Children with Autism

Engaging Autistic Toddlers

Communication Supports

Many children with ASD have speech and language delays, which interfere with their social interactions. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) supports teach toddlers with autism and other developmental delays that there are ways other than verbal speech to communicate to others what they need and want, says the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Teaching a child to use aids such as pictures, symbols and electronic devices to communicate his thoughts can help improve his communication skills, thereby increasing social interaction. The use of sign language and writing are additional communication aids your toddler can use to communicate.

Floortime

Floortime is an engagement technique developed by child psychologist Dr. Stanley Greenspan to help children with ASD communicate and relate to others. When playing with your autistic toddler on the floor, it’s important to follow her lead and engage her in activities that she enjoys. Although floortime play involves physically interacting with your child, it focuses on her emotional development. By concentrating on your child’s special interests through back-and-forth play, you get her attention and strengthen the connection you have with her. Take things slowly, though, as the goal is to encourage her to enjoy interacting with you.

Toys

The toys your child with ASD plays with can help engage him more. Many autistic children like toys that light up, make noise or have moving parts. At a time when other toddlers are becoming interested in pretend play which helps develop their social skills, kids with autism usually choose to play alone. But engaging in pretend play with your child using toy dishes, play food, toy phones and stuffed animals encourages interaction and helps build language skills. Talk about what you are playing so that your toddler can see how your words relate to what he is doing.

Imitate Your Child

Follow your child’s lead and copy her movements and sounds. Imitating her may get her to copy what you do. According to the Hanen Centre -- a non-profit organization that addresses the developmental delays in children with autism -- imitation is an approach you can use to get your toddler to connect with you. Imitating what she does gets her to notice you, look at you and then interact with you. If you imitate what your child is doing, you are already doing something she likes which will increase the chances she will respond to you. Because the two of you are doing the same thing, it’s easier for you to keep her attention once you get it.

How to Care for Autistic Teenagers

Observe what makes your teen feel comfortable in areas that can be overwhelming for adolescents with autism, like touch, communication and scheduling. Your teen can become agitated by too much language interaction or hectic and inconsistent scheduling, so take the time to notice the specific things that spark frustration. Then, adjust accordingly with his specific needs in mind.

Follow any specialized care plan recommended by your teen’s doctor. Depending on where your teen falls on the autism spectrum, she might need a physical therapist, speech pathologist, behavioral therapist or child psychologist. According to MayoClinic.com, children with autism often respond well to highly structured education programs, so your teen’s doctor might also recommend a special-education program designed with her needs in mind.

Follow all medication suggestions given by your child’s doctor. Although no medication can cure autism, your teen’s doctor might prescribe medications to help control certain aspects of autism, like hyperactivity or anxiety. In order for the medications to be effective, follow the doctor’s recommendations consistently.

Look into community groups or other activity options in your area that function to help autistic teens. Such groups or activities can provide your teen with a structured and specialized place to socialize or to engage in activities she enjoys. According to KidsHealth.org, sports like karate can help your teen improve coordination and body awareness while providing routine that many children with autism work well with.

Consider committing your family to family-therapy sessions, if your child’s doctor thinks it’s a good idea and can refer a counselor who specializes in children with autism. Family therapy can help you and your teen’s other family members learn how to live together with as few complications as possible while helping you understand your teen’s social skills and daily living needs.

How to Know If Your Child Has Autism

Do research. If you suspect your child is showing signs of a problem, hit the library. Look online and for books on autism that have checklists of warning signs for different ages. Take a look at the lists for your child's age to see if she is exhibiting early symptoms of autism. Also, take note of any regression in your child's development at any stage.

Look for warning signs in your child. These will vary depending on the age of your child and his individual makeup, but there are some general things to watch out for. HelpGuide authors Melinda Smith, M.A., et al. suggest taking note if your child, at any stage, begins to regress. For instance, if he used to wave bye-bye or say a few words and stops, that may be cause for concern. Also, if your child is not reaching her developmental milestones on time, that is something to pay attention to. Young children that don't smile or show affection may also need to be evaluated further.

Speak to your child's pediatrician and ask for her to screen your child for autism warning signs. If you feel that your pediatrician isn't taking your concerns seriously, press the issue or find a new pediatrician, as it's important for your child to have intervention as soon as possible if he does turn out to be autistic. Bring your own notes with you to the office visit, detailing what you have observed, and when. For example, if your child used to say "Mama" and "ball" and now has become nonverbal for the past month, it's important that the pediatrician understands that.

Go for evaluations. If your pediatrician agrees that your child is showing some signs of autism, you will likely be sent to other professionals for more detailed testing and evaluations. Depending on the child's age, this may include other pediatricians, a psychologist, an occupational therapist and/or a speech pathologist, explains Autism Speaks.

Warning

Only a doctor can diagnose autism, so it's important to seek medical help if you suspect your child may have a problem, as early diagnosis and intervention can make all the difference in successful treatment.

Challenges Encountered by Parents with Autistic Children

Getting a Diagnosis

Parents of children with autism often report unusual symptoms early on, often before their child's first birthday. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnosis commonly does not occur until kids reach age 4. The earliest signs of autism can be interpreted as normal variations on development. Specialists who are qualified to diagnose developmental disorders often have long waiting lists for appointments or they may practice far from where you live. These factors can contribute to waits of a year or more for an appointment to evaluate your child.

Designing a Treatment Plan

Parents of children with autism may keep extensive records of their child's treatment.
Parents of children with autism may keep extensive records of their child's treatment.

Treatments for autism may include prescribed medications, over-the-counter supplements, changes in diet and therapy. Because no two children with autism are exactly alike, you may need to experiment to find the right combination of treatments for your child. As research into treatments for autism continues, parents can feel overwhelmed by the variety of standard, experimental and alternative treatments available. Cost and availability of qualified specialists can also limit treatment options.

Handling Misconceptions About Autism

Myths about children with autism and their families can be a source of stress. Negative stereotypes include the idea that autism is caused by unresponsive mothers, or that children with autism are incapable of feeling emotion. Positive stereotypes, including the idea that children with autism are especially good at math or memorization, can mean that parents and teachers might overlook signs of problems a child with autism.

Maintaining Family Morale

With some adjustments, families with autism can enjoy many activities.
With some adjustments, families with autism can enjoy many activities.

The symptoms of autism can be stressful for families.The tendency to wander off, the disregard for danger and other symptoms can limit the family's ability to perform normal tasks. Developing a support network and adapting to the needs of a child with autism takes time and access to information. But with a growing number of children who receive a diagnosis of autism each year, parents of children with autism do not face these challenges alone.

The Necessity of Stability in Caring of Your High-Functioning Autistic Child

Definition

Children with autism display a wide range of intelligence. The mental health information site Psych Central explains that the disorder is sometimes divided into low-functioning autism, where patients have below-average intelligence or are nonverbal, and high-functioning autism, where patients have average or above-average intelligence. High-functioning autism so similar to Asperger's syndrome that the DSM-V, the latest version of the diagnostic manual used by doctors, no longer lists Asperger's as separate from autism. Children with high-functioning autism can learn to take care of themselves and stability can be an important foundation to their independence.

Behavior

The National Autistic Society, a British autism charity, suggests that routines help children with high-functioning autism to gain control over their environments. The routines introduce predictability into their worlds that reduces their anxiety and fear of the unknown. Psych Central links the need for stability to the child's senses. Routine gives order to a world full of chaotic sensory inputs. A change in routine, even a very small change, can upset the child and cause a disproportionate emotional response. Providing stability reduces anxiety and repetitive or unpredictable behavior.

Learning

A set of parenting tips distributed by Montgomery County, Maryland, emphasizes that stability is important as a learning tool. Children with high-functioning autism may have trouble generalizing something learned in one environment, like school or therapy, into another environment, like home. It never occurs to them to practice the same skills in both locations. Parents can help by keeping lines of communications open between teachers, therapists, babysitters and other caregivers and ensuring that any skills learned in one place are practiced consistently in all parts of the child's life.

Prognosis

Some children with high-functioning autism develop less need for rigid order as they grow older, though they may still revert to old behaviors under stress. Parents may be able to reduce a child's need for routine through therapeutic and pharmaceutical solutions. Parent and therapists can teach children the skills they need to cope with changes in routine. Psych Central points to a study that shows the drug fluoxetine produced higher tolerance to changes in environment in 60% of the patients who took it. Some children may always require rigid routines, but children with high-functioning autism can use this stability to grow into independent adults.

Autism and Child Development

Diagnosis

The sooner your child receives a diagnosis of autism, the sooner you can begin treatment. In most cases, autism is diagnosed by age 3, according to Wendy L. Stone, Ph.D., in the "Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development." There isn't a medical test for autism, so your child's doctor will likely make the diagnosis based on his observations and your reports regarding her behavior. Since autism has effects on development, prompt intervention is vital for helping your child stay on track or catch up as much as she can.

Parts of Development

When your child's pediatrician monitors her development, he uses milestone markers in several realms. This includes cognitive, social, language and physical development. Most of the time, autism effects social skills and communication and causes abnormal behavior. The effects range in severity from mild to acute, which is how your child's doctor will place her on the spectrum. You might start seeing signs of the disorder while your child is still a baby, but in many cases they don't appear until the toddler years.

What You'll See

Each child's case of autism is different, though there are some developmental delays that are common to the disorder. If your baby doesn't respond to you when you call her name, avoids eye contact, repeats the same word or phrase over and over, doesn't point or play pretend games, is delayed in speech and engages in repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, she could have autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your child might also have an intense reaction to a change in routine or a new situation as well as a failure to understand emotional cues.

Promoting Development

While your autistic child may always struggle to keep up with her peers, intervention and treatment are important for helping her develop as close to normal as possible. Applied behavior analysis is commonly used to treat autism and involves behavior modification and reinforcement of desired behaviors, notes the University of Michigan Health System. The approach is ideal for getting autistic children on track with development because it is an intense and structured program that teaches them how to behave in different situations and how to interact with the people around them.

How to Help a Child With Autism Attend an Inclusive Classroom

Increasing Success in the Classroom

Create an individual schedule for your child. Many children with autism respond well to a consistent and predictable visual schedule. A schedule can help your child understand where he needs to be and what he will be doing. It can also assist with transitions, which can often be difficult for children with autism. Your child may only need a schedule containing the day's activities. Or maybe your child also needs schedules for specific activities, such as circle time, which may include activities like a good-morning song, story time and sharing time. Many children need schedules with pictures or photographs to represent each activity, while older readers may only require a written schedule. Matching the schedule to your child's individual needs is key, so be sure to communicate with your child's teacher to create the best fit.

Provide handheld toys with interesting textures.
Provide handheld toys with interesting textures.

Many children with autism also have unique sensory needs. Some children may seek out tactile input, while others may avoid it. Lights, noises or certain visual stimuli may be unpleasant for children with sensory sensitivities. Talk with your child's teachers about creating opportunities to meet your child's needs. Perhaps your child would benefit from a handheld 'fidget' toy during circle time. Or maybe she needs a move-and-sit cushion on her chair. These cushions include a smooth side and a side with sensory points. If your child becomes overwhelmed during certain activities, talk to her teacher about creating a quiet space for her to access when she needs a break.

Increase your child's classroom success with visuals. Many children with autism benefit from visual reminders for areas of difficulty. For example, if your child has trouble participating in the circle-time routine consider providing him with a visual representation of the expectations. This could include the written expectations with pictures or photographs for each expectation -- sit on spot, raise hand to talk, keep hands and body to self, etc. "Social Stories," created by Carol Gray, can also be successful with children with autism. Social stories use words and pictures in a positive way to increase a child's understanding of a situation. The story can be individualized for your child and his specific need.

Summer Camps for Children With Autism in Massachusetts

The Bridge Center

The Bridge Center is an organization in Bridgewater with a mission to provide support to families who have children with disabilities. It has a summer program called Camp Connect, which is designed especially for children with autism. Kids will have the opportunity to engage in team-building activities, horseback riding, swimming, archery and social skills groups. The camp activities are meant to help with socialization and communication development in an enjoyable environment. Each child who attends the camp is carefully placed in a small group in order to closely monitor progress.

The CORSE Foundation

The CORSE Foundation -- Community of Resources for Special Education -- is based in North Scituate. It offers a range of services for families with children with disabilities. The summer camps offered are customized to meet the specific needs of the children, including those with autism. Kids can participate in sports camps that teach water sports such as sailing, canoeing, windsurfing and paddle-boarding. Another camp focuses on teaching kids to ride two-wheel bikes during the week of camp.

Camp Shriver

The Center for Social Development and Education offers a summer camp program known as Camp Shriver. Located in Boston, it enrolls an equal number of children with and without disabilities for a week of summer sports programming. Children with autism might benefit from such a program because it helps them make friends and have positive experiences with a diverse population of children.

Confidence Connection

Confidence Connection in Needham specializes in educating children with special needs. It has an eight-week summer camp program for children with autism. It aims to meet the social and behavioral needs of kids with autism in a 1:1 and 2:1 ratio. With this individualized care each child receives, the program is able to focus on many skills including academic, cooking, team-building, yoga, speech therapy and music therapy.

Aspire

Aspire is an organization dedicated to providing children with autism the skills and knowledge needed to develop an independent, successful life. Based in Charlestown, its summer camp features therapeutic and recreational activities in order to develop social connections and meaningful relationships. Often music, art and drama activities are included in the therapeutic programming. The aim of the camp is to help kids become more self-aware, develop better coping skills and learn how to establish friendships.

How to Potty Train Children With Autism

Observe your child to determine approximately when he urinates or defecates. Write these times down in your notebook.

Choose a potty or toilet seat attachment. Some children with ASD can choose their own, but others might be overwhelmed by choosing from unfamiliar options. Explain the purpose of the potty.

Choose training pants or underwear. Some parents may prefer to go directly from diapers to underwear, because it has no absorbent material to keep the child from feeling wet. Training pants won't absorb as much as a diaper, but they will prevent waste from forming large puddles. Rub the inside to check for possible sensory triggers, such as a rough seam or tags.

Select a time for sitting on the potty about 10 minutes before a time when your child usually urinates. Offer additional beverages or salty snacks about 15 minutes before potty time. For example, if she usually urinates at about 10:30, offer beverages and snacks at 10:05 and begin potty time at 10:20. If you have a schedule posted with pictures for your child, add a photo or drawn picture of the potty to the schedule.

Walk with your child to the potty and help her remove clothing and sit down. Keep her occupied with favorite stories, songs and puzzles until she urinates, or as long as she will tolerate sitting. If she refuses or gets up early, try again another day. Children with ASD can react negatively to changes in routine, and they often need more time to adjust.

Incorporate regular potty times into the daily routine. Observe your child for signs of distress before and during potty time, and eliminate possible sensory triggers, such as clothing tags, noises or lighting that might bother him.

Offer rewards for successful use of the potty and for related skills, such as sitting down, pulling up underwear or washing hands.

Things You Will Need

  • Notebook
  • Potty or toilet seat attachment
  • Training pants or underwear
  • Beverages
  • Salty snacks (optional)
  • Books or puzzles
  • Rewards- stickers, small toys, treats

Tip

Change your child's diaper (or wet training pants) in the bathroom. If your child has trouble removing his clothing or sitting down, work on those skills separately from potty time first.

Do Children With Autism Have the Same Exercise Needs?

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Exercise

Children with autism can have low muscle tone, slow reaction times and problems with fine-motor control. Many have sensory problems, poor hand-eye coordination and poor bilateral coordination skills. For these reasons, exercise is an effective therapeutic intervention for autistic children but one that is often overlooked, according to Autism-help.org. Skipping, jumping on a trampoline or bouncing on a large exercise ball can improve your child’s sense of position in space. Swings, rocking chairs and merry-go-rounds are therapeutic as well. Like dancing and doing somersaults, these activities can improve coordination and balance. Activities such as swimming often help a child with autism who has trouble learning how to ride a bike or other activities that require sequences of movements. Hitting a ball with a bat improves hand-eye coordination.

Exercise and Behavior

Recent scientific reviews found that exercise programs improved social functioning and decreased aggression and stereotypical behaviors in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, according to Moodtraining.com. Exercise increases the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus -- an area of the brain that affects attention, impulse control and empathy. Previous studies have found that the hippocampus and amygdala of individuals with autism spectrum disorder are smaller. Aerobic exercise needs to be vigorous and occur on at least three days of the week to be beneficial.

Exercise and Weight

According to the Autism Speaks website, 19 percent of autistic children are overweight compared to 16 percent of neurotypical children -- those who aren't on the autism spectrum. Another 36 percent are at risk for weight problems. Research suggests that less participation in physical activity generally is the reason why more autistic children are overweight. Children with autism spectrum disorder often are less involved in physical activities because of problems with motor function, sensitivity to environment stimuli and difficulty with social interaction.

Exercise and Stereotypical Behaviors

Research findings show aerobic exercise decreases the frequency of self-stimulating behaviors common among children with autism, according to the Autism Speaks website. Studies that involved aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming and horseback riding showed a decrease in stereotypical behaviors that can interfere with a child’s learning and social interactions. Researchers theorize the routines of exercise programs that involve repetitive behaviors similar to those associated with autism spectrum disorder might be the reason. The movements some types of exercise require might replace a child’s negative self-stimulating behaviors.

Why Is Early Identification of Autism Good for Young Children?

What Professionals Look For

Some characteristics of autism appear in infants and toddlers. Most pediatricians will ask questions at the 18-month or 2-year checkup to determine if the child shows signs of ASD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the pediatrician should ask questions like if such your child points to things and bring you things to show you, and does he answer when you call his name. Other questions the doctor should ask include if your child moves his body, arms, hands or fingers repetitively or flaps his arms, or if your child has lost any language or social skills he previously had.

Benefits of Early Detection

Early detection provides answers to parents and lets parents learn how autism will affect their child, so that they can find help for their child. Early detection also means that children will begin therapy earlier. Children with autism learn best when taught in specific ways. They will have the most success with direct, structured and repetitive instruction, and they require many hours per week of instruction, delivered one-on-one or in very small groups. Several studies, including Smith & Lovaas, (1993) show that children who receive intensive specialized treatment early have better outcomes.

Better Outcomes

study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health studied 48 children, 18 to 30 months old who had an autism spectrum disorder. Half of the children received the Early Start Denver Model intervention, including 15 hours per week with trained therapists and another 16 hours with their parents, who had been trained to provide treatment. The other children received less intensive therapy. Two years later, the children in the Denver Model program had higher IQs and increased language use. They also improved dramatically in self-help and social skills, while the other children improved much more slowly. Seven of the children who received intensive treatment and one child who received less intensive therapy improved to the point where their diagnoses were changed to milder diagnoses.

Heightened Awareness

With the increase in autism diagnoses, parents and pediatricians are more aware than ever of the signs of autism. Professionals may screen children at higher risk because of family history earlier and more often. Organizations devoted to increasing awareness are helping families identify appropriate treatments and educational options. Autism remains a mystery, but early detection and intervention are helping families cope.