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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.

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!

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

Breaking the Ice: Go-To Conversation Starters for Kids

Many children find it difficult to approach new friends. They often learn how, by watching others and trying things out. While they mayClassmates talking outdoors be able to do this on their own, they will be even more effective if they have an adult to provide guidance, appropriate phrases, and opportunities to practice.

Having  “go-to” phrases can really help children be prepared for social opportunities and lower anxiety about the unexpected.  Here are some ideas to share with your kids.

Conversation Starters For Children:

Help them pick out 2-3 of their favorite “go-to’s” and practice in role play with each-other  toys/figurines or new children (when ready).

Just introduce yourself!

Example: “Hi! I’m Alex.”

Ask a question about what they’re doing.

Example: “Are you playing the new Angry Birds game?”

Show that you’re interested in them.

Example: “I think I want to read that book. Do you like it?”

Give a compliment.

Example: “I like your backpack!”

Ask for their opinion.

Example: “Which video game do you like the best?”

Share a little about yourself.

Example: “I moved once too, so I know it’s really hard at first.”

Offer to help.

Example: “I can show you where that classroom is!”

Offer an invitation.

Example: “Want to sit together at lunch?”

Guide your child by talking about each idea and asking them which ones they prefer. This is a great conversation to have with your child as school just begins, to help lower that back to school anxiety!

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