Thanksgiving Day is coming up fast, and many of us are feeling a keen sense of gratitude for all the unique people in our lives. That includes those of us fortunate enough to know and love one of the 2.5 percent of children ages 3 to 17 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. With increasing autism awareness and a growing desire for greater inclusion, our FOCUS ABA therapy team has several tips for hosts to make the next holiday gathering more autism-friendly.
Any good host wants to ensure all guests are safe and comfortable, but may not be certain how to do that when it comes to a child with autism. Go easy on yourself there. The truth is that discovering the complexities of autism in general – let alone the broad variation from one person to the next – can be challenging for parents and therapists too. Puzzlement is totally understandable for someone who doesn’t live with a person on the spectrum or know their routines, triggers, interests or abilities.
If you’re looking for practical ways to be proactive in welcoming a child with autism who will be visiting you this holiday season, consider these few tips from our FOCUS ABA therapy team.
While slime itself – slippery, gooey, smooshy, somewhere between liquid and solid – has a lot to offer in terms of sensory integration, the simple process of making it in a therapy session can give children a lot of practice in key skills we’re working to develop.
(And the lessons “stick” because, well – slime is cool!)
We encourage parents to try this – and other simple experiments – at home to get their kids talking!
This year, FOCUS began offering Fort Myers ADOS testing to help families obtain an autism diagnosis as soon as possible, helping to facilitate early intervention treatment for children as young as 18 months.
Autism spectrum disorder is an increasingly common lifelong condition characterized by social and communication deficits that can mildly or significantly impede one’s ability to function in daily life. There is no “cure” for autism, and neither do we know exactly what causes it. Plus, there is no blood or genetic testing we can run to give us a for-sure answer. All this makes timely, accurate diagnosis of autism difficult.
What we can say is this: An early autism diagnosis, followed by a combination of intensive speech, behavioral (ABA) and occupational therapy has proven the most effective when it comes to the best long-term prognoses. In other words:
The sooner autism is identified and diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated – and the better chance your child has at a happy, healthy, independent life.
Most children with autism display clear signs prior to age 2. This is the best time to intervene.
“No-Brush” Tooth-Brushing, Sensory Toys & Other Quick Fixes: Consult a Fort Myers Occupational Therapist First
Recently, a FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapist was asked about a Facebook advertisement for a “no-brush toothbrush.”
“You know how much (my child) struggles with brushing their teeth. Would this help?”
Another recent inquiry involved an ad for a sensory toy that claimed to be, “perfect for children with sensory processing disorder.”
It’s not that there is anything innately wrong with these products. It’s true that for some kids, they might be really beneficial.
The key word is, “Some.” There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and these parents did the right thing by asking their child’s OT first.
You my notice in the FOCUS waiting room that our Fort Myers speech therapists sometimes form some basic signs with our hands while we’re speaking to some of our patients. But it’s not exactly sign language. What we’re doing in those instances is using a speech-language therapy technique known as “sign-supported speech,” sometimes referred to as SSS.
Sign-supported speech is a form of simultaneous communication (SimCom), which was originally formed for the benefit of those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. However, the method has also proven an effective way for our Fort Myers speech therapists to teach speech and language to children with language delays and disorders.
Recent research published in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research found that when speech therapists used sign-supported speech for word learning when working with children who have a developmental language disorder, it had a positive impact on the child’s linguistic and cognitive development.
Most children have at least a little anxiety about the dentist. The bright, fluorescent lights, sharp tools, the smell/taste of oral products, touch on the face and mouth and masked strangers – the combination would have anyone on edge. For those with special needs – especially those with sensory disorders – going to the dentist can seem an overwhelming impossibility. The good news is a combination of occupational therapy to prepare a child AND the increasing availability of pediatric dentists giving special consideration to patients with disabilities makes these necessary visits not only possible, but successful.
How Dentists Are Trying to Improve Services for Patients With Special Needs
The American Dental Association reports there are a significant number of people with developmental and cognitive conditions that can make dental procedures or even routine visits very difficult. Among young children, these primarily include those with autism spectrum disorder (95 percent of whom have a sensory processing disorder), Down syndrome and spinal cord injuries. Complexity in treating this population has led to an evolution of a whole new specialty in dental care.
There are lullabies that promise pretty horses and twinkling stars and some over-the-rainbow places where dreams-come-true. But pediatric music and speech therapy researchers have learned that lullabies may hold another promise: Better health for premature babies.
Recent analysis shows a parent who sing to preemies still receiving treatment in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can:
- Soothe a child amid scary new sensations and hospital noises, bonding parent-to-child.
- Regulate breathing and improve oxygen absorption for those who haven’t yet developed reflexive breathing.
- Boost a baby’s nutritional intake, imperative for those with immature oral-facial muscles struggling to suck and swallow
Speech Therapy Pros: Preemies – All Babies – Need Your Voice
At our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy clinic, we treat many children born prematurely, as they are at much higher risk of neurodevelopmental difficulties. The earlier we intervene the better, but encourage parents to start first. Even the simple act of talking regularly to your child from a young age can do wonders.
For a premature baby, lullabies serve much the same purpose – but with power that extends beyond just speech and language development extending to objectively improved odds at survival for babies born at 37 weeks or earlier.
A 2013 study published in Pediatrics found that a parent’s lullabies or even just humming – gentle and rhythmic – played to the backdrop of low guitar strings reduced stress levels and promoted bonding, as evidenced by:
- Regulated babies’ heartbeats;
- Promoted longer, deeper periods of sleep;
- Improved weight gain;
- Shorter hospital stays;
- Better long-term cognitive development and function.
Effective treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involves an early intervention, intensive therapy schedule that includes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), also known as the “gold standard” in autism treatment. In our years of offering Fort Myers ABA therapy (and the diagnostic ADOS testing for ASD), the FOCUS team is familiar with many myths and misconceptions surrounding its effectiveness.
Because a central function of our pediatric therapy services involves parent education and participation (we need all-hands-on-deck!), it’s critical that we address concerns about our Fort Myers ABA therapy services head-on. With so many conflicting information sources out there, we don’t blame parents for being confused or even hesitant. This exact phenomenon was noted as far back as a decade, with published research in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis noting the collective detrimental impact misrepresentations has on children.
But information is power. The truth is ABA has proven time and again – in clinical studies as well as within our own anecdotal experience – to be one of our most effective tools in securing long-term successful outcomes for these kids.
Here, we’re tackling some of the most common misunderstandings about ABA therapy. Still, we encourage parents and caregivers to reach out and discuss any and all concerns regarding the ABA process and their child’s progress.
When does picky eating become a disability? Fort Myers OT (occupational therapy) services for children may be necessary for picky eaters when severe aversions to certain foods morph into “problem feeding,” a significant hindrance to healthy growth and development.
Parents of picky eaters can easily feel consumed by mealtime battles. They aren’t alone.
An 11-year longitudinal study of 120 kids published in the journal Eating Behaviors revealed that at any given time, between 13 and 22 percent of kids were reported by parents to be “picky eaters.” (Other researchers have put the figure as high as 50 percent.) About 40 percent of picky eaters kept it up for 2 years or more. This was different from those who simply went through short-burst phases of strong dislike for one food or another.
Instead, as our Fort Myers OT providers have seen, truly picky “problem” eaters consume an extremely limited variety of foods, even requiring it to be prepared in certain ways. They tend to show much stronger dislike for most foods and throw major tantrums. Some simply refuse to eat.
“What we see is their pickiness is extremely restrictive,” said Fort Myers OT Krystle Hofstetter. “They’ll eat just two or three items – and that’s it.”
The good news is: We can help!
FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers is now offering the ADOS test for autism diagnosis.
Unlike simple developmental screenings, the ADOS test is a more rigorous medical evaluation conducted by trained clinicians. It’s considered the gold standard evidence on which pediatric neurologists diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which has a current prevalence rate of 1 in 59 children (and 1 in 38 boys).
As providers of pediatric speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy at FOCUS, we preach the value of intensive, early intervention therapy because we KNOW it works. It’s most effective when initiated before age 5 – but almost no health insurance provider is going to cover that treatment absent a qualifying diagnosis. One of the first steps in that process is an ADOS test.
What is an ADOS Test?
ADOS stands for Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. It’s a semi-structured evaluation of:
- Communication (voice, speech and language skills)
- Cognitive function
- Social interaction
- Social-emotional function
- Adaptive skills