Does My Child Have Autism?

Archive for February, 2019

Does My Child Have Autism?

Posted on: February 27th, 2019 by Autism Therapy Group

No parent wants to believe that their child has a problem. It’s natural to hope for happy, healthy, well-adjusted children who will grow up without any major difficulties. But, when it comes to children on the autism spectrum, identifying the signs early in the child’s development can make a big difference.


Regardless of your child’s age at this moment, if you suspect they are somewhere on the spectrum, there is hope. Today more than ever, there are a variety of effective treatment options that can help your child grow, develop, and thrive.


Understanding Autism


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a spectrum of complex neurobiological disorders with common symptoms that are most often characterized by difficulty communicating and relating socially to others, and an obsessive need to engage in repetitive behaviors or language. Symptoms of ASD show up in infancy and very early childhood and might include avoiding eye contact, delayed speech or not speaking at all, not responding to his or her name, and restricted interests.


It’s important to understand that there are a wide variety of symptoms for children who fall somewhere on the spectrum. Symptoms that are easy to spot in one child might be virtually invisible in another.


However, every child who lands somewhere on the spectrum struggles with challenges in these three areas:


1. Verbal and non-verbal communication.


2. Relating to and understanding other people and the world around them.


3. Adapting to change or dealing with unpredictability.


Warning Signs


If you’re the parent or primary caregiver for a young child that is exhibiting behavior you feel might be indicative of autism, we encourage you to trust your instincts. As the person who spends the most time with the child, you’re in the best position to identify early warning signs. Schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician, who will most likely recommend thorough evaluation and testing. However, sometimes even the best doctors can miss or underestimate signs and symptoms.


Remember that you know your child better than anyone else and are privy to behaviors that might not show up during a doctor visit. The key is to educate yourself as much as possible so that you have a good idea for what’s normal and what’s not. If you feel that your child is not receiving the care they need, seek a second opinion or a referral to a child development specialist.


“Don’t worry….”


Many people’s natural response to a parent concerned about the development of their child is to say, “Don’t worry”.  Or, “I’m sure everything is fine.”  After all, no one wants to believe that there is something wrong with a child. But, early intervention with children who’ve been diagnosed with autism can make a tremendous difference. If you have any concerns about whether your child is on the spectrum, don’t wait to seek evaluation.


It’s true that every child develops at a different pace. There’s no need to panic if your child is 12-months old and not walking even though your neighbor’s child walked at 10-months. “Normal” development carries a wide birth. But, if your child has not met several milestones for his or her age, or if you’re noticing other signs for concern, don’t wait. Call your pediatrician right away.


Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers.


Autism is difficult to diagnose before 24 months, but symptoms can show up as early as 12 months and early treatment can capitalize on the significant plasticity of a child’s young brain.


The earliest evidence of autism is, frustratingly, the absence of “normal” behaviors, not the presence of “abnormal” behaviors. Making it more difficult, the earliest symptoms can be interpreted as a baby just being really good  because they are quiet and undemanding.


Early signs.


Your baby or toddler doesn’t:


1. Respond to cuddling, reach out to be picked up, or make eye contact when being fed


2. Smile when being smiled at, or mimic facial expressions


3. Respond to the sound of a familiar voice


4. Respond when you call their name


5. Seem interested in play or games


6. Follow gestures or look at an object when you point to it


7. Attempt to use gestures to communicate or make noise to get people’s attention


Occasionally, a child with ASD will seem to develop communication skills normally and then regress. Regression generally happens between 12 and 24 months. For example, a child who waved goodbye when someone left the room might stop communicating entirely, with gestures or otherwise.


Signs and Symptoms in older children.


As children grow, signs of autism become much more diverse, but typically revolve around a lack of social and communication skills, and particularly inflexible behavior.


1. Seems unusually sensitive to sound, smells, textures, and bright, colorful or moving objects


2. Are unresponsive when people leave or enter the room they are in, seems oblivious when others try to get their attention, and generally appear disinterested in what’s going on around them


3. Avoids eye contact


4. Doesn’t seem to understand the context of language – humor, irony, and sarcasm – and takes what is said literally


5. Exhibits facial expressions that don’t align with their words or tone of voice.


6. Doesn’t seem to understand that other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures are communicating something


7. Has difficulty picking up on nonverbal cues


8. Repeats the same words or phrases over and over, getting stuck on the words not the meaning


9. Responds to a question by repeating the question


10. Uses language incorrectly (grammatical errors, wrong words) or refers to him or herself in the third person


11. Has difficulty communicating needs or desires


12. Does not to like to be touched, held or hugged


13. Insists on following rigid daily routines


14. Does not adjust to changes in their normal schedule or inconsistencies in their environment


15. Seems to form deep attachments to toys or objects but not with people


16. Obsessively places objects in a row, sorts them, or arranges them in a certain order


17. Repeats the same behavior over and over, such as rocking, twirling, or flapping their hands.


What to do if you’re concerned that your child might have autism


If many of these symptoms sound familiar, or if your child is developmentally delayed, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician.The diagnostic process is sometimes long and can be difficult. But, if your child is diagnosed with autism, it’s important to engage in treatment as soon as possible.


If you’d like to talk with one of our therapists or technicians, contact us today. We welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.



Behavioral Modification Strategies for Children with Autism

Posted on: February 1st, 2019 by Autism Therapy Group

8 Strategies for Dealing with Challenging Behavior in Children on the Autism Spectrum


A little girl painting a picture.


Dealing with the behavioral challenges in children with autism can be quite frustrating for parents, teachers, and other care professionals. Acting out can happen suddenly, last for hours, and be hard to control. In public settings, the behavior can trigger fear or embarrassment, further compounding the problem. At home, constant temper tantrums can create feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion for parents and other care takers.


The child is frustrated because they don’t know how to get what they want. Care takers are frustrated because they don’t know how to help or change the situation. Something has to give.


The following is a list of strategies that can help prevent difficult behavior AND promote positive behavior for children on the autism spectrum. Remember that every child is different. It’s important to be patient and know that it might be necessary to try different strategies to determine what works best with your child or student.


Remember that there is no such thing as a magic one-size-fits-all solution for every challenge.All any of us can do is try our best to implement effective strategies that teach children positive ways to get their needs met. As always, if you feel like the situation with your child is unmanageable, seek help.


1. Be clear with the child about what’s happening next.


For example, “After you finish this game, it is time to put on your pajamas.” Or, “In 10 minutes, we are going to get into the car and drive to school.”


For many children with autism it’s helpful to set a timer. Being able to visually track time can help the child understand the difficult concept of time. For some children, it might even be necessary to include reminders as the time is winding down – “There are 2 minutes left until we leave. There is 1 minute until we leave.”


For children who struggle to understand verbal communication, pictures that visually represent a series of upcoming events can be extremely useful. For example, if you want the child to sit down at the dinner table after they complete a puzzle, you might show them a “first/then” board with pictures of a puzzle and then the dinner table.


Technology can be a tremendous help with these kinds of strategies. There are several great apps for tablets and smart phones that contain a library of photos to create “first /then” boards right on the screen.


  1. 2. Children with autism thrive on predictability.


It’s extremely important for children with autism to know what to expect from the people and situations in their world. If caretakers don’t implement expectations with consistency and follow through, it creates uncertainty that often leads to anxiety and acting out.


Do your best to make their world predictable. For example, tell the child that you will give them a snack if they finish their homework and then do not fail to keep your end of the bargain. It can also be helpful to create predictability through daily routines. For example, homework, then dinner, then one television show, then get ready for bed.


As we’ve already discussed timers and “first/then” boards are useful to communicate the predictability of events. In many cases, as the child comes to know what’s expected and trust that caretakers will follow through, the rigidity of routines can relax a bit over time.


Keep in mind that difficult behaviors are more likely to come out when things aren’t predictable, and no one can make life predictable all the time. Just do your best and get back in the swing of a predictable routine as soon as possible.


  1. 3. Allow children to earn privileges in exchange for compliance with clear expectations.


Children with autism often respond well to the concept of earning privileges if they follow the rules. For example, let’s say your child has a history of throwing a fit when you won’t allow them to visit the toy section at Target. Before going to the store, explain exactly what to expect from the outing: “We are going to Target. We are going to shop for groceries, pay for our groceries, and then we are going home. We are not going to the toy section. If you follow the rules, you can play video games for 30 minutes.”


Remember that children who struggle with understanding verbal communication often respond better to pictures and visual cues. In these cases, set expectations with pictures and physical examples. For example, rather than telling the child to hold on to the shopping cart, demonstrate what it looks like to walk while holding onto the shopping cart. Show, rather than tell.


  1. 4. Offer the child a few set choices.


Every child likes to feel that they have some control over their world and one way to do this is to offer choices. For children with autism, it’s usually a good idea to limit the choices to a few pre-determined options. Too many choices, or choices that are too open-ended, can be scary and overwhelming. For example, “Would you like to play this video game or work on a puzzle?” Or, “Would you like a peanut butter sandwich or a tuna fish sandwich?”


Once again, for children who struggle to understand language, present choices with pictures, encouraging them to point at the option they choose.


  1. 5. Create a daily schedule and allow the child to bring a transitional object from one activity to the next.


As we stated earlier, children with autism thrive on predictability, so daily routines are extremely beneficial. Break down routines into specific times of day. For example, create a before school routine, a during school routine, an after-school routine, and a bed time routine.


Visual schedules might include pictures of activities in order, such as the child eating a snack, doing their homework, setting the table, sitting down to dinner, etc.


In some cases, it’s useful to allow the child to bring a favorite object from one situation to the next. For example, if the child is at home playing with a stuffed toy when it’s time to go to speech therapy, allow them to bring the stuffed toy along. This can assist with helping him transition from one environment to the next.


6. As much as possible, when giving a child a task or assignment, set clear expectations for start and end times.


For example, instead of saying, “I want you to put all the toys in your room away”, tell them, “From 1:00 to 1:15, I want you to pick up the toys in your room and put them away.” For most children, it’s useful to set a timer so that the child has a concrete representation of the specific block of time.


For certain tasks, it’s more useful to communicate the visual cues that will allow the child to know when the task is complete. For example, “When you complete these 10 math problems, you are done with your homework and can go watch your television show.” In cases where the task has a clear visual ending, a timer is not always necessary.


In situations where the child is getting overwhelmed or frustrated with the length of time the task requires, it can be useful to allow a clearly defined break that lets the child do something enjoyable before returning to the task.


  1. 7. Many children with autism excel at hands-on or visual activities.


A great way to encourage calm behavior like sitting still and waiting patiently is to keep the child focused on a hands-on activity they enjoy. For example, if you are waiting in a doctor’s office with your child, bring a handful of blocks and instruct them to sort them by color or size. If you need your child to allow you 15 minutes to prepare dinner, instruct them to sort silverware or laundry, rather than telling them to “play quietly”.


  1. 8. Remain calm.


We know that caring for a child with autism can be difficult and frustrating. However, getting upset is a sure-fire way to make difficult behavior even worse. When your child is acting out, do your best to remain calm. It can be useful to create a system of support for those times when staying calm is particularly difficult. For example, you might call a friend, family member, or therapist for support.


Understand that yelling and threatening a child with autism will not improve their behavior, and may actually make the behavior worse by creating anxiety or fear in the child. Children with autism are not choosing to frustrate you. That is not their goal. They are trying to get their needs met and simply don’t know how.


Keep in mind that some children on the autism spectrum have trouble generalizing expectations across situations, and if you are using a strategy for the first time, you might not see a change right away. In some cases, the child will push against the strategy at first simply because it’s new and unfamiliar. It can be tough, but do your best to remain patient and implement these strategies with consistency.