by By Cindy Young, M.S.E., CCC-SLP
Let’s all take a look at the “elephant in the room”…AUTISM is big, Big, BIG business! There is no way around the fact that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the most talked about childhood disability at this time. I have spent the last 26 years in the speech language field and I have never seen a trend like the one we are currently facing. Autism affects many of us in our community directly and indirectly, weather you are aware of it or not. There are many other childhood disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, mental retardation, dyslexia, learning disabled, hearing impaired and vision impaired just to name a few. Yet, you hear relatively little to nothing about them anymore. Those children and their families have just as many obstacles to face as a family involved with ASD.
The issue here is that autism is getting the most attention and press, which in turn means bigger business for everyone and bigger decisions for families of what to do for their child who has ASD. The latest statistic found on Wikipedia is that between 1 in 500 (2/1,000) to 1 in 166 children (6/1,000) have autism. It is true that the number of children known to have autism has increased dramatically since the 1980’s. However, research clearly states that this is partly due to the changes in diagnostic practice and goes on further to say it is unclear whether prevalence has actually increased; and what unidentified environmental risks factor in. It appears an impossible task for a family to choose what to do with their child who has ASD when there is so much information constantly being marketed to them as the latest greatest and best approach to use with their child – sometimes even presented as the cure for ASD.
The choices for autism right now are mind boggling since they range from traditional speech, occupational, physical therapies, applied behavior approach (ABA), medication, bio-medical, listening therapy, yoga, hippo therapy, aquatic therapy, TEACH, Picture Communication Symbols, PECS, Gluten Free, Cassin-Free Diet (GFCG),sensory integration therapy, STAR, swimming with the dolphins, barometric chamber, vitamins, augmentative devices, supplements, enemas, Chiropractor, squeeze machine, computer programs, iPod, iTouch and iPhone apps, videos, movies, and books to much, much more! Many of these approaches and programs are evidence based and some greatly help families. However, many are not proven methods and are simply a waste of focus, time, money and energy. There is absolutely no time to waste when you’re discussing a child with ASD and their need for basic functioning skills. You have to understand that if you have a child in your family with autism you would do anything that you thought would help them. Any of us would! However, since autism ranges from the very mild child who only appears a bit “quirky” to the profound child who is unable to speak or even do a simple daily task, there is no one program, one method, or one way that works for every child with autism. However, there are some basic guidelines to
follow in order to teach any child.
There are copious resources, conferences, people and programs that support the family and child with ASD. There are web sites, parent groups, government agencies, government dollars, therapy clinics, schools, canned programs and even Hollywood starlets writing about what to do. It is imperative that we continue research to determine the cause and to identify what really and truly is sound advice to apply and what is just consumer driven. When you are a family in desperate need of help it can make you vulnerable, so please beware of gimmicks and fads. Don’t spend all your waking hours hunting THE CURE…instead address your child’s basic needs first and foremost. All children are wonderfully and awesomely made, the only difference with these special children is that they have autism! One of the biggest issues parents of children with autism face is the home setting. In a clinical setting, the child is given tools and structure provided by professionals, but what is it like when the child comes home? Parents are usually told their child responded well to therapy and then they are given some instruction, but parents many times lack the tools and expertise in the home environment to achieve some resemblance of normalcy!
With this being said, I was blessed with an opportunity five years ago to create and initiate a home-based pilot program, specifically to address the family issues of children who have ASD. I had several professional volunteers help me execute and give their feedback for this program and I also asked several volunteer families to be a part of this project. We designed a module that trained the parents via Power points in a lecture format. Then, we went into their homes and videoed pre and post diagnostics of the child. A study and assessment was made, then, the home was visually engineered appropriately at each child’s level. We modeled techniques and methods for the parents in their homes that their child would respond to. The results were profound…we witnessed remarkable changes, not only for the child and their parents but also for the siblings and extended caregivers of our pilot families.
It was validation for me that parents need support and guidance in conjunction with on going training and modeling in their home. With proper training, parents are equipped to address the basics with their son or daughter’s issues that affect their home negatively.
So here are a few suggestions for home: (the more severe the autism the harder it is to implement home programming).
Go back to the BASICS
• Safe, loving, consistent and well organized.
• Nice pace of activities but not excessive.
• Have down time daily so the child can learn to just
be, without entertainment or something to do all
• Set well-defined boundaries with structure.
• Little to no electronics until other developmental
skills are present such as feeding themselves,
assisting in dressing, doing simple chores,
coloring, writing, etc.
• Visual support is non-negotiable – children with
ASD must have it!
• Do outdoor activities as much as possible –
hands-on learning is essential and best practice.
• Support daily tasks visually with objects, photos
or clip art.
• Be precise as possible using short grammatically
• Give your child choices when appropriate
otherwise remember you are the teacher for their
life long home habits – so teach them.
• Social stories are useful and necessary.
• Choose communication tools that help keep
negative behaviors under control.
Ac tivities of Daily Living (ADL)
• Teach daily routines from early age.
• Teach age appropriate self help skills.
• Expect your child to become independent – don’t
teach learned helplessness.
• Many children with autism have sensory feeding
issues along with oral motor delays so it is
important to address all aspects of the diet.
• Eat with your child – preferably sitting down at a
table so they can see what eating looks like.
• Give them good tasting, nutritionally balanced,
wholesome food from all of the food groups.
• Turn off the TV and eat – taste the food, talk to
• Seek therapeutic and medical advice if this is a
really big issue for your child.
• Siblings need to be directed and helped with
how to deal with their brother or sister who has
ASD. Provide clarification and direction for their
emotions and feelings.
• Integrate the child as early as possible with
neighborhood kids and your friends’ children.
• Find a church the entire family can attend that
offers a special needs ministry.
• Teach social issues using visual support as much
• Children with ASD tend to have sleep issues so
start from the beginning with a nighttime routine
and don’t break it.
• It is best for the child to sleep in his/her own bed
so that parents can rest themselves. Lack of sleep
can make life miserable and adults less tolerant
during the day.
• Adjust your parenting skills and patterns in order
to create an environment in which your child
performs their best.
• Children with autism benefit from consistent
authority with clear set boundaries and
• Use good old fashioned toys to teach cognitive
skills, problem solving, visual and fine motor skills
along with communication
• Steer clear of toys that light up, blink, sing, vibrate
etc…. until the child can learn how to play with
toys appropriately not just hit a button (cause and
effect). A child’s occupation is playing.
• Utilize puzzles, puppets, games, finger plays,
music, movement, art, crafts, and books.
• Rotate toys regularly and stay away from
THEMED toys that your child loves and
perseverates on. Out of site out of mind!
• When a child with autism is doing what they
love over and over (Thomas the Train, Medieval
Times) with continuous scripting then you
know they are not taking in and using any new
and different information from the world
• We all love technology and use it daily but I have
seen it “steal” children with autism away
from us rather than enhance functioning,
communication and socialization.
It is difficult to know what toys to play with and activities to do with a child who does not know how to play appropriately with toys and may have no interest in them at all. I recommend The Knowledge Tree in Little Rock as a resource for fun, interactive, and engaging toys and activities. When choosing toys look for: books to teach literacy and language, toys that you have to put together and in a certain order to teach problem solving, manipulatives that you hold and do something with (i.e. puppets, plastic insects, puzzles, a play house with people so you can act out actions, and games that can teach turn taking, sharing, and following rules). The Knowledge Tree also offers a huge selection of school supplies that are great choices for children at home such as chalkboards, paints, and all types of paper, educational items and books.
Many of you have not considered that basic skills are required for all children to function independently. Children with autism deserve an opportunity to learn basic life skills so they can live the life they were given and be a part of their home,
school, and community!
As one autistic adult once wrote “A diagnosis of autism is not the end of the world…It’s the beginning of a whole new world.
Cindy Young is the Founder and CEO of All Children’s Academy and All Children’s Therapy in Little Rock. To learn more, call 501-868-1212 or visit allchildrensacademy.org.