicide enables all surviving family members to be appropriately vigilant about their own health moving forward, and take preventative steps.

Although it’s understandable that adults naturally wish to protect children from pain or bad news, shielding children from the truth can undermine trust and create a legacy of secrecy and shame that can persist for generations. You can protect children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and honest answers to their questions.

A child may experience the following feelings and that’s okay:

  • Abandoned – that the person who died didn’t love them.
  • Feel the death is their fault – if they would have loved the person more or behaved differently.
  • Afraid that they will die too.
  • Worried that someone else they love will die or worry about who will take care of them.
  • Guilt – because they wished or thought of the person’s death.
  • Sad.
  • Embarrassed – to see other people or to go back to school.
  • Confused.
  • Angry – with the person who died, at everyone.
  • Lonely.
  • Denial – pretend like nothing happened.
  • Numb – can’t feel anything.
  • Wish it would all just go away.

Tips on Explaining Death to Children and Teens

  1. Use the correct language- never use euphemisms. Do not use phrases as Grandma went to sleep or went away. These explanations can lead young children to become afraid to go to sleep or worried when parents leave the house and “go away.”
  2. Be honest with them and encourage their questions and expressions of emotions. It is important that kids know they can talk about it (even if you don’t have all the answers) and be sad, angry, scared, or whatever emotions they feel.
  3. Kids often will repeatedly ask the same questions; it is how they process information. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly tell them that the person has died and can’t come back. Also, do not discourage their questions by telling them they are too young.

If you believe your child could benefit from speaking with a specialist, click here.

Resources

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!

friendship-break-up

Help Your Child Through a Friendship Break-Up

As adults, we can all relate to what it feels like to go through a ‘breakup,’ and all of the subsequent feelings that go along with it. Whether it be with a significant other, a business relationship or a friendship, there are often unresolved feelings related to the situation. For children, a friendship-breakup is typically their first exposure to the sentiments of a “breakup.”

In order to be able to best help your child manage and navigate this new and scary concept, we must first consider the fundamentals of a Breakup. For starters, in order for something to ‘break-up,’ it implies that the relationship was previously intact. This means that at one point, things were going well, sometimes really well…. And then it stopped.

Here are some steps you can follow to help your child through a friendship break-up:

  1. Create a safe space for your child to express self. This can mean setting aside special alone time How To Help Your Teen With A Friendship Break-Upwith no other distractions for the two of you (or three of you if there are two parents present) to connect. It is important to be especially mindful of your facial/behavioral/vocal reactions to the things your child expresses. Your child is going to learn, based on your reactions, what is safe to share and what is not. For example, if you appear to be overly emotional about the situation, your child in the future may choose to withhold certain information as means to protect mom/dad from becoming upset, etc. If you appear to be unemotional or too blunt/direct, your child will receive the message that these types of situations do not warrant discussing.
  2. Validate + Normalize your child’s feelings. When they are expressing certain feelings and/or circumstances, it can often feel comforting for children (people, in general) to know that they are not alone in their feelings. Perhaps sharing a similar story from your childhood can help to normalize your child’s experience. In managing your reaction/s, be mindful not to minimize your child’s feelings by skipping straight to the ‘problem solving.’ This middle step of Validation and Normalization is essential so that your child can identify feelings, practice expressing and articulating them, which ultimately requires your child to practice being vulnerable—a difficult yet incredibly important life skill.
  3. Problem Solve together. I recommend to start by first asking your child what ideas/thoughts he or she may have relating to how to handle the situation. Perhaps your child has already tried to do certain things on their own. This is a perfect safe space to share those experiences and discuss and process why your child felt it did or did not work. This may often give you, as the parent, deep insight into the innerworkings of your child’s mind by showcasing for you the ideas they gravitated towards on their own.
  4. Define the word, “friendship,” together. With your guidance, it can feel helpful for children to define the term friendship. Pending the age of the child, I recommend that the child either draw pictures or write down words on a piece of paper describing what friendship means to them. This can serve as a nice visual to guide dialogue so that the child can compare his or her definition of friendship with the way they describe their current dynamic with the friendship being discussed. This will highlight any discrepancies. For example, if your child lists, “good at sharing” as a characteristic a ‘friend’ should possess, yet also identifies feeling upset that their friend never shares… this can be an area to look at a little closer.
  5. Practice positive self-talk. Oftentimes, a breakup can cause an individual to question their self-worth. For example, “Am I not good enough?” or “It’s all my fault.” By practicing positive self-talk together, you are able to set a nice example and model for your child the types of things you say to yourself to help yourself feel better. One way to do this, is to turn any negative statements—into positives!

Click here to learn How Social Groups Can Help Your Child Navigate Friendships.

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.

playdate and sensory needs

Play Date Tips for Children With Sensory Needs

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recognizes play as one of the most fundamentally important occupations in a child’s life. Through play, children are able to make better sense of their world, learn how to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, and interact and socialize with their peers appropriately. As adults, it is important to provide children the “just right challenge” when preparing for a playdate, especially when a child has sensory needs which could impact their participation. Check out these 3 strategies for ideas on how to prepare for an upcoming play date.

3 Strategies For Play Dates When A Child Has Sensory Challenges:

  1. Load up with heavy work activities before the play date, which are helpful in modulatingSensory Strategies for Playdates arousal, increasing attention, and improving self-regulation. These activities may include jumping on the trampoline, swinging on a swing, laying over an exercise ball, or bouncing on a hippity-hop ball. For children who are sensory seeking, it is especially important to give their body a safe and therapeutic way to release excess energy, especially before they are expected to socialize with peers in organized and cooperative play.
  2. Meet your child where he is by offering a play experience he does not feel stressed about engaging in. For many children with sensory needs, it can be stressful to have to worry about socializing with peers. Providing opportunities that can facilitate parallel play (independent play within proximity to other children), associative play (interacting socially, without adhering to structured rules or game play), or cooperative play (organized activity) may help to bridge the gap between the social demands of the day and their level of comfort.  Activities such as puzzles, water toys, Legos, blocks, and trains can all be used in transitioning between individual play and cooperative play, allowing your child the opportunity to explore without becoming too overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  3. Play dates can be a perfect opportunity to get your child interested in multi-sensory activities. Often, when they see a peer engage in an activity, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. Setting up the environment with various opportunities to engage in sensory play, such as rice bins, baby pools, Lite Brite’s, dried pasta, finger paint, or a make-your-own slime center may also appeal to the sensory seeking kids who love to explore and get their hands messy.

If your child has difficulty participating in structured play, occupational therapy can help. Both play and social participation are two main occupations that foster growth in children. Occupational therapists are trained in providing skilled intervention to encourage a child to explore and engage in play activities that result in successful interactions within the community[1].

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?


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!

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process 2nd Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2008, Vol. 62, 625-683. doi:10.5014/ajot.62.6.625

childhood friendship

Help! I Don’t Like My Child’s Friend

Have you ever found yourself saying “I don’t like my child’s friend?” As children develop their autonomy and sense of self, their friendships often times reflect their interests, values, and status in the social environment. Whether it is in school, on the soccer field, or in religious school class, children are exposed to a variety of peers and have many opportunities to connect with others to satisfy a sense of stability within the social fabric of their world. Although the acquiring of peers can be a validating and comforting process, what is the role of the parent when your child has identified a “bad egg” that you just can’t stand???

Tips When You Don’t Like Your Child’s Friend

childhood friendship

Help! I don’t like my child’s friend

  1. Recognize and monitor your feelings. These feelings are your feelings and not the same sentiments that your child experiences. Be cognizant of how you talk about this friend and the non-verbal language that you may communicate (not asking questions about this one particular friend, using a sarcastic tone, exasperated speech when you find out your child spent all of recess/lunch with this person, closed off posture, etc.) as these send messages to your child about how you feel about their friend. Your negative feelings may cause your child to become tight-lipped about their future interactions, therefore reducing the ability to process why this person might not be great friend material. On the contrary, your child may become awkward or cut-off from their friend but not truly understand why they are not a good fit. Check your emotions before dialoguing about this friend to turn every opportunity into a calm, teaching opportunity.
  2. Identify the value that your child finds in this friend and help them to develop more appropriate boundaries and relationships. Sit down with your child and find out what value and function this friend serves. Are they loud but nice? Impulsive yet inclusive? Are they mean yet popular? Help your child create a list of criteria that constitutes “good friends” and help them see that popular is not as important as being inclusive, kind, and share common interests. Also it is important to note that just because the friend might be loud or impulsive, does that constitute not being a good friend? Everyone has a variety of qualities and in this situation, do the good outweigh the bad as no one is perfect.
  3. Get your eyes on the situation to oversee what you perceive as negative to, in fact, determine if this person is a negative influence. Have your child invite their friend over to observe their interactions, how this person treats your child, and to evaluate all qualities to determine if your bias is accurate. Where does your bias come from? Your experiences, both positive and traumatic from growing up. Sometimes working overtime to prevent against negative experiences in your child’s peer relationships limits their bank of experiences and the lessons they can learn even from situations that may seem upsetting.

Read here for valuable tips on how to help your child find the right friends.

Prepping for a Perfect Playdate: Elementary Age Edition

Parents of elementary school children have a number of questions about playdates.  For example, how long should a playdate be and how often should they occur? 

The answer, you ask? Well, it depends! The above questions are only the beginning of an important list of considerations when thinking about playdates in elementary school. First and foremost, you have to know your child. For example, how active is your child, what types of activities keep him engaged, how are his problem-solving skills? Does your child know when to ask for help? The answers to these questions can help parents plan a playdate that is appropriate for their child’s individual needs.

Why are playdates so important for elementary age kids?

While playdates in elementary school can require extra time and energy, playing with peers can be very beneficial to your young ones. Although school is a significant agent of socialization in a child’s life, play is often not part of most classroom learning. As stated in a previous blog about playdates for preschoolers, peer-to-peer interaction helps children develop their social and emotional skills. They learn social problem-solving, they practice communicating their thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and they have the chance to explore their creativity.

What to consider when prepping for a playdate:

It’s important to consider your child’s individual needs and preferences, as well as those of his playmates. Expectations are key! Clarifying everything from the start and end time, to what type of play is acceptable in your house can alleviate some common playdate frustrations. Be reassured that in your house, playdates carry your rules. This is not meant to suggest you shouldn’t expect some rule-breaking due to not knowing your house rules, however, kids are used to following different sets of expectations depending on the setting.

If your children are the type that requires more planned activities, then go ahead and plan, but be flexible! It’s good for children in elementary school to take some responsibility in planning their leisure time. One way to allow for this is to suggest a number of activities, and let the kids decide which ones to do and in which order to do them.

This leads me to my final note about playdates in elementary school. We know that as children mature and develop, they can be expected to take on more responsibilities. As the adults supervising playdates, we must remember to find the balance of giving our kids space, while also staying close enough to be available.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Social Work

Sensory Club for Kids - Chicago

How To Help Your Child Find The Right Friends

Helping children navigate their social environment can be challenging terms of developing self-initiation, advocacy, and flexibility skills. What is your role as a parent in facilitating the development of your child’s new friendships?

How to Help Your Child Find the Right Friends:

  1. Have your child develop a list of “friend criteria” that a peer has to meet to be considered a friend. For example, “friend criteria” may include nice, kind, asks questions of others, is respectful, and is inclusive. Thishelp you child make the right friends helps your child differentiate levels of intimacy between peers that are classmates, acquaintances, friends, and even best friends. When a child can determine positive qualities in a peer that meet his list, he can begin to ask these individuals to have playdates and increase exposure to enhance the level of intimacy. On the contrary, if a child is referring to a peer as a “friend” but this individual is not nice or exclusive of your child, this check list will help him see what a friend should be.
  2. Role-play scenarios with your child about how to initiate with another child in social situations. Develop several examples of conversation starters and follow up questions to enhance your child’s confidence when engaging with peers. Utilizing the “friend criteria” will also help your child discern if a peer is worthy of continual approaching depending out the outcomes of these initiations (i.e. if your child asks a peer to play but that peer continues to say no, teach your child to identify other peers they can play with since this individual does not meet their description of “friend criteria”).
  3. Teach your child age-appropriate communication and self-advocacy skills when expressing his needs to friends. Arming your child with calm and direct verbal and non-verbal skills can help them accurately express their thoughts and feelings to peers as well as handle any conflict that may arise.

As a parent, try to teach your children the skills to be the friends they are seeking. If a child is kind, communicative, inclusive, and compassionate, they can begin to recognize similar qualities in others.

Read here for tips to raise your child’s social IQ!







Turn a Bully Into an Ally

What is one seemingly positive characteristic of a bully?

Great leadership skills. They can gather a group of followers and move in a pack to accomplish a lot.  Most bullies use this skill for negative outcomes, but think of what good could be accomplished if we taught bullies to use this strength for good?

We need to teach bullies that great leaders have certain qualities.  Bullies can be taught that they are great leaders, and great leaders use their leadership skills for good.   The bully can be taught this by the assignment of positive leadership tasks.  For example, assign the bully to a time of day to make sure each and every kid is taken care of.  At lunch, the bully ensures each child has food and is not eating alone. If she is, charge the bully with finding a solution.  At PE, have the bully ensure each girl is picked first on a team at least once and gets to be team captain at least once.

Once the bully feels the power of leading for good, she may just become one of the best leaders and members of the class.  Make strong powered kids into true positive leaders and see more leaders and team players blossom!

For more on handling bullies, read Mean Girls and bullying Boys: How Parents Can Help, and How to Include Bullying In Your Child’s IEP.

How ADHD Impacts Your Child’s Social Skills and Friendships

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that can affect your child’s ability to regulate his behavior and observe, understand, and respond to his or her social environment.

Does your child…

  • Often have problems getting along with other children (i.e. sharing, cooperating, keeping promises)?
  • Struggle to make and keep friends?
  • Tend to play with kids younger than him?
  • Become upset, aggressive, or frustrated easily when they lose a game or things don’t go their way?
  • Have difficulty following directions and rules?

Peer relationship issues tend to be a common problem area in children with ADHD. Children with ADHD tend to act in a way that provokes negative reactions from peers, and can become a target for teasing.  The hallmark symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, can be the main culprits to blame! These children tend to live in the NOW… meaning what they can achieve right now is what is important! The consequences, like losing friends and being left out the next time, are overlooked. Social skills (i.e. sharing, keeping promises, expressing interest in another person) have NO IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION. These kiddos then have difficulty understanding the concept of building friendships based on these learned skills.

What can you do to help?

  • Practice social skills at home and when you observe your child playing with other children.
  • Avoid activities that require complex rules for success and a lot of passive time (i.e. choosing an infield vs. outfield position in T-Ball). They can become bored and distracted easily.
  • Keep groups small.
  • Discourage play with aggressive peers.
  • Experts have found more positive social interactions when there is less competition – this causes emotional over arousal, increased disorganized behavior, and frustration.
  • Make sure you are modeling appropriate social behavior at home.
  • Encourage friendships – invite kids over to your house and keep the play structured and supervised
  • Work with your child’s teacher and involve her in the process.
  • Enroll in social skills training class or contact a professional if more help is needed.

Sources:
Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents  By Russell A. Barkley




Positive Thinking Tricks for a Better Mood

Changing your child’s thinking may be a helpful way to appropriately deal with day to day conflict that inevitably occurspositive thinking tips for teens. Have you noticed that when minor upsets in the day occur, your child has a reaction that lasts a long time? Does your child tend to think of the glass as half-empty? By challenging your child’s thoughts (and your own!) you will start to see the way that more positive thinking can improve his or her mood.

Tips to Help Your Child Think Positively:

  • Challenge extremes by finding exceptions. By challenging extremes (ex. Does every single kid in the classroom really get to do that? ) you can help your child see that there are exceptions to the generalizations that he is likely making. In the example above, if your child is feeling down because some of his peers get to do something he is not allowed to do, he may utter, “but EVERYONE else gets to!” By questioning the truth of his statement in a non-threatening way, you can help him see that there are indeed exceptions.  A great way to do this is by having him list a few examples. Read more