Self-Help Skills: 3 Ways to Initiate Your Chores

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “I wish I had more help with ____ (fill in the blank)?” You’re in luck! If you have children in your home they can help you with basic simple chores. Even very young neurodiverse children are able to help with small skills around the house. You may be wondering though, how can my two year old with Autism do a chore? 

  • Start with something small or break up a task:
    • You may want your child to work on dressing themselves. Start with a smaller part of the task such as putting on their shoes by themselves first. Slowly you can add more skills such as putting on socks, pants, and a shirt to learn the entire skill of dressing. 
  • Start with something that they are already interested in or show the skill for:
    • Does your child love water? Starting with them learning how to wash their hands or rinsing dishes may be a good place to start since they are already motivated by water. 
  • Use visual schedules:
    • You may use visual schedules to help your child to have help continuing the skill or reminding them of the next step.

Soon you’ll be getting the help you need and your child will be learning skills that they will use lifelong!

 

Fall Sensory Activities

It may be warm and sunny still where you are dwelling but September typically means that children are back in school and Fall is nearly upon us! 

Sensory activities include fine and gross motor skills and have been known to help regulate the sensory system that can sometimes play a role in how children with Autism are moving their bodies or seeking specific gross/fine motor input. For children with Autism, sensory activities are a very integral part of the day to be able to help their bodies neutralize, interact with others, increase functional play and appropriate play. It is also beneficial for children to increase their exposure to different textures and interaction with others as well. Here are 6 different things you can do to incorporate the season of fall into your sensory activities at home.

  1. Paint with nature items 
    • Go on a walk to aid in gross motor movement (a sensory activity in itself!) and have children pick up pinecones, acorns, leaves, stones and grass while walking. Use these nature items as sponges to paint pictures with. 
  2. Carve pumpkins
    • Pumpkins themselves are a great sensory activity because they incorporate so many different textures. Instead of carving the typical way, allow your child to make a face with the pumpkin and place golf tees in it. This will engage fine motor skill movement. Then let your child remove the pumpkin insides for texture engagement. Finally, roast the seeds and enjoy a oral sensory experience! 
  3. Use cake mix as kinetic sand 
    • Buy cake mix or a pumpkin bread mix and place it in a bin. Add candy corn, candy pumpkins or any small items such as sprinkles, mini cookies, etc. into the bin. Have your child use tweezers (large plastic ones can be found in the craft section of most stores) to engage in fine motor movement while also allowing for an oral sensory opportunity as well. 
  4. Play in the leaves
    • Needing to get some yard work done and willing to allow your child to help? Raking leaves and jumping in them is a perfect sensory experience that incorporates gross motor movement along with texture exploration! 
  5. Make Dirt Cups or Jello 
    • If you have a child with pica or specific oral sensory needs, food is a great way to go. Dirt cups including Jello or pudding with crunchy toppings and gummies allows for a child to experience several different textures. It can also be a great way for your child to engage in self-help skills by baking with you and engaging in fine motor activities such as measuring and pouring.
  6. It’s slime time! 

I hope this helps create fun family memories with your child and benefits them in several ways: from sensory to social engagement. 

Preparing for New Outings

For some of you, outings may have always been challenging but adding a pandemic to the mix may have made family outings more difficult for you and your child. Children with Autism can struggle with being in new and unfamiliar places which can make anything from errands to the post office to eating at a restaurant extremely overwhelming. However, outings are a pivotal experience for children with Autism so that they can generalize skills and get used to different environments and social engagements. Afterall, at some point they will be adults and we want them to be as successful as possible. 

 

Here are some tips to help prepare you and your family for upcoming outings to make them more enjoyable for all. 

  1. Make a social story
    • Social stories are great for children of all ages because they can describe an event and provide context. Including pictures and giving detail to the outing can make the child more comfortable with the outing before you go. 
  2. Prepare your car with items that may make the outing more successful
    • Some children may need items to get them through a car ride or store experience. Bringing along a familiar toy can help with waiting in lines, at restaurants or in the car. 
  3. Prepare yourself with any items your child may need to communicate with. Your child may need to bring their PECS book, AAC device or any items that help them to communicate properly in their daily life. 
  4. Practice loading the car and driving to the location in advance. Sometimes it may take several practice attempts and slowly integrate your child into the experience. For instance, your child may feel too overwhelmed with starting out the first time going to a restaurant by diving into all of the steps it takes before you sit down to eat. It may be helpful to break up the trip and practice a week or two in advance so that your child becomes more familiar with the drive, walking to and from the restaurant, meeting the staff, sitting at a table, and picking a food to eat. 
  5. If possible, take supportive family members or friends with you.
    •  This can ease your stress level, have someone to help you prepare ahead of time and help you if things become overwhelming or difficult during the outing. Having a person to communicate your child’s needs to others while you are helping your child can be super beneficial during an outing if necessary. 
  6. Notify the employees at the outing ahead of time of your child’s needs.
    •  A lot of places can accommodate noise, lights, and the amount of people in attendance if your child needs those types of accommodations. They can also be prepared for any preparations you may have in advance and make sure your child feels comfortable with them as well. 

In the end, practice makes perfect. The more outings you are able to take your child on, the better that you both will feel and the more comfortable you will be in the long run. 

How to find Autism support groups in your area

For children and parents alike, receiving an Autism diagnosis can come with a lot of questions and emotions. Beyond that, families may feel isolated from neurotypical friends because of the unique challenges they face as a family with a person with Autism. While there are many resources out there for support groups, it can be overwhelming or time consuming to find something in your area. Here’s a quick guide to help you in your search to find other families facing similar needs because of Autism. 

Globally:

  1. Look on Facebook:
    1. Facebook is full of specific groups tailored to the needs of several populations. Doing a quick search for: children with autism groups or parents of children with Autism can bring you to an online group on Facebook. Even adding in your location could help you find a group closer to you with local resources. 
  2. Center for parent information and resources: 
    1. This organization offers training and resources to families to give them confidence and direct support they are looking for, particularly with behaviors. The training includes other families and may give you a connecting point on finding the support you’re looking for as well. 

Locally:

  1. Check your local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club:
    1. Depending on the local area, the YMCA and Boys and Girls club will sometimes offer opportunities for children with Autism as well as support groups for family members. If they do not provide support in your area, they may be able to direct you to resources nearby. 
  2. Contact your local government: 
    1. Not only will the local government be able to provide information on what you and your child may need to sign up for moving forward with governmental aid and support, they can give you information on several organizations as well as Autism friendly activities in the area. For instance, many movie theaters, bowling alleys, and kid activity centers will provide hours and experiences for those with Autism.
  3. Contact your local school: 
    1. The school that your child attends or could attend in your local area can often give you information on the surrounding community and link you to parents who may be offering support groups nearby.
  4. Contact a local church:
    1. Typically there are churches nearby that offer respite evenings for care takers of children with special needs or special Sunday school events. Contact a local church who can direct you to their services or the services of a church nearby. 

4 Ways to Encourage Water Safety

Warmer weather ignites the territory of several outings including playground/park visits, swimming pools and backyard play dates to include water. While some of these activities may be risk free, several include bodies of water that could be a potentially dangerous situation for children and in particular those with Autism. 

As a parent or caregiver of someone with Autism several questions may come to mind such as: When should my child be learning how to swim, what are some ways to teach water safety, and what are some resources that I can look up to gain water safety during outings. Here are four ways to encourage water safety and answer the questions above. 

 

  1. Use visuals and social stories to explain water safety: Explaining outings to the child ahead of time and giving them details of how to behave around the water is a helpful way to prime your child on water safety and what you expect. When googling water social stories you can find several videos to show your child or you can create your own story explaining your outing and what you want the child to do.
  2. Practice being around water and safety precautions often. Practice makes perfect is a silly saying, but it will help make your outings near water much easier. The more you practice going to places with bodies of water and showing your child water safety, the more they will be able to replicate this behavior later on.
  3. Start swimming lessons early: If your child shows interest in water, starting swimming lessons will help them to be able to know what to do when they encounter water. This will create a relaxed relationship with water and will make both your child and you more confident in situations where there is water. Teaching coping strategies in water that may arise in a dangerous situation such as the child falling, large waves, etc will also help them gain confidence while swimming.
  4. Do your research ahead of time: There are several water based play areas where lifeguards and staff have been through training to aid those with disabilities. Doing your research ahead of time to find either a place with licensed staff or a private expert will help the initial process of water safety for you and your child and give you both peace of mind.

5 Ways to Get Ready for School

August is just around the corner and many are preparing for their children to go back to school or build an alternative school setting in their home. For children with Autism, a summer “break” or the foundational years spent at home may leave parents wondering what they can do to help their child prepare for school readiness. 

    1. Increase time at the table: Whether it’s sitting with preferred items at the table during play or working on pre-academic skills during non-preferred time at the table, increasing table time will help your child transition to sitting in the classroom setting at a desk. 
    2. Work on initiating writing actions and coloring: No matter where your child is at with writing skills, working on initiating more time writing, tracing, or coloring will help your child be able to practice these skills in a school environment. 
    3. Practice going through a calendar daily: Sitting and having your child listen to the day, month and year will help them prepare for calendar time at school. Feel free to play songs associated with the month and year along with seasons and/or weather. This will help your child be more interested in calendar time. Allow them to have as much ownership as possible by having them help placing the numbers into the calendar if possible. 
    4. Work on group skills and following group instructions: Have your child practice following instructions in a group of other children. Whether it’s at the playground, during a playdate or with siblings at home during play time, this will help your child be able to engage in group activities throughout the day at school.
    5. Practice walking in lines with other kids: Similar to the group instructions, having your child practice walking in lines will help get them into the routine and transition in a group.

3 Types of Planned Ignoring

Have you ever thought about ignoring your child? I’m sure there are times when there is an appeal to ignoring their behavior and other times it gets to the point where it’s driving you insane and you feel like you have to intervene. 

As far as behavior goes, planned ignoring is a consequence of a behavior that is directly thought out and as it says in the name, planned ahead of time. This can bring anxiety to a lot of parents and therapists alike. Ignoring can be really hard and can take several minutes to several hours. After knowing the basics and understanding that ignoring will lessen a behavior in the future, planned ignoring can become easier and feel like your best friend when unwanted behaviors arise. 

What exactly does it mean to ignore? Typically ignoring means avoiding eye contact, avoiding physical touch, avoiding engaging in conversation, avoiding reactions to behaviors, and creating obvious and possibly even exaggerated ignoring so the child gets the idea that the behavior is unwanted. 

According to the Rubi Autism Parent Training Network Handbook, there are three types of planned ignoring, all of which have their place in helping manage your child’s behavior:

  • Ignoring the behavior but not the child
    • For example a child repeating your name, you could still engage with the child and bring up several different conversation starters but ignore the repetitive behavior
  • Ignoring the child but not the behavior
    • This means that in certain situations you would still need to intervene and help during certain behaviors such as dangerous situations where your child could get hurt, you would still want to remove their bodies from danger but ignore them while doing it so that the behavior decreases in the future and safety is no longer an issue.  
  • Ignoring both the child and the behavior
    • In cases where both the child and the behavior are needing to be ignored would occur when the child is not in danger AND the behavior is disruptive or repetitive. For instance, a child dropping to the floor and tantruming during dinner could be ignored altogether for the behavior to decrease in the future. 

While the task to ignore may seem daunting, remember that it will be hard in the beginning but it will be worth it later and you’ll be so happy that you were able to ignore the behavior. Planned ignoring is a powerful consequence that is used in ABA daily because it works wonders and removes small “junk” behavior quickly and tougher behavior in the long term. 

Source: Bearss, K., Johnson, C. R., Handen, B. L., Butter, E. M., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., & Scahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior: the Rubi Autism Network. Oxford University Press.

5 Sensory Friendly Ideas for 4th of July

Is your child not a huge fan of fireworks? We get it, the 4th of July can be a difficult time for a family trying to find firework alternative activities. Here are some tips and ideas for a sensory friendly holiday. 

  1. Backyard BBQ- While it may not be a((as fun of an outing)) fun outing, having some fun outdoors with a BBQ and your child could be just as meaningful as getting out in the community. 
  2. Baseball- Going to a baseball game could be just the thing your family is looking for and you can skip out before the fireworks begin or bring headphones for a child with auditory sensory needs. Go Royals!
  3. Zoo- going to the zoo could be a great way to spend time with your family and some amazing animals that you don’t get to see everyday! 
  4. Water time- whether it’s an outing on a boat, splash pad or pool having some family time in the water could be a great way to incorporate a sensory experience for your child that is positive and a great way to stay cool in the summer! 
  5. Make popsicles- Making a cool treat may be a great way for your child to engage with it’s((their)) sense of taste while staying cool on the fourth of July. You could even go really festive and make red, white and blue ones. Back to the Book Nutrition has an easy and healthy popsicle to make the day special! 

No matter what you end up doing with your friends, family and child, thinking a little outside the box and getting creative will mark a memorable holiday weekend!

6 Ways to Manage Meal Time

“My kid barely eats anything, they’re very picky,” is something I’ve heard commonly throughout my seven years in the  Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) field. Parents can feel overwhelmed, annoyed or have completely given up on meal time behavior from their child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Up to 89% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience challenging mealtime behaviors (Ledford & Gast, 2006). This can include a child refusing to eat, only eating certain foods based on texture, color, smell or taste, refusing to sit or unable to partake in meal time discussion with family members.

While the behaviors surrounding mealtimes and eating patterns of children with ASD do not have a ton of research to go off of currently, there has been some progress on feeding techniques with children that have seemed successful thus far. Here are some strategies that may work for you meal times: 

  • Take Data: According to best selling author and BCBA-D, Dr. Mary Barbera, speaks on she recommends taking 3 days of data collection on exactly what your child eats will help you be able to assess if your child needs more intensive therapy such as feeding therapy along with being able to look at the list of food they are eating and be more strategic about how you’re feeding them. Even if you can’t take all three, or it seems overwhelming to do so, start by taking data one time a day!
  • Be strategic: Barbera also says that categorizing food into three categories can help you see what nutrients they are eating daily and how to meal plan around that. She recommends categorizing food by: Easy food (those that your child eats often and easily), Medium food (those that they eat occasionally throughout the month but not daily), and hard food (foods that you would like them to eat but they do not eat currently). This can help for a parent to actually know how much the child is eating of each item and the parent can adapt to feed more of the healthy items throughout each meal instead of allowing the child to fill up on filler foods and snacks. 
  1. Limit snacks/drinks: these may fill them up but are not giving them the nutrients that they could get naturally in the foods they eat. For instance, if your child is only eating chicken tenders, skittles, goldfish and strawberries, you could focus on providing strawberries in the morning for fruit content and giving them the pizza in the afternoon or evening along with the snacks occasionally. This would increase the chances of your child being hungry enough to eat more of the strawberries or be open to trying new foods and drinks such as a strawberry smoothie or strawberry yogurt.  
  2. Engage with children during meal times: Research by  Odar Stough et al. (2015) found that direct commands and parents physically feeding their child during mealtime were related to increased bite acceptance. Bite acceptance means that children were more likely to eat more food or new foods by their parents sitting with them, encouraging them and helping to feed them. 
  3. Eat with your child: This goes hand in hand with the research above. Eating with your child will help them imitate the behaviors they see you do such as sitting at the table, accepting new foods, and eating different foods with different textures/colors/smells. 
  4. Place a variety of foods on their plate: You might be thinking that you’ve tried this before or your child will just be wasting food but there’s a good chance that by putting yogurt and granola on the plate with their preferred strawberries will increase the likelihood of them trying the other foods on the plate. 

Hopefully these tips bring you encouragement and excitement that you’ve been looking for in  your family’s meal time. Remember, when in doubt, consult your child’s medical team to see if there is more that needs to happen for your child nutritionally.

Happy eating! 

Citations:

  1. Am J Occup Ther. 2019 Jan-Feb; 73(1): 7301205070p1–7301205070p10.Published online 2019 Feb 5. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2019.024612
  2. Barbera, Mary BCBA-D. (2018). How to overcome picky eating for children with Autism. Published online 2018 October 10. www.Marybarbera.com
  3. Ledford J., & Gast D. (2006). Feeding problems in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21, 153–166. 10.1177/10883576060210030401 [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
  4. Odar Stough C., Dreyer Gillette M. L., Roberts M. C., Jorgensen T. D., & Patton S. R. (2015). Mealtime behaviors associated with consumption of unfamiliar foods by young children with autism spectrum disorder.

5 Tips for Toilet Training

“We’ve tried potty training this week and I broke down crying within the first day,” is something I’ve commonly heard from parents when they start this new routine. Potty training is a phrase that can bring both excitement and fear to a parent’s routine. While most are excited for less diapers to consume their house, it can also bring tough moments figuring out when the child is ready to potty train, what the child is motivated by and how long it will take for them to be independent on the toilet. These factors can be overwhelming to tackle all at once but breaking them down into systematic steps and becoming organized with a routine can create ease into a new routine for both the child and the family. Here are a few pointers to help create a calmer environment for both the potty trainer and the family along the way:

  1. Have the bathroom stocked– It is important to have the bathroom full of supplies from underwear to clothing in case of accidents as well as creating a fun space for the potty trainer with toys and food that are used for potty training. 
  2. Set out toys and treats exclusive to the bathroom– This will make the bathroom space more inviting and motivate the potty trainer to want to go to the bathroom more often because of the items inside. 
  3. Create visuals and read stories that talk about bathroom routine– This will show the child the process of using the toilet and washing hands which will help them to understand the process in a more direct way and will normalize the bathroom routine in their everyday life.  
  4. Stick to consistency- As the old phrase says, “practice makes perfect”, and in potty training this remains true as it will help the potty trainer to practice no matter the environment to gain the skill and decrease the time needed to potty train. Also, remaining consistent with the type of underwear used will help the child to be able to understand the routine and to be able to engage the senses to gain independence in the skill. 
  5. Allow others to be a part of the routine and go on field trips- Let’s be honest, you’re going to need a break at some point, and other family members will need to know what the routine is for your child so that they can help them in different environments or when you’re not there. It’s also important for your child to be able to use different toilets in places that they frequent including school, stores, and places you go for community outings such as the library. 

This is an entirely new routine for yourself and the child. Giving yourself and the potty trainer some forgiveness during this process is crucial. Reach out to family members and friends for help and remember that this is temporary. Pretty soon you’ll have a full fledged potty trained child!