Your child has autism. You know it. The rest of the family knows it. His teachers and therapists know it. Maybe even a few of his classmates know it. But when should HE know it? And how should you tell him?
It’s something many of our FOCUS Therapy families grapple with at some point. The answers really depends on the individual. Some parents opt to tell their child when they’re very young, hoping an early understanding of why they struggle more with certain things might make it all less confusing. Other parents wait until their child becomes aware of their differences and starts asking questions. A few parents wait until their child is older with a better ability to fully understand their diagnosis. Our FOCUS speech, occupational and ABA therapists know there isn’t one right answer, but we’re here to support our patients and help guide families in these discussions.
Recently, a patient’s mother asked about the best way to handle some of the questions her 7-year-old son on the spectrum was asking. Christie Lawrence, a registered behavior technician (RBT) with our Fort Myers ABA therapy team, herself the mother of a teenager with autism, offered her thoughts.
“I would say the most important part of informing your child of their autism diagnosis is to empower them,” Lawrence said. “Autism can bring many gifts, and it’s so important to teach our children to find and focus on their strengths and build confidence from their success.”
In the field of behavior science, we commonly use the phrase “function of behavior.” As behavior analysts at the Fort Myers ABA therapy team at FOCUS, figuring out the “function” of a child’s behavior is hands-down one of the most mission critical parts of the job.
As parents or caretakers, it will be so helpful for you and your child too if you’re able to determine why a behavior occurs. When we don’t know what truly causes a behavior and respond reactively, we may be unintentionally reinforcing that behavior. Why is my child facedown on the floor screaming when I told him we were eating tacos tonight? Why is he nonstop kicking the back of his sister’s car seat even though I’ve begged, cajoled and yelled at him to stop?
All behavior has a reason. A function. If you’re looking for a different outcome or response, it’s imperative to find out why it’s happening in the first place. And understand that, for example, if the answer is attention (a common incentive), yelling or having an otherwise big response to it may be having the opposite effect.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy) is considered the most effective, early-intervention treatment for kids on the autism spectrum. It can take place in several settings: Clinic, home or some combination of the two. At FOCUS, we have chosen the clinic-based model for a number of reasons that benefit our patients.
One of the primary reasons is that we believe children benefit from being in a multi-disciplinary setting. It’s not just that it’s convenient for parents of children who need multiple therapies to have a single, physical location for all of them. (Families in Southwest Florida may find it very difficult to arrange all of the therapies their child needs in a home-based setting.) It’s the fact that in a clinic-based setting, supervisors are more available to provide additional direct observation and guidance compared to in-home services.
This point was underscored in a recent study published by the National Institute of Health. In that analysis, researchers controlled for individual differences by comparing and contrasting at-home and clinic-based ABA therapy treatment for the same kids. What they found was that kids demonstrated far higher rates of learning during treatment provided in-clinic compared to in the patient’s home. In fact, they mastered 100 percent more skills per hour while receiving in-clinic treatment compared to home-based treatment.
FOCUS Offers ABA Therapy at Our Fort Myers Clinic
Our clinic-based ABA therapy at FOCUS is designed to optimize your child’s growth in numerous areas of development, including:
- Social interactions.
- Play skills.
- Adaptive skills.
In occupational therapy, we tend to see our mission as helping children succeed. However, we also recognize that it’s equally important to teach kids how to fail.
That may seem strange, but the reality is failure is an inevitable outcome for everyone at some point or another. The size of the failure may vary, but knowing how to better tolerate will reduce meltdowns, anxiety and social difficulties (which can exacerbate the initial problem). Perhaps even more importantly, kids who know it’s Ok to fail sometimes are less likely to give up – and more likely to try new things! Ultimately, knowing how to self-regulate and cope with failure sets your child up for success in the long-term.
This point was underscored several times by NBA great Michael Jordan, who throughout his career spoke about the importance of losing. Resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges are a huge part of what has much him a winner, he’s said.
“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Helping kids figure out ways to climb it, go through it and work around it are a huge part of what our FOCUS occupational therapy team does every day. Self-regulation is a big piece of that puzzle, particularly with children who are diagnosed with delays, disabilities and other challenges.
A new study has found that some social behaviors and reciprocal social skills associated with autism are inherited. But as children get older, their environment takes on a growing influence in how the child develops, researchers concluded.
This reinforces something our Fort Myers ABA therapy team has known for some time: The minds of children are incredibly resilient, and with appropriate early intervention, new neuropathways can be forged to help them overcome many of the deficits they face.
All parents struggle with problem behaviors with their children at some point. This is especially true for families with children diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, behavior challenges or related disorders. FOCUS ABA therapy promotes “expected behaviors” (and discourages “unexpected behaviors”) through consistent, positive reinforcement over a period of months or years. These methods are most effective when we have consistent parent carryover of our strategies.
We understand that lack of compliance, transition trouble and meltdowns can be incredibly frustrating for parents. Although we work on self-regulation and other skills in behavior sessions, our Fort Myers ABA therapy team have some helpful tips for how to handle these situations at home to reduce unexpected behaviors and increase positive behaviors.
The adjustment of starting a new school year is tough on everyone (parents included!). There are the earlier bedtimes and alarms, tighter schedules, new teachers, classmates and after school activities – all a bit jarring for many children. This is especially true for those with autism, for whom a change in routine can spur overwhelming anxiety.
Our Fort Myers ABA therapists at FOCUS know dislike of change is one of autism’s most common diagnostic symptoms, manifesting in a range of ways, including avoidance, distraction, negotiation, resistance – or a full-blown meltdown.
With federal health data now indicating 1 in 65 children in the U.S. has an autism diagnosis, more parents and caregivers are learning how best to navigate challenges with transitions – whether it’s something as seemingly small as moving from playtime to mealtime or as major as starting a whole new school. It’s important to understand both why transitions are so tough for kids the spectrum and also how we as parents, teachers and therapists can help it all go more smoothly.
Most families of school-age children are familiar with the “summer slide,” that break in routine that slows the momentum of progress in the long, lazy days of summer. Fort Myers behavior therapists at FOCUS know “the slide” can be especially keen for kids on the autism spectrum because they are so reliant on routine. Routine is often imperative for people with autism not just to thrive, but in some cases to function at all without a massive meltdown.
The two primary areas of struggle for many children with autism:
- Social interactions
- Strong reliance on stability, sameness and repetition.
Many kids get that from the strict schedules they follow at school. Summer poses some challenges on this front, and some days it can feel like episodes come on suddenly and the whole day just unravels. Our FOCUS behavior therapists and occupational therapists will work to help you and your child keep your cool through these episodes – and hopefully even prevent them.
Learning how to use the toilet is a pivotal skill for every child, and one’s “readiness” can widely vary. ABA therapy can help children with autism and other delays master the potty with positive reinforcement.
Toilet training is all too often a frustrating and sometimes tearful experience for many families and children. Parents understand it’s a critical milestone that allows their child to participate in so many activities with reduced risk of negative consequences like as social stigma, poor personal hygiene and discomfort.
Recognize that many typically-developing children struggle with this. A child with autism spectrum disorder is going to have even more difficulties due to challenges with language and communication, sensory processing, motor planning, social skills/ social thinking and behavioral control. It will take more time – and that’s Ok. But with a solid, consistent plan, it will happen.
FOCUS is gearing up to begin offering applied behavioral analysis, or ABA therapy (behavior therapy), to children in Southwest Florida. ABA is one of the most effective early intervention treatments for children with autism spectrum disorder and other conditions. Behavior therapy rewards positive behavior, and can be applied to a host of life aspects, including nutrition.
A 2014 study of 6,000 children and teens on the autism spectrum revealed they are more than twice as likely to be overweight and five times as likely to be obese as their typical peers, which in turn translates to many other associated health issues. A more recent study of nearly 50,000 children with autism in the U.S. revealed much higher rates of conditions often associated with obesity, including high cholesterol and hypertension.
Researchers speculate there could be several different issues going on. Things that can make them susceptible to unhealthy eating patterns include:
- Heightened senses;
- Aversion to new tastes and textures;
- Higher rates of gastrointestinal and sleep issues;
- Higher likelihood of being on medications for anxiety, depression or epilepsy that can affect weight gain;
- Fondness for routine.
Further, they tend to have social and motor skill impairments and have an affinity for screen time, which can result in limited physical activity. What’s especially concerning is that a 2015 study found that unlike a lot of typical children who outgrow their weight problems in their teens, children with autism too often do not. We aim to help change that.