What Autism Awareness Should be About

In this month’s ASAT feature, Executive Director David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, offer, OPs his thoughts on expanding autism awareness once April has ended. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Autism Awareness Month will soon come to a close. The blue puzzle pieces will disappear from Facebook pages and billboards, the media will focus their attention on other topics of interest, and we will return to business as usual. And business as usual is not OK, particularly given that so many children and adults with autism are not accessing the most effective, science-based interventions that will allow them to realize their fullest potentials.

When I first entered the field over twenty-five years ago, autism was considered a rare condition. When people asked what I did for a living, they often misheard me and thought I worked with “artistic” children. Today, autism is no longer the rare diagnosis that impacts someone else’s child. Our extended families, our neighbors, and our co-workers are now all touched by autism. With 1 in 68 children receiving a diagnosis, the sheer number of individuals with autism is staggering and heightens awareness in and of itself.

For many conditions, awareness is key because awareness promotes detection, and with detection comes a relatively clear path towards treatment. Take, for example, conditions such as Lyme disease and many forms of cancer. Better prognoses are attached to early detection. Within a few short weeks of detection and diagnosis, patients typically receive science-based treatment. If their conditions are not detected early, then access to such treatments is delayed and their conditions will likely worsen. In the world of autism, detection is not the “be all and end all.” We do not just have a detection issue in autism, but also, and perhaps more importantly, we have an intervention issue.

It is my hope that the conversation about autism awareness will be broadened to focus upon and overcome the obstacles that separate individuals with autism from effective, science-based intervention, and that those that separate their families, caregivers, and teachers from accurate information about autism intervention.

I leave you with 10 ideas about what “autism awareness” should be about.

  1. “Autism Awareness” should recognize the need to differentiate effective treatments that are scientifically validated from the plethora of “therapies” and “cures” lacking scientific support. Autism treatment has become a multi-million dollar industry with 500+ alleged treatments and thus, science sadly placed on the back burner. This means that heart wrenching testimonials, surveys that are pawned off as scientific research, and outrageous claims abound, making it challenging for parents to determine the best course of action for their child. The aggressive marketing of these “therapies” and “cures” is absolutely overwhelming for parents who are desperate for accurate information to help their children realize their fullest potential. For most other medical conditions, a provider that disregards proven intervention and uses a fringe treatment may actually be sued for malpractice. Such safeguards are not yet well established for autism treatment.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must recognize the responsibility that we have, as a society, to make sound choices.I use the term “society” given the myriad of stakeholders who make critically important decisions for persons with autism – not just parents, but siblings, teachers, treatment providers, administrators, program coordinators, elected officials and even tax payers. Decision-making power comes with tremendous responsibility. There are far too many individuals with autism who are not receiving effective treatment, are receiving ineffective treatment, or are subjected to treatments that are, in fact, dangerous. Every minute of ineffective intervention is one less minute spent accessing effective intervention.   Choices made have profound implications.

 

* Please see the questions that appear at the end of this article to promote more careful decision making at http://www.asatonline.org/pdf/roadless.pdf

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must recognize that available information (and information providers) varies greatly in accuracy.As we know, not all information on the Internet is reliable and accurate. Often Internet information is deemed equivalent in relevance, importance, and validity, to research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. It is not.

 

  1. Autism Awareness” must include careful and responsible reporting by journalistsThere are dozens of “miracle cures” and “breakthroughs” for autism that receive widespread media attention, even if they have not been proven effective. Unfortunately, treatments actually shown to be effective typically receive the least amount of media attention. It is hard to imagine that things will improve dramatically for the autism community in the absence of more accurate representations of autism treatment in the media.

 

* You will find examples of accurate and inaccurate reporting at http://www.asatonline.org/for-media-professionals/about-media-watch/ ASAT is undertaking proactive steps to enhance accuracy in media reporting.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should recognize the critical need for newly diagnosed children to access effective treatment as soon as possible.We also know that we have a limited window of time to prepare children for the least restrictive setting once they enter public school. The fact that resources allocated early can save a tremendous amount of resources over an individual’s lifespan does not always enter the conversation when evaluating costs and benefits. That must change.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should also instill hope for a better tomorrow for those individuals who are not part of the “best outcome” group.With the right treatment, individuals with autism can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Research indicates that interventions such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) can effectively help children and adults with autism realize their fullest potential. The conversation about “cure” often delegitimizes and derails important conversations about how we can help individuals with autism live and work independently, develop meaningful and sustainable relationships, reduce challenging behaviors that may limit opportunities, access faith communities, and enjoy the array of recreational pursuits that are available within their communities. Those are important conversations to have.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must mandate accountability from all treatment providers. Accountability involves a shared commitment to objectively defined targets, data collection, and respect for the scientific method. It is every provider’s responsibility to objectively measure outcomes regardless of their discipline. No one should get a pass on accountability. No one is immune from defining their target and objectively measuring progress. No one should get away with implementing their intervention carelessly and in no-transparent manner. No one should be permitted to boast claims that they cannot demonstrate through data. These unfortunate realities should not be tolerated.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must involve recognition that an abundance of clinical research already exists.Too often the plethora of peer-reviewed research that could guide and inform treatment efforts is disregarded altogether. If treatment providers and consumers are interested in published research on diverse topics such as improving conversation skills, promoting academic skills, eliminating pica, or developing tolerance for dental procedures, they can find it. Thousands of researchers have worked hard at publishing their findings in peer reviewed journals and their findings are often overshadowed by a media that practices sensationalism to provide consumers with information about the “next big thing” in autism treatment.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should help us identify and overcome the barriers that face our families everyday.Not every child with autism is invited to birthday parties. Not every faith community welcomes families of children with autism. Not every school provides meaningful contact between students with autism and their typically developing peers. Not every community provides recreational opportunities for individuals with autism. The absence of these opportunities is both a function of misinformation about autism and the lack of awareness about the successful efforts of others who have overcome such barriers. With 1 in 68 children being diagnosed, every facet of society would benefit from evaluating what they are doing, what they are not doing, and what they could be doing differently.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should be about the reality that the hundreds of thousands of children with autism will soon become hundreds of thousands of young adults with autism. We are facing a crisis in the field with a scarcity of services for adults with autism and the absence of a clear strategy for closing the gap between the ever increasing need, and an unprepared supply of resources. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment has committed to broadening its scope to be a part of an important dialogue about adults with autism.

We all play a role in bettering the lives of individuals with autism and helping their families and supporters become skilled and savvy consumers. Embrace that role with an eye toward identifying what additional steps you can take to become a contributor to important conversations and an even bigger part of the solution.

 


David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the part time Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 and 2012. He is the Co-Editor of ASAT’s newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis, and early childhood education, and been an active participant in local fundraising initiatives to support after school programming for economically disadvantaged children. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to applied behavior analysis (ABA) at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

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Help Your Child Have A Successful Play Date!

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This week, clinical psychologist Lauren Elder offers advice on setting up play dates for children with autism.

Encouraging friendships is a priority for many parents, and a play date is a good first step. Playing with peers is difficult for many children with autism. So I’m glad you realize that a successful play date can require some planning. To maximize success, I recommend the following four steps:

Make sure your child is ready for play dates.

Children with autism are more likely to succeed with other children after they’ve gained the following skills.

* Some basic play skills. Your child needs to be able to play with toys and games, ideally those that interest other children his age.

* Some awareness and interest in peers. Your child doesn’t need to be skilled in interacting with other children. But it will help a lot if he’s interested and motivated to play with them.

* Can “practice play” with adults. For most children with autism, practice play with adults is the first step to interacting with children. As adults, we tend to be more structured and predictable and can provide appropriate prompting as needed. All this makes it easier for children with autism to learn basic play skills. These include taking turns and being able to play and share several different toys.

Choose the right playmate.

It’s important to make sure that the friend is a good match for your child. Ideally, find a friend who shares some of your child’s special interests. Play dates will be smoother if they’re naturally drawn to the same activities. If your child’s play skills are behind his peers, it can also help if the playmate is a little younger. In general, look for playmates who are patient and flexible. Many children with autism do well with peers who are friendly and willing to help draw others into social interactions.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

* Preselect the activities. I recommend starting with activities that are familiar to your child and have clear steps or roles. Examples include making (simple) cookies, a board game, video game or tag. In general, structured activities are easier than unstructured ones for children with autism. However, an unstructured activity that taps your child’s special interests (cars? trains? Lion King?) can be successful.

* Prepare a structured play date plan. Many children with autism have difficulty with transitions. It can help to give your child a visual schedule listing the planned play activities. If your child likes to play with a wide variety of toys, you might make clear that he and his friend will take turns choosing what to do next. I also recommend communicating a set end time. Generally, keep it under 30 minutes for the first play date. If that proves successful, consider adding time to the next visit.

* Role play with your child. Practice how to play with friends. Practice the activities you’ve planned, and describe or show your child the play date plan. Talk about things that might happen, such as the other child wanting to do something different than what your child wants to do. That will enable the two of you to talk about how your child should handle these situations.

Be ready to coach if needed.

While you want to use as light a touch as possible, you’ll probably need to help your child – at least as he begins to master this new skill. In particular, be ready to:

* Coach your child. He may need reminders to wait his turn, share, respond when his friend speaks to him, etc.

* Coach your child’s friend. With the right playmate, it can help to offer a few suggestions for interacting with your child. For instance, to “try again” if your child doesn’t immediately respond to a suggestion and to “gently ignore” an undesired behavior such as yelling.

* Let kids be kids. Coaching is important, but it’s equally important to give your child and his playmate a chance to work things out before you intervene.

I hope these tips help you witness many enjoyable play dates!

This piece originally appeared on Autism Speaks as part of their Got Questions? series.
Posted in ABA

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Tip of the Week: A Simple Highlighter Tip to Help Your Child With Handwriting

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This week, Understood and teacher Ginny Osewalt share an innovative way you can help your child with handwriting. 

If your child is a struggling writer or has dysgraphia, she may have poor handwriting and trouble with spelling and getting her thoughts down on paper. It may be hard for her to read back what she’s written. She may fatigue easily or avoid writing altogether.

When writing gets in the way of your child learning or showing what she knows, having her dictate her responses to a scribe can be an appropriate accommodation. At home, that scribe may be you.

When you scribe for your child at home, here’s a way to get your child more involved in the process. This tip helps your child take ownership of her written work—and provides some handwriting practice, too.

All you’ll need is a thin yellow highlighter and a piece of lined paper. When your child dictates, use the highlighter to record, word for word, her thoughts and responses. Be sure that you’re using good letter formation. Pay attention to the lines and margins on the page, and use appropriate spacing between words. After your child has finished dictating, hand her the paper on which you’ve scribed.

Next, have her trace over the yellow text with her pencil, starting with the very first word and continuing down to the last punctuation mark. When she’s finished tracing, have her read what she’s written to herself and make any changes without your help (if possible). Then, have her read it aloud to you.

You may be amazed at how well your child adapts to this scribing method. Just keep in mind that scribing shouldn’t replace good classroom writing instruction. Also, be sure to explore the wide range of assistive technology tools available for struggling writers, like keyboards and dictation software.


About The Author

Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with 14 years of experience in the classroom. She is also an Understood expert.

This post originally appeared on Understood.org

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Posted in ABA

Tip of the Week: Travel Tips for Children With Autism

This week, writer and mom Ruth Manuel-Logan shares her tricks for travel with children on the spectrum. 

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Traveling with children can be daunting, and when you travel with a child who has autism and requires organized structure, venturing out into unfamiliar surroundings can add an entirely new dimension to the experience.

Autism is a spectrum of neurological disorders characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in various areas of development such as language and social skills. It affects 1 in 88 children, primarily boys, and it is most often detected by age 3. Because children with autism typically require predictability, vacations can be over-stimulating and distressing for the child with autism.

Unfortunately, there are many parents with children on the autism spectrum who are afraid of journeying beyond their own communities. Even thinking about taking a vacation can summon up feelings of trepidation in parents and family members. Caregivers are overwhelmed at the thought of managing quirky, self-injurious, or violent behaviors that their child might exhibit in public; they also fear stares, rude comments, or judgments by others. They may opt, therefore, to keep their special needs child at home.

But traveling with kids who have autism is possible and doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are tips that can make your trip a pleasurable one for your child and a positive experience for the family.

Choose the Best Destination for Your Child

Vacations mean transition, which children with autism may find difficult. You have to know your child and have a thorough understanding of his needs first. Children with autism tend not to be socially intuitive, and new experiences can result in meltdowns, so planning what can be executed and enjoyed by your child is imperative. “Children with autism are stress detectors. They sense others’ stress and react in ways that are considered an interruption to the planned agenda for the day. For this reason, vacations at the beach or in the mountains, where schedules are often flexible and unhurried, can be ideal for a child with autism,” says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Does your child like amusement parks? Is hiking in your child’s comfort zone? Do you find that his sensory issues fade when he’s basking in the sun on the beach? No matter where you travel, you should always remember the activities that your child will enjoy. Try not to overload him by bombarding him with too many things to do, as this will cause stress for everyone involved.

Include your children as active partners in the planning. Adapt it to your child’s interests, information-processing abilities, and attention span, and relate it to the upcoming trip. Researching the destination and how you’re getting there, and talking about accommodations and the kinds of activities that are well suited to your child are all part of planning process.

Make Arrangements Ahead of Time

Calling ahead to make special arrangements will make your trip easier. Contact airlines, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks and explain that you are traveling with a child who has autism; discuss your needs and request certain accommodations.

Kim Stagliano, mom of three girls ages 11, 15, and 17 (all whom have autism) and author of All I Can Handle: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism, is a firm believer in planning ahead before she and her husband take their trio anywhere. “If we fly, I use the pre-boarding opportunity to tell the airline staff that the girls have autism, so that they can understand if we have a situation and offer us extra assistance if we need it.

Many major airlines, theme parks, hotels, and restaurants are often amenable to the needs of children with autism. In 2011, Logan Airport in Boston hosted a free rehearsal flying experience, called Wings for Autism, for children with autism and their families so that personnel can better understand the community. Families from three states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire — took part in the airport dress rehearsal. JetBlue even lent one of their planes for the event and its flight crew volunteered their time. Families were allowed to go through a mock airport experience, including a normal screening process with airport staff checking to see how a child reacts when a favorite toy or backpack is taken away for scanning. Then they boarded the plane and helped practice staying seated and belted. Airports in Philadelphia and Newark have staged similar events and Manchester Airport in London produced an informative brochure on flying with autism, called “Airport Awareness.”

Theme parks across the country are also finding ways to accommodate children with autism. “We usually go to the guest relations office that can be found in most theme parks and request special passes so that we don’t have to wait on long lines,” says Amy Dingwall, of Trumbull, Connecticut, whose 17-year-old son, Ryan, has autism.

Prepare Proper Identification

Having a child with autism means increasing your safety quotient; many kids tend to wander and flee from adult supervision. According to a survey released in April 2011 from the Interactive Autism Network, wandering is probably the leading cause of death among children with autism. Even more dangerous is the nonverbal child who wanders and cannot supply any information.

Getting your child a medical bracelet or necklace with contact information is essential, particularly when traveling. If your child has sensory issues that would prevent him from wearing the jewelry, you can order ID tags that can be attached to shoelaces or even zipper pulls (like the ones from Zoobearsmedicalid.com). If your child is nonverbal, you might want to make an ID card to put in his pocket with a current photo, contact information, and a list of allergies. Be sure to also indicate that your child is nonverbal. “No matter where you go, remember to think ahead about safety for your child,” Dr. Landa advises.

You could also have your child wear an autism symbol ribbon or even a shirt with an autism message or organization logo so that strangers get a visual reminder. “Our kids are so good-looking, folks are often taken aback by ‘unexpected’ behaviors. Place a label with your child’s name, your name, and a cell-phone number on the back of the child’s shirt while traveling so that if you become separated, a kind soul can contact you,” Stagliano suggests. When Stagliano’s daughter was 12 years old, she slipped out of sight at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and came close to boarding a tram. “No one may have noticed a kid on her own, but she would have been in grave danger.”

Pack the Essentials…and Some Distractions

Put together a checklist to ensure that you leave nothing behind that your child will require. Children on the autism spectrum often need reinforcements, many of them tangible, so don’t forget to bring these along on your trip to reward his good behavior. All children are attached to their loveys, but children with autism can’t leave them behind because they see the loveys as extensions of themselves; forgetting them can end up putting the brakes on a much-anticipated getaway.

Soothers such as MP3 players, DVDs, or a favorite piece of string or eraser usually keep children calm and preoccupied. Think of your child’s daily routine and bring along the necessities that help him get through his day — snacks, toys, books, diapers/Pull-Ups, or assistive communication tools. Show your child what you are packing just in case he feels any angst about your forgetting any favorite items. “We go to extremes to make sure our three girls have their familiar items to help them feel comfortable,” Stagliano says. “This includes electronics like their iTouch or MP3 player, portable DVD player, games, or iPad. We make sure to pack a suitcase full of distractions.”

Practice Vacation Scenarios in Advance

Let your child know what she might expect to do or see on vacation. Role-playing what might take place during the trip can ease future regrets. Creating a sequential picture story of what will occur is an enlightening and effective tool in getting your child ready for the trip. Experts say that these types of word/picture scenarios can help relieve stress and reduce problem behaviors in children with autism.

“The entire preparation process should be spread out over the course of many weeks. Each day, create a routine where you ‘talk’ about the trip together. You and your child can arrange pictures related to the trip in the order in which the events will occur chronologically. Help your child organize pictures of the hotel or family member’s house where you will be staying into a collage or other visual arrangement. You can even provide a simple explanation or caption for each picture. As the trip nears, your child will be able to help narrate the captions and event descriptions, or affirm your narration,” Dr. Landa says. “You know your child best, so be sure to tailor the amount and complexity of information to his or her needs.”

Dingwall finds that preparing Ryan just a few days before a trip works best for him. If she reveals details about a vacation too far ahead in advance, Ryan will lose sleep because of his anxiety and will also perseverate, a common trait among children with autism, whereby they repeat a certain phrase or action. “We are always prepared with two types of picture schedules — one on Ryan’s iPod Touch, using his picture-based prompting app iPrompts, and the other a backup with pictures and Velcro backings that can easily be switched as needed,” Dingwall says.

Always Set Aside Breaks

Vacations do not fall into usual routines, so children with autism may feel lost and unanchored, and that can lead to breakdowns. Know your child’s trigger points and plan accordingly. “We don’t feel as if we have to spend all day at a theme park. Just a few hours that my daughters can handle and then a swim is much easier than eight long hours in a park followed by meltdowns. We also make sure to stick close to our bedtime routine even though we’re on vacation. Getting a good night’s sleep often helps prevent [unruly] behaviors,” Stagliano says.

Does your child tend to tire at around the same time each day? Does too much visual or physical stimuli kick start bouts of anxiety? Did you overschedule your child? “As you assemble the trip agenda, it’s essential to plan for breaks and downtime so that it is not an afterthought,” Dr. Landa cautions. As the parent, you have to know when to throw in the towel by anticipating needs and taking a break by bringing your child to a quiet spot, a relaxation space, or back to the hotel room to wind down.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation. Reviewed and updated 2013.

 


About The Author

Ruth Manuel-Logan is the proud mom of a 12-year-old child with autism whom she loves to Reese’s Pieces. Ruth is hopeful that she’ll be able to flip on the auto pilot switch and allow her son to make his own independent mark in the world one day.

Article originally posted on Parents.com

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Tip of the Week: Dos and Don’ts of Fidgets

This week, Different Roads is proud to share some tips from Nancy Hammill and Understood on the dos and don’ts of fidgets, both in the classroom and at home!

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Fidgets, like squeeze balls and key chains, are self-regulation tools that promote movement and tactile input. They can be great for kids who struggle with attention, focus and sensory processing.

But in my many years as a teacher and parent, I’ve often seen them misused. When I see a child throw a squeeze ball across the room or obsess over making shapes out of Silly Putty, I know something’s gone wrong.

The problem is we often hand fidgets to kids without any direction, thinking they’ll magically know how to use them. Then when they play with them—rather than use them as a tool—we get angry.

That’s why it’s important to teach kids how to use fidgets. Here’s what I suggest.

First, explain to your child that a fidget is one strategy in her “tool kit” to help her improve focus on a task. When used correctly in the right situation, fidgets can help her be a better listener, sustain attention on her work, and even calm down or slow down her body and mind.

Basically, a fidget is a tool to help her focus—not a toy.

Second, work with your child to identify specific times she might need a fidget. For example, she might need it when she’s doing homework or needs to sit still in a movie theater.

Third, set up clear rules for how to use fidgets in your home, and communicate them to your child. If you’re unsure where to start, here are my “non-negotiables”:

Rule #1: Be mindful. Before you grab a fidget, think about whether you need it. If you don’t know, review rule #2.

Rule #2: You can only use a fidget to help with focus and attention or to calm down. Otherwise it will be taken away.

Rule #3: Don’t use a fidget if it distracts others or interferes with the work others are doing. If the fidget does distract others or interfere with their work, use a different fidget or strategy.

Rule #4: Every time you’re done with a fidget, put it back where it belongs. (In our house, we keep fidgets in a designated basket.)

If you want to try a fidget with your child, there are many options to choose from. Experiment to find what works best for your child. But I recommend that you don’t get a fidget that has a cute face or that looks like a toy. Your child needs to remember that fidgets are tools.

When you’re ready, you can set up a fidget basket (or other spot), print the rules, and put the rules in a place where your child can easily see and review them.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Hammill is the 2016 National Learning Disabilities Educator of the Year, awarded by Understood founding partner the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She has 20 years of experience as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist and learning therapist.

About Understood: The professionals who advise parents on Understood are all experts in their fields. They include educators, learning and attention specialists, physicians, psychologists, lawyers and more. They share a commitment to children with learning and attention issues.

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