Monday, February 20, 2017

12 Ways To Help Your Child With Autism


When I found out that my daughter had Autism, it came as a total shock to me. Maybe it was because she was my first child...or maybe it was because I kept thinking 'well, that's Katelyn!'. I simply thought that it was her personality. In any case, I was determined to do everything I possibly could to help her. I was on a mission and I still am...and I always will be!! 



The first thing I did after my daughter's diagnoses was contact Easter Seals. They send over a team to do a few tests to see if the program is right for your child. It can seem a little intimidating, but I promise you won't regret it. At the time my daughter was only two and a half, so they sent over a occuptional therapist. They came a couple times a week to help her with her sensory needs, speech and accomplishing small tasks. When she turned three, she started the Autistic program at a local elementary school. This program was MY LIFE SAVER!! When she first started she didn't talk, she wouldn't let me come her hair, she wouldn't let me hold her hand. After only a few months, I saw wonderful changes in her. Her teacher, Glenda, changed my life. I was so frustrated with the diagnoses and the unbearable task of 'fixing' her...I was stressed and grumpy all the time. She showed me by example that with a positive attitude anything can be accomplished. After sharing many tears and frustrations I finally understood and it was working. A 'HAPPY' attitude is a great way to move forward!!

Applied Behavior Analysis! This is (in simple mommy terms) a way of using your child's favorite things or likes to encourage them to perform a task or copy a behavior. When Katelyn was in occuptional therapy and in the Autistic Program they both used this technique. They are many ways of doing this at home to help your child. For Katelyn, she loved bubbles and the trampoline. So I had to teach her that if she did a task correctly, I would let her do those things she loved. The hard part is getting them to understand that. Repetition, repetition, repetition!!! For example: She use to be awful at letting me get her dressed. So I had to hold the bubbles in my hand and show her 'if you let me get you can have the bubbles!'. She eventually understood, but each task has to be retaught to show that the reward is coming. Their mind doesn't see that task equals prize. They see each and every task individually. So it must be relearned for each thing. It is a lot of work, but in the end life will be easier.

Soon after she started the Autistic Program, they explained to me that she does best with a routine. I had seen them using PECS cards in class, so I researched them. PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) are picture cards used to help communicate needs and wants. Back nine years ago when I was researching this, you had to print, laminate, cut and velcro the cards. Now you can download apps or even get a grant or funding for an iPad for your child! More information here...AUTISM SPEAKS TECHNOLOGY CENTRAL! (You guys are so lucky!!) 
If PECS doesn't work, try sign language. Anything you can find to help your child relieve the frustrations of no communication!

I created a routine for Katelyn by taping velcro strips to the wall and putting the pictures in order of what we had to do that day. Then placing an envelope underneath that read 'ALL DONE'. I also said the word on the cards too...hoping she would say them too.
 I had to teach her by taking her hand and physically moving the card into the envelope everytime she completed the task. It was hard at first, but over time she was moving the cards herself and she was excited about the next task on the schedule. She also started saying the words on the cards too! It was wonderful! My hard work was paying off. Not only was I happier, but she was more relaxed too. You have to understand that in her world, good communication wasn't possible. So never knowing what is going on can be very stressful for a child. Please TRY the routine. You won't regret it!!
*I made this schedule with a vanilla folder, velcro dots and by printing and laminating PECS cards. I used a regular white envelope taped underneath to put the tasks that she completed. Just be sure to write 'ALL DONE' on it.

For children with Autism, their sensory overload can be very distracting and stressful. Imagine all your senses heightened and spending the day trying to read people's faces. It can be exhausting and no fun! When I started giving Katelyn 'sensory breaks', I saw her relaxing more and focusing more. For her to spend a half an hour being to just focus on one thing, really helped her. 
Her favorite sensory breaks are the trampoline, bubbles, water play, a rice bin, fake snow bin and listening to music with her headphones.
*TRAMPOLINE- Buy a smaller exercise trampoline that can be put away. Be sure the area is clear when using it! They also have some with handles on them!
*BUBBLES-Go bubble crazy with a bubble machine and with wands. Put some towels down to protect the floor and prevent slipping.
*WATER PLAY- Water tables aren't just for little kids. Children with Autism can spend a long time playing with water. Give them cups and boats to add to the fun.
*RICE/FAKE SNOW BIN- Buy a big, long rectangular plastic container. Fill it with rice or fake snow(the kind you use for Christmas villages.). Add funnels, cups, small figurines, bright colored toys/items. This activity may require some vacuuming after, but it will be worth the moment of peace and quiet you and your child will find.
*LISTENING TO MUSIC- My daughter is 11 now and she finds music very relaxing. In fact, if it was up to her that's all she would do. Anyway, I came up with the idea to download Pandora (free internet radio app) onto my phone and let her listen to it. (She likes to be left alone when listening her music, so it had to be portable.) I bought her some headphones from Target that won't allow the music to get to loud to protect her ears.
Here are some other WONDERFUL SENSORY FUN IDEAS from Pinterest!~*

This is something that may sound silly, but I truly believe in it. Autistic children have a hard time imitating 'play-time' and using their imagination. What I feel helps them is two things...

1.watching cartoons with 'easy to understand' playing and...

2.letting them sit next to you while you 'play'.

With number one, I found that when she watched cartoons like 'Max and Ruby', where the big sister is constantly narrating and explaining things to her little brother and the little brother repeating the theme of play...she started to copy her language and play. I feel that when you find a nice cartoon that has characters playing in an 'easy to understand' way, it helps them.

With number two, they show you in ABA therapy that they can 'learn play' by sitting side-by-side. Where 'normal' play would be in front of each other, Autistic children don't pick this up, because of their lack of social skills. However, I found that when I pretended to 'play' next to her, she eventually started copying me. And although she wasn't using her imagination (YET!), I could see her starting to understand.

There are many sports and activities out there for children with Autism. It is important for building their self confidence and building their social skills. My daughter and I had the unpleasant experience of trying to do 'normal' sports and it ending tears. Maybe it was my fault for letting her try. I guess I always assumed that if I explained that she had Autism, they would just give her extra help. NOPE!! The truth is, most of the time they don't want to deal with it. So take my advice and find something suitable for them.
Katelyn is awesome at Archery! She GLOWS every time she goes to it. It is perfect for her! There's not a lot of socializing, the form and rules are easy and consistent, it's all repetition and it's FUN! More on Autism and Archery here!

Don't leave all the work to the teacher. Help your child keep up! Every couple of months, I email Katelyn's teachers and ask them what she is struggling with. Then I go to Barnes & Noble and buy a workbook on that subject. On certain nights, after she finishes her regular homework...I give her a couple pages to work on. For example: Right now she needs help with Language Arts, Reading and Writing. So on Sundays and Mondays she works on Language Arts...Tuesdays and Wednesdays she works on Reading...and on Thursdays and Fridays she works on Writing. I only give her 4 pages over a two day period. This is not something I stress her out with. If she is having a busy week or a hard day than I don't give her any extra work. The last thing you want to do is make homework miserable for them. I have explained to her that this is to help you do better in school and she understands. 
As wonderful as all her teachers are, I can't expect them to perform miracles. I want to do my part for her and help her understand areas she is having trouble with. As a parent, you have more time for one on one!

For Autistic children and those going into their preteens, they see everything very black and white. When they start sweating they are not going to think 'hey, I stink...I should do something about it!'. They need a little help understanding the 'how' and 'why' they need to take care of themselves. Many children with Autism also have the same problem my daughter has...they have strong hormones! So they grow faster, get taller faster and hit puberty faster! Depending on their level of communication and reading, help them understand with visuals or reading materials. There are PECS cards out there for hygiene...make sure it's on their visual schedules to help them remember. You will need a card for each thing...everything is very black and white for them. You will need a card for brushing their teeth, for deodorant, for taking a shower. 
Or if you are blessed like me to have an Autistic child who likes to read...try the American Girl series on growing up. They have every book imaginable to help explain preteen stuff! My absolute must-read though is 'THE CARE & KEEPING OF YOU'. This book explains the why, what, when, where and how of becoming a preteen. Including those tough topics like starting your period. I found that after she read the book, she felt more confident and relaxed about her hygiene to-do list!

No matter what level of communication your child is on, having visuals for them is ALWAYS a good idea! The picture shown shows my daughter's outfits. I created outfits for her and took pictures of each one with her iPad. Then I put it in a folder titled 'Katelyn's Outfits'. We get out outfits for school the night before. She grabs the iPad and picks out the outfit from the photos and hangs them in the bathroom...ready for school in the morning.
I also have a big wall decal calendar that I write all the activities for that month so she can see them. She always feels more relaxed about an up-coming event when she knows it's coming. Whenever she is having trouble with a subject or a word, we look it up on Pinterest. They have pictures for everything! Same thing for her to relax...she loves going on Pinterest and searching through the millions of Japanese kimonos and Japanese photos! 
I helped her create a folder titled 'Katelyn's Pics' and together we added all her favorite pics. Now when she wants a 'visual break', she opens the folder and looks at all her favorite pictures!

Whether you are using sign language, PECS, single words or whole sentences...Autistic children need choices! You can rarely ask them an open-ended question and get an answer. They need choices and they like choices. And choices with visuals is even better! They want to see things in black and white. It can become quite stressful to them if they don't know what you want them to say. Even though you have said the question many times, they still need to hear/see some choice answers. I always give Katelyn two or three choices, so she doesn't feel overwhelmed. 

I know every weekend when I make her lunch, I need to have her choices ready or she will start getting upset with me. 'Chicken nuggets or chicken soup?'... 'um, chicken nuggets!'.  'With chips or crackers?'...'um, chips!'. 'The green chips or the wavy chips?'...'um, green chips!'. This may take longer than plopping some food on the table, but it saves me from wasting food and her from a meltdown. 

I know this topic is quite touchy with parents...(that's why I put it last!). However, I am a strong believer that additives and preservatives effect brain function in children. Regardless if they have Autism or not, they don't need that stuff in their little bodies. It fogs their minds and makes them hyper-active. Now give those qualities to a child with Autism and you have got a mess on your hands!! They already have sensory issues, communication issues, etc. and you want to add 'the bad food behaviors' to it?! I have seen first-hand with my Katelyn. We use to eat so awful. She would jump up and down to the point of exhaustion and tantrums. I would be in tears watching her! So I decided NO MORE! We went all natural and organic when we could. She did go through a two week withdraw...which was one of the hardest weeks in my life. However, after that stuff had left her system...she was more relaxed...she could think clearer...she seemed more content. It was like night and day!! It is a tough change, but you will be thanking yourself forever!!

I want to dedicate this page to my beautiful daughter, Katelyn! You work so hard each and every day of your life and mommy is so proud of you! I wouldn't want you any other way. You amaze me in your intellect, your heart, your kindness and your love of life! Thank you for being my daughter...I love you very much!!

 And to all those who touched her life and made it better for her! 

My husband, for being an amazing dad and always comforting me when things were tough! "You're a good mom...everything will be okay"...he'd say. You always know how to make her laugh! I love you!

To her teachers...who let me drive them crazy and also gave me comfort in tough times. You put so much effort into helping her and I will never forget you for it. 

To Glenda, for helping me find the positive side of Autism. Thank you for bringing me out of the dark and showing me the light. That light burns so very bright are amazing!!


1 comment:

  1. You covered it all, and we too are still doing most at some level. The investment and hard work do pay off.