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)
When Covid came onto the world scene, it was inevitable that it would play a role in our lives. However, two years later it is still present in our communities and has impacted our lives for a longer duration than most expect. This has severely influenced those with disabilities, particularly socially. One significant area that it can impact those with social impairments is in understanding facial expressions and gestures.
With Covid still on the scene and masks being worn in public, how do you teach those with social impairments facial expressions and gestures? Here are some ideas below.
- Use visuals
- Pictures of people your child knows engaging in a variety of facial expressions to identify, find and match facial expressions will help them to gain the skill of being able to express and identify facial expressions.
- Find videos and practice engaging in the facial expressions
- Finding videos of others engaging in facial expressions and having you child practice them will help them to understand the movements to make the facial expressions. Use their favorite tv shows or movies if possible and pause them when facial expressions are made to make it more motivating.
- Teach them how to ask
- Teach your child how to ask someone how they’re feeling. This will be a huge life skill for them and help them in the future to be able to communicate with others when they are unsure how they’re feeling.
Once your child has mastered these skills, they will be able to understand facial expressions in a variety of ways and environments even if Covid seems to stick around longer. Once they’ve mastered the art of expressions, you could move on to work on greeting others or certain gestures (peace sign, hand shake, thumbs up) along with their meanings as well.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Look on Facebook:
- 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.
- Center for parent information and resources:
- 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.
- Check your local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club:
- 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.
- Contact your local government:
- 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.
- Contact your local school:
- 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.
- Contact a local church:
- 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.
Movement and physical activity are a part of everyday life. Children are always on the move while playing, standing in line with the class, or being a part of the group. However, it seems that providers and teachers spend a great deal of time teaching clients and students sitting at tables. Social thinking and social skills involve the whole body to communicate with others. One of the steps to face-to-face communication is to establish a physical presence. You use your whole body to move closer to people to indicate you want to communicate or join the group. Along with using your whole body, thinking with your eyes is also important for face-to-face communication. Thinking with your eyes allows you to observe what is happening around you. Teaching movement with social skills and social thinking helps children understand that these skills are not just used in social conversations. Here are five strategies to combine movement and face-to-face communication for children.
- Follow the Leader. This game includes several social concepts and encourages self-awareness and social attention. During this game, you can teach children to keep his/her body in the group and think with your eyes. However, this game might be challenging for clients and students due to the multiple social skills involved and the child having to imitate peers.
- Four Square. This game helps children work on keeping focus on the game and thinking with your eyes. It might be necessary to slow down the game to simplify the game for your client or student.
- Lining up and walking with the group. This works on the child keeping his/her body in the group and learning behaviors that are expected. It is important to remember that our clients tend to be “me thinkers” rather than “we thinkers.” This means that these social concepts do not come naturally and requires more practice. Have children observe the group they are a part of and stay with the group while walking. This may be challenging for children, so try using a peer to prompt them to stay in the group.
- Red-Light, Green-Light. Thinking with your eyes is the key to this game. Both the leader and the followers need to use your eyes to play the game.
- Playing team sports. While playing sports, like soccer, children include several social skills like thinking with your eyes and using your whole body. Children must look at other players for signals on what to do, as well as keeping the body in the group.
Teaching children to use movement with communication helps with generalization and understanding social skills. To communicate with others, you must think with your eyes and keep your body in the group. These five activities are exciting and engage the child while learning social skills. The social world is constantly moving, movement and learning go hand and hand.
Winner, M. (2017, August 29). Social Thinking Articles. Retrieved July 3, 2020, https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=teaching-physical-movement-face-to-face-communication
Finding different ways for children with ASD to engage with their peers socially can be a challenge. Incorporating game play into the child’s social skills repertoire can be a great way to create new social opportunities for the child with his/her friends and family.
Skills that can be targeted using game play:
- Asking someone to play
- Turn taking
- Staying with the group
- Team work- e.g. set up and clean up
- Appropriate voice level
- Collaborative play
- Resolving conflict- e.g. not going first or not getting the desired game piece
- Handling winning and losing
Keep it simple! For children who have limited exposure to game play, don’t work on too many skills at once. As the child masters a skill you can build on that skill and target others.
Keep it fun! For some children, you may need to adjust the rules prior to playing so the game can progress more quickly. Be sure to look for signs of fading interest during the game and find a way to end the game successfully. For example, have each person take one more turn before ending the game. Keeping the experience fun is key so the child will want to play again.
Provide praise! Be sure to provide immediate and specific praise when the child exhibits the skills you are targeting. You need to meet the child’s level on communication when providing praise. For example, “Wow, you’re doing a great job waiting your turn!” or “Great waiting!” depending on the level of the child.
Make the game meet your needs! You may want to adapt the game to take out skills your child isn’t quite ready to work on yet. For example, in Candyland take out the cards that advance or move back your game piece if the child isn’t ready to work on handling disappointment. You can also adapt game by adding in skills you want to target. For example, add in cards that target asking another player a question before moving his/her game piece. You can also find ways to add in movement for children who need it. For example, every time someone lands on green you do 3 jumping jacks. Just think of the directions in the box as being suggestions so be creative and think of ways to make the game meet your needs.
Don’t give up! Remember that the first try might not go as planned so go easy on yourself. Continue to provide the opportunities to the child so they can continue to grow and learn. Progress can’t be made if opportunities are not available. Be sure to collect your data so you can track the progress.
Overall, games allow for a great opportunity for children with ASD to play with peers and family members while learning social skills and life-long leisure skills. Be creative and have fun!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.