Is That You On TV?

No, I know.  In all seriousness, it’s Team Braverman from the NBC program “Parenthood”.  One of the show’s main storylines portrays a family whose son is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  This image is from the episode where the family participates in an Autism Speaks walk.  The plot revolves around the struggle a family faces when they are deciding how they should tell their child about his or her diagnosis.

I have been hooked on this show for the last few weeks.  I find the way ‘Parenthood’ tackles difficult topics to be touching and feel that it is an realistic account of a family ‘behind the scenes’.  I spend a lot of time with families dealing with many of these same issues and can only imagine being in their shoes.  From where I stand this show seems to be a powerful and accurate portrayal of life with a child with Asperger’s.  However, I’m curious how parents, grandparents and other clinicians are reacting to the program.

Back to School Basics

You know it is officially back to school season when the grill in my backyard has been cool to the touch for days and I’ve had my yearly medical exam (PPD titer and all!). I hope it has been smooth sailing for you and your little ones as classes begin. If it hasn’t been, this is what I always try to keep in mind, for all people, big and small:

PREPARE!

It is best to join forces with your child and prepare for the year by making sure you cover what I like to call the 3 S’s.

SPACE

Make sure everything in your child’s work/play space at home is organized and equipped. Play continues to be an important part of learning even when school is in session so take this time to go through toys and arts and crafts supplies and weed out things that are broken or no longer developmentally appropriate for your child. Make sure there is a spacious and uncluttered work space stocked with all of the supplies your child will need to complete homework and school projects. It is also a good idea to keep a space near the work area for a visual schedule to help foster independence during homework time. Lastly, designate a spot near the entrance of your home where your child’s backpack, important papers and your keys can go each afternoon. The last thing you want is to add undue stress to your morning routine and risk missing the beginning of class.

SCHEDULE

We all know that with this population transitions can be especially difficult.  First, take care of as much as you can the night before. Pack bags, sign paperwork, pack lunches, and pick out clothing.  Also, don’t think that a a parent you are the only one responsible for this prep work. Incorporate as many of these things into your child’s evening routine as you can. Having your child participate will foster independence and build confidence. Again, visual schedules and token economies help facilitate independence and provide motivation respectively.  Structure benefits children so it is good to develop a general school year routine and stick to it as much as possible.  Predictability is helpful when it comes to transitions but also remember to build in components that have some element of change to them so that you can facilitate flexibility.  One part of the schedule that shouldn’t change is the sleep schedule.  Keep it as consistent as possible, even on the weekends.  I suggest building a calming activity into the schedule before bedtime and using a timer to help with the transition to bed.

SOCIAL

Sometimes, people find it surprising when I suggest preparation for social interactions but there are a lot of creative ways to help children familiarize themselves with conversational topics, common games and salient information about their peers and teachers.  I encourage all of the families I work with to print photographs of family outings or events that can be used as visual prompts for conversational topics.  Especially good are things that happened over the weekend.  If the picture book is reviewed Sunday evening they will be fully prepared to talk about what they did over the weekend. Additionally, you can find out what schoolyard games are popular with your child’s peer group and practice them at home with siblings or playdates.  If it is an athletic game you might also spend time with your child making a book about the rules that can be reviewed periodically. Lastly, I like to construct a “friend journal” with a child at the beginning of each school year.  You might need to enlist teachers or other parents to help with this but it is such a useful tool that it is worth the extra effort.  Start by obtaining photos of each classmate and pasting them individually into different sections of the journal.  On a daily basis you can help your child fill in something they have learned about their peers.  This could range anywhere from favorite cartoon or tv show to their age or their family members names.

Going back to school can be a fun and exciting time.  With a little preparation and creativity maybe it will be the best school year yet!

The TimeBuddy Clock is here!

We’ve been waiting since February for the TimeBuddy to arrive and it’s finally here!
This wonderful and customizable clock is designed to help young children with daily routines and time management. TimeBuddy is a battery-operated 24-hour activity clock with alarm settings. The alarm can be set for up to three different activities. The clock dial points to visual icons which consist of reusable stickers that are placed at actual times throughout the day by the parent, giving children cues on when to start and stop certain activities. You can also set the clock to literally speak three different phrases in your choice of three languages (English, Spanish, and French). There’s even an option for a user-recorded message of up to 15 seconds to allow parents to record a personalized message and you can insert the child’s name into the pre-programmed messages.

“It’s not me, it’s the Timer.”

The timer is one of everyone’s favorite tools for structuring time and activities for children with autism. It can be incorporated into all parts of daily living.

It was once explained to me that a parent could blame the timer for everything that has to do with transitions.


“It’s not me, it’s the Timer.”

“I know you want to stay in the playground but the timer said it’s time to go home.” Or perhaps, “The timer thinks you might have to go to the potty again.” My favorite at Christmas is, “The timer will tell you when you can open another present.” At our house, the timer was the higher authority. The timer is a fair arbitrator. It didn’t respond to whining or behaviors and it very coolly and serenely had to be obeyed.

It works! You just have to remember to put it in place and use it before you enter the big struggle of wills.

It’s just a simple kitchen timer….BUT we needed one that could count down and count up, it had to have a magnet so it could be easily found on the refrigerator and a clip/stand so one of us could wear it or place it close to us at the table if we were working.

Along the way, we found the Time Timer, invented by a mom of mainstream kids who needed a visual for transitions to stop her kids from asking, “Are we there yet?” The Time Timer is a visual depiction of time elapsing. Kids on the spectrum have a tangible way to see time passing as the red dial disappears.

There are all kinds of timers, and implementing them into any aspect of the day can significantly help in cutting back problem behaviors and anxiety over what is happening next.
– Julie Azuma

How Do I Get My Kid To Eat?!

I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been asked this question. It is an issue that I love to tackle in collaboration with the families that I work with mostly because when progress is made, it makes such a dramatic difference in the well-being of the entire family.

Behavioral and sensory issues of a child with special needs can further complicate the ordinary mealtime struggles of a parent of a small child. Parents are often torn between the interventions outlined for them by therapists and the reality of everyday life. This usually means that at the end of the day, just getting the child to eat anything and by any means necessary. No one is happy when mealtime becomes a battle zone. Use of a token economy or escape extinction is most common and can work if implemented consistently. However, I am always impressed when I come across new and creative approaches to food and feeding issues.

One such example of creativity comes from my experience with a great family and their two young boys that I worked with for several years. Their mother was a force to be reckoned with when it came to approaching the introduction of new foods and organizing play dates. I don’t remember how it started, or if it was a conscious plan but the weekly play dates she organized for socialization quickly evolved into preschool foodie events. The children were much more likely to try new foods and like them when their peers were trying them too. It was also a great opportunity to work through sensory aversions and begin to enjoy getting messy. I was recently reminded about these special food play dates when I came across a post on https://special-needs.families.com about a food centric play group started by some parents in Texas.
Currently I am experimenting with new ways to expand the diets of the children on my caseload as well as improving my own health through my food choices. My own mantra for health is to “Eat the Rainbow” so that I make sure I get a nice mix of fruits and vegetables. In my research I came across a great book for one child who has a strong interest in letters. The book is “Eating the Alphabet” by Lois Ehlert and it has inspired a new token economy type system for him and his siblings. Check out the template for the chart in the DRL Downloads! All you have to do is add your child’s picture and a picture of anyone else in the family wanting to participate, laminate, start checking off new foods with a dry erase marker and let the eating begin!
What have you tried?