“Mom, Mom, Mom”, this desperate plea for attention may sound familiar to you. From birth, children need their parents or caregiver’s help to complete tasks. From eating, to changing diapers, and to bathing. For children with ASD, once this becomes their routine, it can be challenging for them to recognize as they develop what they can do for themselves.
Some children may even insist on the help of a parent when they know they can accomplish the task just for the sake of the routine. Other children may just assume mentally that they can’t accomplish the task because their parent has always done the task for them. At this point parents may recognize that the child needs independence but don’t know how to motivate the child to get the task accomplished. Here are some steps that parents can take to help their children gain skills and more independence:
- Assess where your child’s skills are
- Watch your child when they think you aren’t looking and see what they really can do on their own. This is called a baseline, knowing where your child is at before you start helping them to increase their skill set.
- Begin to slowly fade out the help you’re giving your child. Depending on your child’s skill set and needs, you can explain this to them ahead of time to prime them for the transition, provide visuals or other support.
- Fade your prompts from what will initially help them to be independent with the skill to the next effective step:
- Ways to help during a task:
- Physical- physically guide your child
- Model- Show the child by exemplifying the skill
- Verbal- give a verbal instruction or explanation
- Ways to help your child before a task:
- Movement- gesturing/tapping to what you want them to use/do
- Position- Place the item you want them to use closer
- Redundancy- Make the item you want them to use more obvious in the environment
- Know if you’re talking to them and telling them how to do something, that is a verbal prompt. Limit talking to them during tasks!
- Act like you’re busy, even if you’re not. This may help your child from trying to gain more help from you than what is needed.
- Be consistent, positive and ignore behaviors.
These steps aren’t easy and it takes a lot of work on your part to implement but in the end you’ll have a kid reaching new milestones. Seeing your child be able to be as independent as possible will make you and likewise your child feel accomplished.
Autism affects every culture, race, and ethnicity. With that, comes a population of neurodiverse children who also have a whole different set of customs, traditions, and religions than their peers. While parents may desire to check out a Hanukkah celebration, Filipino festival, or an Indian restaurant, they may hesitate because of the change in schedule and custom for their children.
Here are five ways to provide variation into your schedule to increase diversity:
- Read multicultural books and buy multicultural toys for your child.
- Some of our favorite books are: I Am Enough by Grace Byers, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson, and What Should Danny Do (the Power to Choose series) by Adir Levy
- Slowly increase the spice level or different types of foods in your home. For instance, if your child has a friend from Kenya and you would like to incorporate Kenyan foods into your meals, start with a soup that is similar to one that you eat in your home with one Kenyan food item in it. Once your child eats that item, continue to alter the recipe until your child eats the entire Kenyan soup.
- Go to festivals or cultural events: Plan on going to festivals or cultural events by prepping the child ahead of time or even driving by on multiple days so the child can see the event before immersing into it. Bring necessary items such as headphones or contact the event coordinator to be able to come at a time that suits your child’s sensory needs.
- Watch multicultural shows: Immerse your child into different shows with a multicultural audience
- Plan neurodiverse and multicultural playdates with others: Facebook or NextDoor may be great resources to find others in your area that are looking to multicultural or neurodiverse play dates.
Once you include some of the ideas above in your daily routines, your children will be more likely to be able to participate in multicultural events, food and customs with ease.
Do you ever struggle with getting household chores done while your children are around? Neurodiverse children or those with Autism Spectrum Disorder can struggle with sustaining play while others are working in different areas of the house. One way to combat this struggle is to have your children work with you on household chores. While each chore can be done with some help from the child, here are a few ideas below to help you get started when your child has not exhibited chore skills yet.
- Have your child help you meal plan by portioning out snacks into bags for daily consumption or portioning out ingredients to cook a family meal
- Allow your child to dry the dishes while you wash them or help you load/unload the dishwasher
- Give your child clothing to place into the washer/dryer
- Have your child place pillows or blankets on bed to help making the bed in the morning
- Allow your child to water indoor or outdoor plants
- Give your child silverware to place at the dinner table
- Have your child gather supplies before bath time such as toys and towels
Once your child has learned these basic skills, they can advance onto higher level chores such as learning to assemble lunch or snack items (sandwiches, peanut butter crackers, etc) and doing a load of laundry independently. This will give your child life skills that they can utilize into adulthood, help them feel like they are contributing to the family, and will foster quality time during a family chore.
With the holidays right around the corner, we wanted to provide some helpful ideas to prepare for family gatherings. Having extended family visits can bring joy for both parents, caretakers and the child themselves. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to ignite certain difficulties for those with Autism including noise, unfamiliar routines, travel, unfamiliar family members and unfamiliar interactions. All of this unfamiliarity has room to cause behaviors and stress for the child and caretaker alike. Preparation ahead of time for the child with Autism and for other family members is crucial for a relaxing visit. Here are some ways to prepare in advance for extended family visits:
- Provide social stories and visual supports:
- Social stories and along with visual schedules can help your child prepare for unfamiliar routines, travel and unfamiliar interactions. This will give your child insight into the new routine, provide practice opportunities and give them ways to cope if they do become overwhelmed.
- Prepare extended family:
- Giving your extended family tips on how to interact with your child and ways they can help you prepare such as having visual supports ready in a new environment, toys or food that will make your child comfortable. This can provide support for yourself and your child and help extended family to prepare for the visit as well.
- Practice new routines as much as possible:
- Providing more practice for your child to visit unfamiliar houses and people will help them gain skills to be able to visit extended family and varying environments.
- Delegate and remember self-care:
- Sometimes as a caretaker or family member, you may be thinking of the child and not preparing yourself as needed for the family visit. Make sure to take care of yourself and engage in some self-care to make the preparations and visit enjoyable for you as well. Remember, many people want to help but they don’t know how. Delegating your tasks to other family members or friends can also help take the stress off of the visit for you and your child.
No matter the age, engaging in some type of activity to help oneself is important. An age old question that many parents or caregivers ask is when should a child begin learning chores or self-help skills. This can relate to any child but it poses a bigger challenge for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). What chores and self-help skills are appropriate for your child? A lot of it depends on their listening and motor skills. The six types of chores listed below will give you a place to start with your child.
- Making the bed: This is an easy task to show a child how to perform it and they can pick this task up relatively quickly even if they struggle with motor skills. A neurotypical 2-3 year old can perform this task so it’s a good basic level one to start with.
- Set the table: This is a task that can adapt over time but is relatively easy for children who struggle with motor skills as well. Once the child is given a model and help of where the plate, cup and silverware should go, they can perform this task with ease.
- Drying/Unloading dishes: Since this task is relatively straightforward, it is an easy skill to teach a child with ASD. Once they know where the dish items go, they can match where the other items go as well.
- Wiping surfaces: Since most children with ASD have had some contact or history with cleaning themselves with a rag/paper towel, they are able to transfer this skill to wiping off counters and tables.
- Putting dirty clothes in the hamper/laundry: This task is similar to making the bed. If they have worked on cleaning up skills before, they should pick up the task and it does not require complex motor skills.
- Cleaning up table after snack/meal: This task can be done either by handing their dishes to an adult, throwing their trash away or having them put their dishes in the sink, depending on their developmental age and motor skills. Have the child start with something basic and in their repertoire of skills but slowly work up to doing more of the task (start by handing a plate to an adult and then eventually work up to putting dishes in the sink).
Once your child has mastered the skills above, they can work on more complex tasks such as showering themselves, dressing themselves, taking care of plants or animals, and cooking. I hope this brings excitement and peace of mind to your house and family to be able to have another set of helping hands and that you understand how important these lifelong skills are for your child.
Looking for gift ideas for your child that will increase their ability to play by themselves? While they may need time and help learning how to play with the items below, these have had a wide variety of success with children with ASD in the past.
- Building blocks: Building blocks are a fun, easy to learn activity that your child can play for long periods of time.
- Marble run: This activity requires a bit more skill than building blocks but has built in entertainment that your child can engage in for hours.
- Books: This may be a harder skill to teach but most children enjoy looking at the colors and pictures in books. You may need to start with a book that has textures, sounds and music and then slowly fade to books that are more picture and word based.
- Play kitchen: Play kitchens are great because they help the child engage in imaginary play with familiar items that they’ve seen before. Whether it’s placing items in baskets or grocery carts, cutting food or pretending to cook it, this toy is enjoyable for children and can foster play with siblings as well!
- Train/car tracks: Trains and/or car tracks are similar to marbles where they have built in entertainment and multiple parts which can increase your child’s play skills by learning how to put the tracks together.
- Coloring books/crayons: The nice thing about coloring is that it can be transported to several places and is travelable. Once your child gains interest in this toy, it can be used in a variety of settings and environments.
- Dot paint: This is a step above coloring but is a mess free way for your child to explore painting and initiate arts and craft time.
- Dry erase boards and markers: Again, dry erase boards and markers are a mess free way for your child to explore arts and crafts, but it also helps build fine motor and writing skills that they will use for years to come.
- Puzzles: Puzzles are vital to a child learning how things go together and how to match items to a sample. Start with big inset puzzles and then slowly work towards your child using interlocking puzzles.
- Dress up toys: whether your child enjoys police men, marvel superheroes, or being a doctor, finding ways for your child to dress up and play will help increase their imaginary play and conversational skills.
I hope these toys bring hours of fun to you and your child and that you begin to see self-sustained play skills, imaginary skills and beyond from them!
There are so many holidays that center around food and it can be a tricky time for children and parents who have food related allergies or sensitivities. According to Guifeng Xu, MD;Linda G. Snetselaar, PhD; Jin Jing, MD, PhD, et al in their study on children with Autism that was published in 2018, found that children with Autism were more likely to have a range of allergies from food to topical and respiratory.
If you find yourself in this demographic, here are some ways to prepare for allergy friendly meals and snacks.
- Communicate your child’s needs
- It can be difficult to communicate with a large number of people what your children’s allergies entail but it can be helpful to create a list of things they can do to help. Whether that be purchasing snacks that can accommodate your child’s needs, sanitizing an area properly, and creating an environment for your child to be comfortable at a gathering.
- Bring preferred snacks and materials to sanitize
- Prepare ahead of time with snacks and things to sanitize that will create a relaxing environment for all
- Help your child to learn and advocate for their needs
- Find ways to have your child to identify what they can and can not eat or be near and be able to communicate that with others. This will help them to independently communicate their needs when you can not be with them.
- Teach family members or friends to read labels
- Show your family members or friends how you live in an allergy friendly environment by modeling to them what you do or how you read labels for allergy information. This will help them to assist you and your child’s needs.
- Suggest activities that do not involve food
- When your family or friends are brainstorming ways to connect and meet up for the holidays, suggest some activities that do not include food such as crafts, board games or movies that your child can participate in.
Xu G, Snetselaar LG, Jing J, Liu B, Strathearn L, Bao W. Association of Food Allergy and Other Allergic Conditions With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(2):e180279. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0279
Outings with a child with Autism can be very stressful on the family or friends participating in the outing. It can be especially overwhelming for the parents of the child. Unlike other families who may be able to get in the car and go on an outing quickly, a child with Autism requires more preparation for an outing. So how do you set the situation up for success and help yourself feel calm throughout the outing?
- Remember practice makes perfect
- As a parent it can be hard to get through an outing that feels like torture for the child and parent alike. Going in with the mindset that the more you practice, the better it will get is important. In ABA we practice skills often so that the child can practice harder things for them and begin to create routines that will set them up for success in the future. This concept of continuing to practice hard things WILL make them easier later.
- Prepare ahead of time
- Preparing ahead of time with items your child likes to help make the outing more motivating for them along with social stories or talking about the outing to prepare them will make the trip more successful in the long run.
- Bring help
- At first, you may need to bring supportive friends or family members along to help you with the trip or outing. The future goal may be for you to be able to do the outing alone with your child, so slowly fading out the help as you make trips and your child begins to engage in less behavior will create an atmosphere of independence.
- Take practice trips
- If this is a large outing for the child you can break it up into smaller steps. For instance if you are wanting to take your child to the grocery store, start small by working on getting in the car and driving to the store/parking lot. Then work on walking to the door, then walking inside, etc. By breaking up the outing and allowing your child to work on smaller steps, this could create more independence for the full outing in the future.
One main area of skills that children with Autism typically struggle with are play skills. This can include deficits in looking at others, playing with toys by their function, imaginary play and playing independently for lengths of time. For many parents, it can be difficult to find ways to run errands or do chores in the home partly because their children are unable to play independently. How can you increase independent play with your child?
Here are some ways below:
- Pick toys that you desire your child to play with or that they have some interest in
- Maybe your child likes how wheels turn on a toy car, this can be a great place to start by showing them how to play with the car while they can still get the enjoyment of the wheels turning
- Pick a goal of how long you want your child to engage with the toy appropriately
- Typically it is appropriate to start your goal as something reachable to the child. If the child plays with toys for 5 seconds, start your goal at 7 seconds so that they can obtain it and receive reinforcement readily, then increase the goal as they meet the original one often. Continue to help them play until they reach approximately 15 to 20 minutes of play with one item.
- Show your child how to play with the targeted toys
- You can model how to play with toys yourself, find a video of someone playing with the toys that your child can imitate or have siblings model how to play
- Once your child is playing with toys according to their function, take data on how long they will play with the toy without interaction with an adult
- The data can be simple. Write down the name of the toy and the amount of time they are playing with it daily. When they leave the area or begin playing with the toy incorrectly, continue to redirect them back to playing appropriately with the toy for a designated period of time that you have as a goal.
- Once your child has met the goal of playing with toys for 15 to 20 minutes, work on them being able to switch from playing with one toy to another independently. This will increase the amount of independent play they have.
- You can show them how to transition from one activity to another by modeling it yourself, video modeling or a sibling modeling it similar to how you showed them how to play originally with the toy.
Soon you will be able to get chores done or run errands while your child plays independently. This will increase their ability in the future to engage in tasks independently as well and will increase their ability to play with others.
Currently there are several different resources available for a child who is non-vocal, meaning a child who does not currently use vocals to communicate. These include several modern AAC devices, Ipad applications, Picture exchange communication systems, and sign language.
While sign language is not nearly as modern or technologically advanced, it has several benefits to a child with Autism. Here are ways sign language could benefit your child:
- Sign language is easy to pair with vocals
- Sign language can be used simultaneously with vocals so that your child can learn the sign while hearing the word. This may promote your child to imitate sounds or vocal skills as well
- Sign language is consistent
- Since sign language uses body parts to communicate, it is easy to use in any location for your child and does not require you to remember extra items.
- Sign language promotes other learning skills
- Children learn sign language through imitation but can also label and speak conversationally with signs so it can be used similarly to vocal language
- Sign language is universally known
- While sign language is not known by everyone, it is a universal language and has a built in community that uses it and can communicate with others. Thus, your child will be able to communicate with others consistently in the future.
Information on sign language & classes:
Learning ASL – American Society for Deaf Children
ASL Kids – Sign language Resources for Children (asl-kids.com)