Elopement – Prevention & Safety

Elopement – Prevention & Safety

Elopement presents a major risk to your autistic child’s safety. Find out the causes for elopement, what prevention strategies to use, as well as how to plan for a possible elopement.

Elopement – Prevention & Safety

Elopement or wandering can be defined as when someone who may require supervision leaves a safe area or a responsible caregiver. When that person is an autistic child, the consequences can be tragic. Autistic children who elope often fall victim to harm through traffic accidents, drowning, falling, extreme weather, or even encounters with predators (human or otherwise).  

When faced with such a terrifying prospect, it is no wonder that parents of autistic children can be tempted to employ extreme measures to protect them without considering whether their interventions will be effective or not.  

The fact, however, is that nearly 50% of autistic children have eloped at some point in their lives, often with tragic consequences, and many parents are left in a constant state of anxiety.  

According to the Organisation for Autism Research (OAR) following their Safety Planning Cycle helps parents to constantly equip themselves and their children with the tools and skills to secure their child’s safety through prevention and planning. 

Why do autistic children elope? 

Firstly, it is important to understand why many autistic children elope. In their review of the assessment and treatment of elopement, Dr. Megan Boyle and Dr. Reesha Adamson of Missouri State University describe the four most common reasons for elopement as follows: 

  1. To get away from a place, activity, or person (escape) 
  1. To obtain access to an item, activity, or person 
  1. To engage in an intrinsically pleasurable activity, such as running 
  1. To gain attention 

Understanding your child’s triggers makes prevention and safety much easier to manage. If it is not immediately apparent why a child elopes, consider keeping a log of every elopement, to help you identify trends.

Here are a few questions to guide what to log: 

  • What sequence of events preceded the elopement? 
  • Who was present? 
  • Can you remember any significant stimuli or obvious triggers? 
  • Where was the child going?
  • What happened after the elopement?   

Once there is a fairly good understanding of the reason for elopement, parents need to develop an elopement prevention plan that anticipates these triggers and mitigates the need for elopement as a response.  

The prevention plan may include some of the following interventions. 

The Safety Planning Cycle

There are five basic steps in the Safety Planning Cycle: 

1. Understand

What does your child need? What makes the child safe or unsafe in a particular situation?  

2. Prepare

What skills does your child need to practice in order to be safe? What resources do they need? What can be done to support your child?  

3. Practice 

Once you’ve created your plan and identified the various tools and skills, implement them and find effective ways to reinforce them. 

4. Share

This is a key step towards securing your wandering child. Share your plan, skills and tools with everyone entrusted with your child’s safety as well as those who form part of your support network. From school teachers to community safety personnel like police and firefighters and EMS, the more people who are aware of your needs, the safer your child is. 

5. Update

Work with your child to constantly assess the plan, tools and skills. See what works and what doesn’t then revise and update the plan accordingly.  

Behavior modification

Elopement prevention for children with autism should go beyond just locking the house down to create a gilded prison for your child. Remember that a child who feels safe, who feels that they have choice in their decisions, and who feels that all their physical and emotional needs are met, are far less likely to elope.  

Your prevention plan should therefore begin with behavioral interventions that reduce the need for your children to elope. These should also be supplemented with more practical interventions to inhibit them should they be overcome with the urge to run.  

A behavior intervention plan for preventing elopement should focus on addressing the triggers mentioned above. A key tool in this is to implement Functional Communication Training (FCT), a process of reinforcing alternative behaviors to elopement that meet the needs of the child as defined by the triggers. Here are a few FCT interventions that you can discuss with your professional support network to consider in your plan.  


In the case of a child seeking attention, parents should use visual aids to teach the child how to get their attention without running away. Parents, who are often the preferred person, should be the ones using visual aids to reinforce the alternative behavior. It might also help to give increased fun and exciting attention in spaces where you want your child to stay.   

Parents should avoid overly angry responses in response to elopement as this will make it even more reinforcing for attention. Instead, provide positive reinforcement for all things you want your child to do, other than elopement.


Trying to escape

First, try to identify what would trigger a child’s need to escape a particular situation. This could be overstimulation, change in environment, or even just a chaotic or noisy environment.  

Parents need to teach their children how to ask for a break from whatever the trigger is rather than elope. If they run anyway, it is important to bring them back, safely and then review better strategies for escape in the future. 

Once back, parents should adjust the task or change the environment to reduce the stress on the child by introducing breaks or moving to a quieter room. This should then be followed by positive reinforcement of getting back to the task. Again, meeting elopement with anger will trigger further elopement or in this circumstance, turn it into a game.  

Doing something pleasurable

Sometimes referred to as “automatic reinforcement or maintained behavior,” autistic children often elope simply to engage in something they enjoy doing, like running or the feeling of the breeze outside.  

In cases where automatic reinforcement is the trigger, parents need to provide more regular access to that activity in a controlled environment. This will reduce the impulse to elope to access it. For example, a child who loves running should have additional access to a gym or track with supervision.  

Desire to access an item, person, or area

Where the trigger is a desire to gain access to an item, person, area, or activity, parents need to teach their children how to ask for it or access it in a safer way. It is also important to establish a routine for access and explain when they will get access and reinforce this by making absolutely sure that they get it on schedule. A break in routine will definitely encourage elopement.  

Teach your child essential skills

Here are some situational elopement strategies on how to prevent autistic children from wandering off, as well as ways to protect them should they succeed.  


Swimming lessons for children with special needs can be difficult to find. The YMCA in many locations across the country offers this specialized service at affordable rates. 

How to navigate traffic

Teach your child basic traffic navigation skills like what traffic lights mean, when and where to cross the road, and how to avoid moving vehicles.  

Stay with you in public spaces

Teach your child to understand the difference between walking and running. Reinforce holding hands or to walk within 6-12 inches of an accompanying adult as well as words like “go, walk, stop”. Reinforce things like staying by the cart in a grocery store, or keeping a hand on the cart in a parking lot.   

How to communicate contact information

Verbal children can be taught to memorize parents’ phone numbers, addresses, and other critical information and should be taught how to provide the answers. This may be difficult or impossible for non-verbal children so alternative means may be necessary in the form of an ID bracelet or card. Even in verbal children, this is a useful tool.  

Practical interventions

Behavioral interventions will only go so far towards mitigating the underlying reasons for elopement while skills are usually employed once in distress. Even if you have a high-functioning autistic child, there may still be a risk of elopement, which requires parents to take very practical steps towards preventing a child from wandering off and to be in a state of readiness should the child elope.  

Create an emergency plan

There are many resources available with templates for an emergency plan in the case of elopement. This plan should include emergency contact information and a step-by-step guide on what to do should your child wander off.  

Your emergency plan should include things like a Google map of the area, a 911 emergency call script, highlights of dangerous areas like bodies of water and high-traffic zones, possible points of interest for your child, etc.  

You should have multiple copies of the plan stored in your home, car, office, school, etc. Be sure to share the plan with key people in your safety network like neighbors, schools, EMS, and others, especially if your child has a history of elopement in the past.  

Secure the home 

In instances where your child routinely wanders, you may need to consider securing your home with locks for your doors and windows, home alarms, printed STOP signs around the house, and even fencing off your yard. It would be a great idea to discuss these options with your local emergency responders to determine what is most appropriate, but also safe.  

Explore a tracking device 

There are numerous wearable tracking devices that use different methods. Some use radio frequencies and triangulation while others use GPS. Consider the right wearable for your child. Some may prove irritating and be removed.  Many devices double up act as elopement prevention devices by alerting parents when a child leaves a predetermined radius or location.  

ID bracelets

Traditional medical ID bracelets will include your name, telephone number, and other important information. They may also state that your child has autism and is non-verbal, if applicable. If your child will not wear a bracelet or necklace, consider other means of ensuring that critical information is located on your child.  

Establish a safety network 

Informing those around you and your child of your child’s vulnerabilities will go a long way to preventing wandering into extremely dangerous situations.  

Introduce your child to your neighbors 

Creating a safety network starts with those in closest proximity. Introduce your child to the neighbors and try to establish a rapport where possible. Provide them with a picture of your child so they will recognize them.  

Introduce your child to first responders

Providing first responders with key information before an incident occurs may improve response. Informational handouts should include all pertinent information and be copied and carried with caregivers at all times. Circulate the handout to family, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and first responders. See the tool kits below for resources to use to alert them. 

Work with your child’s school

Ensure that your child’s school has a crisis plan in place in anticipation of possible wandering and elopement of autistic children.  

What to do if your child elopes

Should your child manage to elope, follow these steps to reduce the possibility of harm and ensure a speedy recovery.  

  • Call 911. 
  • Locate your emergency plan and follow the action steps.  
  • Alert first responders in your area and request an amber alert.  
  • Explain to first responders that your child has autism and, if applicable, that their cognitive impairment makes them unaware of danger. Explain how they should interact with your child and what may trigger a flight response or paralysis. Give them suggestions of what to do and what not to do specific to your child’s needs.
  • Request that your child’s information be immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File.  
  • Alert neighbors and enlist them to help search for your child.  
  • Distribute prepared materials with the following details: child’s name, communication level, how to calm your child if they are distressed, a recent picture of your child, caregiver’s contact information, and places your child is likely to go to. Distribute this information to individuals in your search party as well as public authorities. 

Lighthouse Autistic Center

The Lighthouse Autism Center is the Midwest’s leading autism therapy institution, which also provides world-class autism resources and is the proprietor of their unique, ground-breaking Lighthouse Fusion ABA Therapy program, which fuses the best practices of ABA and speech therapy into a one-of-a-kind clinical model to deliver better outcomes for autistic children. 

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Autism: Navigating Child’s School Refusal

We look at the best ways to navigate your autistic child’s school refusal. Find out how to work with the school and how to aid your child.

Navigating Autistic Child’s Refusal To Go to School

School can be a frightening and overwhelming place for many kids, especially autistic children. This can cause a child to refuse to go to school. With all of our knowledge and autism resources, we will navigate the reasons and how to address autistic children’s school refusal in a positive and proactive way. 

What is school refusal?

School refusal can occur when children become distressed thinking about going to school. Although allistic (non-autistic) children may also struggle with this problem, it may be more pronounced in autistic children. Autism and school can lead to a tough environment as factors such as sensory challenges, difficulties with reading and verbal comprehension, and executive functioning fine and gross motor skills all play a part.  

School refusal can go from being reluctant to go to school to not being able to leave home or go to school at all. This will result in the child missing some or even all of their school days.  

What are the signs and symptoms?

The signs of school refusal are similar between autistic and allistic children. Knowing what to do when your child refuses to go to school can be difficult as you try to navigate the reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of school refusal:  

  • Your child begs and pleads not to go 
  • Trouble sleeping the night before school 
  • Increase in complaining of being sick and feeling unwell before a school day 
  • An increase in anxiety  
  • More meltdowns and avoidance behaviors 
  • Difficulties following morning routines 

When it comes to learning how to help a child with anxiety about school, it is important to understand the reasons behind these heightened feelings. Here we will look at the reasons behind school refusal. 

The reasons behind autistic children’s school refusal

Some children may find it difficult to cope with the demands that the school environment can place on them. It is very important for the parents to get to the root cause of the problem. It’s very important to act quickly on these signs that suggest your child’s school refusal. School refusal will not go away on its own. Let’s take a look at some of the added pressures of the school environment and what your child could be experiencing. 

  • Your child may lack social skills, which could cause them to struggle to make and keep friends, or they might experience some form of bullying. 
  • The school curriculum could be a bit difficult for them to cope with. Autism support in schools may not exist. 
  • They might struggle to cope with the school timetable. 
  • The sensory differences in the school environment could be overwhelming, such as noises, lighting, and smell. 
  • They might get into trouble with their teachers for unintentionally being inappropriate or not respecting authority. 
  • Sudden changes in their routine could be difficult. 

How to strategize with the school

Autism  support in schools is needed to ensure that autistic children can thrive in the school environment. You can use your understanding of your child to identify coping strategies that can be used in schools. Here are some ways to strategize with the school: 

  • Make sure to utilize your child’s IEP (individualized education plan) to get the supports needed.  
  • Request the school to make some reasonable adjustments at the start and end of your child’s school day. A staff member your child feels comfortable with could meet them at the school entrance. 
  • Ask the school if extra breaks could be allowed for your child throughout the school day. This will allow your child to redirect their attention and energy to different activities. 
  • Ask the school if they are willing to reward your child for some small improvements in achievement. 
  • Find out if autism support in the school for staff is an option. More autism awareness will ensure that your child’s needs are met. 
  • Be sure to set up a regular meeting with your primary contact at the school. This is often the teacher of record on his/her IEP, but could be the home-room teacher, principal, counselor, or student support group. 

Working on school refusal strategies at home

Of course, there are some practical strategies that you can implement at home!  

  • Acknowledge their feelings: show your child that you understand their feelings and anxiety about going to school. 
  • Make it clear and reassure them that things will be okay at home if their biggest fear is leaving home. 
  • Regularly remind your child about activities that can help them feel calm, such as using a fidget toy or practicing deep breathing. 
  • Set up a routine for the morning to set your child up for success for the day 
  • Set a plan for reinforcement right when your child gets home to make a successful day a big deal 

Lighthouse Autism Center is here to help

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we provide the highest quality therapy! Compassionate care meets clinical excellence in a beautiful play-based environment. Contact us and find out about all our services, such as Lighthouse Fusion ABA therapy and so much more! 

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Elopement – What Is It?

We often hear the term elopement when talking about autistic children. Find out what it is, why autistic children elope, how to prevent it, and what to do should your child elope. 

Elopement – What Is It?

Running away is a fairly well-known behavior in neurotypical children and is often romanticized by a cute image of the little boy with his stick and wrapped lunch draped over his shoulder, moping along the railway tracks in an act of benign defiance.  

The reality, sadly, is much grimmer. Every year, we are confronted with stories of children escaping the relative safety of their homes and schools with their pictures ending up on the proverbial milk carton or worse.  

This scary and dangerous behavior is known as wandering and elopement. Though elopement isn’t uncommon for children in general, it is seen more often in people with autism, and is often more of a safety concern.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Autism Association (NAA), the statistics on how many individuals with autism display elopement behavior are alarming: 

  • 49% of autistic children elope 
  • 35% attempt elopement at least once a week 
  • 33% of autistic elopers cannot communicate basic information like name, address, or phone number 
  • 90% of elopement deaths are drowning related 
  • 42% of autistic elopements aged nine or younger end in death 

These numbers are enough to drive any parent of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to despair. That said, you are not completely without options to reduce your child’s risk of becoming one of these statistics.  

To mitigate the risk of losing your child or avoiding any harm, you need to be clear on what eloping is, know why ASD kids elope, watch for signs of elopement, take steps to prevent it and, perhaps most importantly, know what to do if it does eventually happen.  

Why do autistic children elope?

The underlying reasons for both autistic and allistic (non-autistic) children to elope are fairly similar. Usually, a child is either trying to get away from something painful or pursuing something desirable.  

According to a review of the assessment and treatment of elopement, Dr. Megan Boyle and Dr. Reesha Adamson of Missouri State University broke these two primary causes into four distinct reasons: 

  1. To get away from a place, activity, or person (escape) 
  1. To obtain access to an item, activity, or person 
  1. To engage in an intrinsically pleasurable activity, such as running 
  1. To gain attention 

While these may seem fairly universal to all children, some children with ASD, depending on age and developmental level, may lack the mental acuity, awareness, and intuition to avoid danger and discern a threatening situation from a safe one.  

This becomes even more dangerous when autistic children are non-verbal or non-responsive to unfamiliar stimuli, making it difficult for them to communicate with concerned passers-by or even potential predators.  

Prevention is better than cure

It is never guaranteed that you can prevent your child from eloping. However, there are a number of strategies that you can implement to reduce the risk of elopement in high functioning autism, or autistic individuals with excellent social skills. 

Be vigilant

In most cases, caregivers or parents miss nuanced tell-tale signs that a child is about to elope. Keep an eye out for the following, especially if there is a history of elopement: 

  • Persistent glances at the door or exit 
  • Signs of sensory overload or overstimulation 
  • Fixation on objects, activities, or people outside or away from the safe environment 
  • Plays for attention 


If you are aware that your child is an elopement risk, it is crucial to inform all caregivers and provide them with a list of elopement signs and signals to watch out for. In some cases, a child with ASD may display consistently calm and complacent pliant behavior, leaving  caregivers with a false sense of security. Let them know that regardless of your child’s compliance, there is a high risk of elopement.  

Functional Communication Training

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is a process in which autistic children are given alternatives to problematic behavior like elopement to get what they need.  

For instance, if they previously eloped to get attention, use FCT or communication tools to ensure they receive the right kind of attention in similar situations, from their preferred person, possibly using visual aids as needed.  

In the case of escape, do not reprimand or punish the child for eloping, but rather assess what about the situation triggered the elopement and change the situation accordingly.  

Where the child simply enjoys a particular item or activity and elopes to engage with it (like running or trying to access a  particular toy), consider introducing scheduled events so that the child can anticipate it without indulging the impulse to elope to fulfill the desire.  

How to prepare for elopement

As mentioned earlier, elopement can be almost completely unavoidable despite your best efforts to prevent it. Thankfully, the CDC has created a list of tips to help you prevent elopement and aid in a prompt recovery should your child elope:   

  • Never leave your child unsupervised.  
  • Install specialized locks and alarms on doors. 
  • Attach GPS tracking devices that will trigger an alert if your child wanders from a specific location and track their whereabouts. 
  • Inform neighbors, caregivers, family, etc., of your child’s propensity to elope. 
  • Sew all basic information into your child’s clothing, such as their name, address, and phone number. 
  • Increase vigilance when your child is exposed to a change in environment. 
  • Help your child familiarize themselves with your environment so that they know of safe places and trustworthy adults in the area in case they get lost. 
  • Set up an emergency response plan. 
  • Walk your child through their portion of the emergency plan so that they know what steps to take in case they are separated from you for any reason. 
  • Teach your child safety commands such as “stop.” 
  • Teach your child to swim. 
  • Teach your child how to cross a street. 
  • Meet with any healthcare providers who understand your child’s unique situation and ask for their expert advice. 
  • Keep a current photo of your child at all times. 
  • Immediately call first responders. 

Let Lighthouse Autism Center help you and your child

As the Midwest’s leading autism therapy institution, Lighthouse Autism Center provides world-leading autism resources alongside our groundbreaking  Lighthouse Fusion ABA Therapy program which fuses the best of ABA and speech therapy into a unique clinical model to help you and your child navigate the world. 

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Social Skills Deficits – Lighthouse Autism Center

Many autistic children struggle with social interactions due to social skills deficits. Read our blog to learn more about what social deficits are, how this can affect your autistic child’s life and the steps you can take to help them improve or overcome their social deficits.

Understanding Social Skills Deficits in Autistic Children

Many autistic children struggle with the basic social skills that many of us take for granted. Join us to learn more about the deficits in social skills for autistic kids, how to spot them and what impact they may have on an autistic child’s life.

What are social skills deficits in autistic children?

To understand the social skills challenges that autistic children (and adults) face, we must first define what social skills are.

Social skills can be understood as the skills that we use to communicate. These include verbal and nonverbal communication methods, such as our words and tone, gestures and body language. More complex social skills also include understanding social norms, seeking social engagement, understanding emotions, etc. Social skills are important because they allow us to build and maintain relationships with others and communicate with others to get our needs met, which in turn provides us with many benefits, such as happiness, social satisfaction and career advancement.

However, many autistic people often have certain social skills deficits. Note that autism does not present identically in everyone, so your child may not display all (or even any) of these deficits. Some key examples include:

  • Has little to no interest in social interactions
  • Struggles to listen and follow conversations
  • Doesn’t understand body language, including facial expressions
  • Inability to follow instructions or directions
  • Speaks excessively during a conversation or interrupts frequently
  • Lack of nonverbal social communication, such as pointing
  • Unable to initiate or continue conversations
  • Unable to empathize and build rapport with others
  • Inability to understand or respond appropriately to the emotions of others 
  • Takes everything said to them literally

The impact of a lack of social skills

For an autistic child, a deficit in key social skills can have harmful consequences. These consequences include:

  • Social rejection and isolation
  • Inability to perform at school due to social rejection
  • Increased levels of aggression, anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress
  • Poorer health due to lack of social connection

How to help autistic children who lack social skills

The good news is that many aspects of social skills can be taught or improved. This can have numerous benefits for an autistic child, including lower stress levels, better outcomes, a stronger social network and more success throughout their life.

Here are some tips to help improve social communication deficits in autistic children.

Lead by example

As a parent, one of the easiest ways to help your child better understand how to interact with others is by leading by example. Your child will mimic you, including your social interactions, so being a good role model for your child will help them develop good social skills.


Is it your autistic child’s first day at school? Perhaps they’re going to a birthday party for the first time? Or maybe another child has just taken their favorite toy? Whatever the situation is, you can help your child be prepared by roleplaying both expected and unexpected events that may take place in their life.

Practice using toys and games

Another important way for your child to improve their social skills is by using games that encourage the skills you want them to learn. For example, have a tea party with their stuffed animals and play out how the party should go with your child and her toys. A game that has turns, such as checkers or chess, is another great way to help your child understand the concept of taking turns with other people. 

Encourage interactions with neurotypical children

Whatever situation your autistic child is in, it’s important that you provide them with opportunities to engage with neurotypical peers, either in a formal schooling environment or through specifically arranged events or playdates. Both neurodiverse and neurotypical kids can learn a lot from each other, so getting them to socialize healthily can be a win-win!

Be on the lookout for buddy programs

Your autistic child can also learn from people who are older than them but not necessarily adults. There are programs that offer autistic children the chance to interact with older individuals who can act as a type of mentor by helping your autistic child learn and improve their social skills through various activities that are part of the buddy program. This can be especially helpful if you’re able to find an older neurodivergent person as a mentor – their lived experience will likely have equipped them with healthy coping strategies and techniques they can help your child with.

Praising successful social interactions

If your autistic child has a positive interaction with a peer or adult, it’s important to let them know they did a good job. This will encourage them to interact positively with others in the future. 

Specific social skills lessons

If you are unable to assist your child yourself, it’s important that you enroll them in a school environment that provides them with specific social skills lessons or seek out the assistance of a specialist who can help them outside of a school setting. Many health professionals, including psychologists and occupational therapists, can assist you and your child with learning and improving their social interactions.

Discover how Lighthouse Autism Therapy Centers can help your autistic child

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we provide a unique approach to ABA therapy that helps your child change, learn or improve certain behaviors. This approach is known as Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy and combines ABA and speech therapy into an enhanced therapeutic program for autistic children. We also provide extensive autism resources to help you better understand autism, how it affects your child and more.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Sensory Seeking vs Avoiding – Lighthouse Autism Center

Children with autism may struggle with sensory issues that lead to sensory seeking or sensory avoiding behavior. We explore these two types of behavior, their causes, the problems they may create and how they can both lead to sensory overload.

Sensory Seeking vs Sensory Avoiding in Autistic Children

Many autistic children have a variety of sensory processing issues that can affect their behavior, of which the main two types are sensory seeking and sensory avoiding. Join us as we explore the difference between these two categories of sensory processing issues in autistic kids and how you can help them understand their sensory experience better.

Understanding autistic children who are sensory seeking

If your child prefers to get a lot of stimulation from their environment, they are likely sensory seeking. Autistic children who are sensory seeking are considered “hypo-responsive” and tend to exhibit the following sensory seeking symptoms or characteristics:

  • Prefers to be moving
  • Likes to smell things
  • Enjoys being touched, tickled or massaged
  • Has a habit of fidgeting with things
  • Standing very close to people when talking to them
  • Likes to jump, hop, spin, rock and other repetitive motions
  • Will slam or thrust their body into things
  • Enjoys touching objects and people
  • Likes loud noises and enjoys making them
  • Likes to put non-food items in their mouth and chew on things
  • Enjoys engaging in risky behavior
  • Prefers to go barefoot

What causes sensory seeking behavior?

As with autism, exactly what causes sensory seeking behavior is not yet known. We only know that some autistic children are under-responsive to sensory input, others are hyper-responsive and yet others are a mix of the two. Because of how their bodies experience and process sensory input, they will then engage in behavior that will help them meet their sensory needs.

The problems affecting those who are sensory seeking

If you have a sensory seeking child, it may have a negative impact on their life, especially if they do not learn how to manage their sensory needs in appropriate ways. Here are three examples of how a child may struggle if they are sensory seeking.

Might cause themselves physical harm

Firstly, a child may unknowingly engage in dangerous behavior to meet their sensory needs. For example, they may jump from dangerous heights or come up with their own risky stunts to stimulate themselves. 

Might be ostracized by others

Secondly, certain behaviors might provoke negative reactions from those around them. For example, if an autistic child randomly touches other children and adults without their consent, these people may choose to avoid the child.

Might struggle in learning spaces

Finally, they may struggle to pay attention due to the fact that they are constantly seeking out higher levels of stimulation. This could negatively impact learning and academic performance in a learning environment.

How to help those who are sensory seeking

Your first port of call when it comes to helping an autistic child who is sensory seeking is a professional, such as an occupational therapist, who will be able to directly assist your child with their sensory seeking behavior. 

There are also activities that you can engage in at home to help your child meet and manage their sensory needs. Some examples of these activities include:

  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Bouncing on an exercise ball
  • Climbing on a jungle gym
  • Have a pillow fight
  • Using a weighted vest
  • Letting them play with specifically designed sensory toys, such as weighted toys, scented play-doh and sensory bins
  • Practicing respecting personal boundaries
  • Practicing asking and waiting for explicit consent before touching anyone

Understanding autistic children who are sensory avoiding

If your child prefers to avoid being stimulated by their environment, they are likely sensory avoiding. Autistic children who are sensory avoiding are considered “hyper-responsive” and tend to exhibit the following:

  • Has a greater sensitivity for smells
  • Easily startled by unexpected sounds or bright lights
  • Avoids crowded areas in favor of quieter environments
  • Filters out fewer sounds compared to neurotypical children, which means they “hear more”
  • Likes to wear headphones or earplugs to block out unwanted sounds
  • Incredibly sensitive to pain
  • Doesn’t like clothes with certain textures or clothes that are too tight
  • Finds seams or tags in clothes incredibly annoying
  • Is very picky about what they like to eat
  • Doesn’t like being touched, even if it’s affectionately or playfully
  • Dislikes being barefoot

What causes sensory avoiding behavior?

As with autism, we don’t know what causes sensory avoiding behaviors. What we do know is that some autistic children are overstimulated by certain activities or situations, which they then try to avoid so as not to overwhelm themselves.

The problems affecting those who are sensory avoiding

Sensory avoiding behaviors can affect your child negatively, most especially if they do not learn healthy coping mechanisms to meet their sensory needs. Here are a few ways sensory avoiding behavior can impact your child’s life.

May avoid activities and environments to their detriment

A sensory avoidant child may develop anxiety around activities and environments that make them uncomfortable, even if these things would benefit them, such as playing games with their peers or exercising on a playground.

May struggle to make social connections

Connected to the point above, if an activity or space is uncomfortable for your child with autism, they are likely to avoid it, which could, in turn, cause them to withdraw from social situations. For example, if they don’t take part in school games during breaks or are anxious about attending birthday parties, they may struggle to make social connections with other children.

Another example is that while other children may enjoy playing on a bouncing castle and all the rough and tumble that comes with it, a sensory avoidant child may not. Consequently, they may have to deal with feelings of loneliness, frustration, anger, sadness or being “left out” when they are the odd person out in such situations.

How to help those who are sensory avoiding

Again, as with sensory seeking children, you should seek out specialists who can help your sensory avoidant child learn to manage their sensory challenges. An occupational therapist or other health professionals can help you address your child’s needs.

There are also various precautions you can take to help your sensory avoiding child not feel overwhelmed. Some examples of these include:

  • Decluttering an environment
  • Keeping a pair of noise-canceling headphones nearby
  • Making sure their clothes are not too snug and are made from materials that they are comfortable wearing
  • Trimming the labels off their clothes
  • Considering a weighted vest or blanket to help them feel more comfortable when overstimulated
  • Preparing a quiet, calming space for them at home so that they have an area to retreat to if needed

Autistic children can have both sensory seeking and sensory avoidant traits

While we’ve split sensory seeking and sensory avoiding into two sections, it’s important to note that some autistic children can have characteristics of both categories.

What about sensory overload?

Regardless of whether your child is sensory seeking or sensory avoidant, they can still experience sensory overload. Sensory overload is when your brain is overloaded by the sensory information it is receiving. The amount or type of sensory information that causes sensory overload differs from person to person.

Sensory overload symptoms

Here are some of the signs of sensory overload:

  • Anxiety, irritability, stress, fear or panic
  • Overexcitement or restlessness
  • Physical discomfort
  • Need to limit source of overload by covering ears or closing eyes
  • Need to leave area or space where the cause of the sensory overload is
  • Tantrums or “meltdowns”

How to help with sensory overload

Here are some tips for managing and coping with sensory overload:

  • Take preemptive steps to avoid triggers that cause sensory overload for your child, such as asking for lights or sounds to be turned down. 
  • Ensure you are able to easily leave the location so that your child has the space to recover from sensory overload. 
  • Be prepared by making sure your child has enough rest the night before and is properly hydrated. 
  • Have a sensory toolkit filled with items that can help your child calm down, such as noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, fidget spinners and other objects that can help your child relax. 
  • Talk to a health professional about medications that might be useful in avoiding or minimizing the consequences of sensory overload. 
  • If possible, make sure those around your child are aware that they might become overwhelmed by specific triggers and explain to them what those triggers are. 
  • Most importantly: help your child identify and understand their own sensory needs and triggers as far as possible – this could go a long way in helping them learn to manage their sensory issues in healthy ways. 

Discover how Lighthouse Autism Centers can help your child

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we offer our unique Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy program which combines the best aspects of ABA and speech therapy. This program, as well as our autism resources, are vital in helping your child unlock their full potential.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Sleep Tips For Children with Autism – Lighthouse Autism Center

There are many children who struggle with sleep issues that prevent them from getting a good night’s rest. We explore the ways that autism can impact a child’s sleep and provide tips to help you address them.

Sleep Tips To Help Autistic Children

There are many children on the autism spectrum who struggle with sleep issues, which in turn, negatively affects other aspects of their lives. We explore how autism may affect your child’s sleep, how common sleep issues are, the consequences it may have for the child, and what helps with these sleeping issues.

How does autism affect children’s sleep?

There are several common sleep issues that children with autism may have to deal with. These include:

  • Falling asleep
  • Going to bed at a consistent time
  • Not getting the right quality of sleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Waking up too early

How common are sleep issues for children with autism?

A study from 2018 titled “The Relationship between Sleep Problems, Neurobiological Alterations, Core Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Psychiatric Comorbidities” has found that anywhere between 50% and 80% of autistic children have sleep difficulties. These are incredibly high numbers – and as you may no doubt guess – it can compound the difficulties that children with autism already have to deal with. 

What are the consequences of sleep loss for children with autism?

We’ve already touched on the fact that poor sleep can negatively impact your loved one’s life. But what are the consequences of sleep loss or poor sleep in children with autism? 

If your autistic child is not getting enough rest, they may end up experiencing increased levels of:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Irritability

They may also struggle with other behavioral issues, as well as lower learning and cognitive performance. 

And yes, many of these problems are not unique to autistic children. These issues can impact the lives of autistic adults, as well as neurotypical children and adults, but there’s no doubt that these challenges make things worse for many children on the autism spectrum. 

Now that we understand how lack of sleep and autism spectrum disorders can be connected and affect each other, here’s some advice on what you can do to help your children get the rest they need at night.

Tips for helping children rest well

In order for your autistic child to be able to tackle life at their best, they need to get the right amount of rest. Here are nine tips to help them get the right amount and the right quality of sleep.

1. Set an appropriate and regular bedtime

Setting an appropriate bedtime that you stick to isn’t only good advice for a parent with autistic children, but is good advice for everyone. Taking this advice and implementing it will ensure your child’s natural circadian rhythm (the body’s processes that operate on a roughly 24-hour cycle) isn’t disrupted, which makes it easier to get to sleep at night. It also has numerous other health benefits and will ensure the mind is operating at its best.

2. Have a bedtime routine in place

Having a set of activities that you, your child, or both of you partake in can help your autistic child fall asleep. You’ll need to assess and ensure that you implement activities that aren’t stimulating and will help calm your child. Reading them a soothing bedtime story or singing them a relaxing lullaby are some of the possible activities that you can use to help your child drift off to sleep. 

A visual or written list of things that your child needs to do may also be beneficial and can help them stick to their routine.

3. Set up the right kind of sleep environment

It’s important that your child has a space that’s dedicated to sleep. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you must forbid all activities or toys in the bedroom. Rather, ensure these activities are kept to a certain part of the room and that they definitely don’t take place in bed. If there are certain things that help your child sleep, such as a stuffed animal, then these sorts of objects can be kept in or near the child’s bed. 

It’s also important the bed itself is set up in such a way that it encourages your child to sleep. Remember, autistic children can be extremely sensitive to certain sounds and textures. Ensure any bedding you use doesn’t cause your child any kind of irritation or discomfort either due to the way it feels against them or the sound it makes when rubbing up against a person or other parts of the bed.

The rest of the environment should also be conducive to sleep. This means it should be quiet, at a moderately cool temperature, as well as dark or dimly lit.

4. Ensure they don’t eat or drink too late at night

The reason why it’s not a good idea to eat or drink certain things late is that it disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. Think of it this way; the body is effectively getting ready to “shut down” for the night when all of a sudden, food arrives! This tells the body that it isn’t time for sleep but time to process the food. It’s only once the body is done processing the food that it can return to a state where it’s ready to go to sleep. 

Not only is it a bad idea to eat too close to bedtime, but certain foods and drinks can also really make the situation worse. Things like caffeine-filled sodas or sugary sweets can be incredibly disruptive and should be avoided at all costs. 

If your child is thirsty, water is fine, and if they are hungry, a small portion of certain healthy foods, such as nuts or fruits that aren’t too sweet, can be given. Ideally, this should be avoided by ensuring your autistic child eats at least three hours before bedtime.

5. Get a good amount of sunshine during the day, particularly in the morning

Sunlight is another key element that affects the body’s circadian rhythm. This is also why it’s so important to start the day with a good dose of sunlight so that your body knows it’s the morning and adjusts your circadian rhythm accordingly. This realignment of the circadian rhythm will also help the body know when it’s time to go to sleep, making it easier for your autistic child to fall asleep at the same time every day.

6. Manage nap times to ensure your child is tired enough to go to sleep at night

If your autistic child naps too much during the day, they may struggle to go to sleep at the same time every night. Keep naps to 20 minutes or less to ensure your child can keep to their regular sleep schedule.

7. Physical activity could be key to helping your child get to bed at night

The study “Potential of Physical Activity-Based Intervention on Sleep in Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder” has found that children with autism are likely to be less physically active than their neurotypical peers and that by ensuring children took part in exercise, parents could possibly increase the quality of their child’s sleep. While more research needs to be done to confirm the findings of this study, it is definitely something you could try with your child to test and see if exercise helps your autistic child sleep better at night.

8. Use sleep aids for autistic children

If you’re wondering what is the best sleep aid for an autistic child, here are some of the devices that you may want to investigate further.

  • A weighted blanket: There are studies that show weighted blankets can offer numerous benefits for autistic children, including helping them fall and stay asleep.
  • A white noise machine: A white noise machine can help your autistic child get a better night’s sleep by helping block any noises that might otherwise disturb their sleep.
  • Blackout curtains: There are many sources of light, including unnatural ones, that can disrupt your autistic child’s sleep. Blackout curtains can help you maintain a consistent environment so that they can sleep well. Eye masks could also work if your child does not experience sensory discomfort while wearing them.

9. Consider speaking to a specialist about medication

While there are many non-pharmaceutical interventions that can help you, you may find yourself still struggling to help your autistic child get to sleep. In these scenarios, it’s important to speak with an expert about pharmaceutical options, whether that’s melatonin supplementation or another prescribed medication.

Unlock your child’s potential with the Midwest’s leading autism therapy center

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we offer a unique approach to autism therapy called Lighthouse Fusion®. This unique approach to autism treatment combines the best aspects of ABA and speech therapy to help your child perform at their best. Learn more about Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy and take advantage of our autism resources to discover how it can help your child improve their outcomes.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

My Child & Autism: How Long is Therapy?

One of the most common questions parents ask when approaching the idea of therapy for a child with autism is “how long will my child need therapy?” Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or one solution for a child with autism. Each child is unique in their skills and goals. This means that each child’s therapy plan and programs, and the length of that therapy plan, will vary.

However, on average, most children are enrolled at a center for two years. While a child may only be enrolled for two years, that does not mean they only need two years of therapy. At Lighthouse, the goal is to transition children back to a classroom setting where some form of therapy continues. This may mean having a classroom aid work with them or setting up an IEP with the school. Other children may not need any support at all.

ABA Therapy at Lighthouse Autism Center

ABA therapy programs at Lighthouse Autism Center are full-time or part-time programs. This is based on the recommendation of the clinical team following an assessment of each child’s unique needs. A part-time program is 20 hours per week and can be mornings or afternoons. A full-time program is 40 hours per week and does replace school for a child.

Full-time ABA Therapy for Autism

A full-time program allows for a more thorough approach to therapy for the child. By enrolling them in a full-time program they are receiving the maximum amount of therapy they can. This is often recommended for young children with a focus on early intervention. If a child is enrolled in a full-time program at a young age, they significantly increase success in leading a more independent life. While every child is different, most children will begin to see improvements beginning their first week of therapy. It’s important to remember that ABA therapy involves taking large goals and breaking them into very small, measurable, and attainable goals for your child. These small goals will build on each other until they culminate in the achievement of a larger goal.

Center-based ABA Therapy for Autism

Center-based ABA therapy is when the therapy sessions take place inside an autism treatment center (as opposed to in another setting such as the home or community). Center-based therapy offers more consistency and more learning opportunities as well as opportunities to prompt different learning opportunities. This environment ultimately leads to better outcomes for children with autism.

Ultimately, there is no “cookie-cutter” approach when it comes to your child. At Lighthouse, we understand that and are dedicated to giving your child a unique and personalized experience that will help them to unlock their unlimited potential.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Fun Activities for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana

Finding child-friendly activities can sometimes be a struggle, especially with having a child on the autism spectrum. Below is a list of compiled activities in Indianapolis, Indiana for you and your child to enjoy.

Please use your discretion as to which activities you believe your child with autism can tolerate. Every child on the autism spectrum is truly different and some of the below activities may be too over-stimulating while other activities may help if your child is sensory seeking. Work within the context of your child’s skills and interests when determining a fun and safe activity for your child with autism.

New activities, especially in public can provide a variety of benefits for your child with autism. Although there may be many challenges that come with going out and trying new activities, these situations provide great opportunities to work on skills and social interactions. These activities can provide opportunities for children with autism to practice social and communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, motivation, confidence, independence, learn new skills, as well as more general skills that can be applied to other settings such as school. While working on new skills is important, it is also important to do activities that bring enjoyment!

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the world’s largest children’s museum. It is located at 3000 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana, in the United Northwest Area neighborhood of the city.

Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo is a 64-acre non-profit zoo, public aquarium, and botanical garden in Indianapolis, Indiana. Incorporated in 1944, the Indianapolis Zoological Society established the first zoo at George Washington Park in 1964.

Smiley Indoor Playground and Arcades

An indoor playground in Indianapolis, designed for children 10 & under. The arcade area is for all ages. Smiley offers an indoor playground, arcades, and a large selection of food and nonalcoholic beverages. Smiley is also the top birthday party venues in the state of Indiana.

Greatimes Family Fun Park

Greatimes is a five-acre complex in Indianapolis, complete with several outdoor attractions and a 22,000 square foot indoor facility that includes a multi-level arcade room, several party rooms, and an indoor playland. They have activities for your whole family or group and are the #1 place in Indianapolis for birthday parties and offer a variety of party packages & themes that allow you to customize your party to your wants & needs.

Rhythm! Discovery Center

Rhythm! Discovery Center is located in Indianapolis, Indiana and is the world’s only interactive drum and percussion museum. Founded in 2009, it is a creative vision of the Percussive Arts Society, the largest member-based international percussion organization in the world. Rhythm! features unique, interactive exhibits highlighting a rich collection of historic artifacts and hands-on percussion instruments and serves as the definitive place where the history of percussion is preserved, celebrated, and shared.

The Children’s Maze

Large limestone blocks in a series of concentric circles create an interesting and greenspace in White River State Park perfect for a picnic or unique location for a photoshoot. Located conveniently near the White River State Park Visitor Center. White River State Park, located in downtown Indianapolis, boasts world-class attractions and destinations that offer distinctive experiences for every visitor. Greenspaces, trails, trees, and waterways co-mingle alongside cultural, educational, and recreational attractions across 250 beautiful acres.

Zip City Indy

Zip City Indianapolis has a ton of attractions for a day filled with family fun. From their indoor zip line park to their indoor trampoline park with trampoline dodgeball, it’s a place where you can be active and social while challenging yourself and others. You’ll find ropes course, climbing walls and laser tag in their over 70,000-square-foot facility, offering a mix of fun and challenging attractions guaranteed to get you moving all year round.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is an automotive museum on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, which houses the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

K1 Speed – Indoor Go Karts, Corporate Event Venue, Team Building Activities

K1 speed is a chain of indoor racing centers featuring electric go-karting for all skill levels, plus food. Indianapolis – home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, and now home to K1 Speed! This Indianapolis track features one of the longest straights that open to superb overtaking opportunities, with plenty of twists and turns to challenge the most seasoned go-karting driver. Their two meeting rooms provide a perfect environment for parties and business meetings, while the arcade games and air hockey table keep you entertained in-between your racing sessions and Birthday Parties. The Paddock Lounge restaurant serves delicious food and beverages for all ages that will keep you fueled up.

Indiana State Museum

The Indiana State Museum is a museum located in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. The museum houses exhibits on the science, art, culture, and history of Indiana from prehistoric times to the present day.

Adrenaline Family Adventure Park

At Adrenaline Family Adventure Park, we know you want a place where kids can be active, so they sleep well at night. The problem is there are limited options in the Fishers area suitable for kids of all ages. You deserve more. We understand the need for members of our community to enjoy active entertainment—without getting sucked into arcade or VR games. Your kids get enough of that at home. Adrenaline holds sensory hours every Thursday from 6pm – 8pm.

Sky Zone Trampoline Park

Sky Zone Indianapolis is Indiana’s most extreme trampoline park. Explore the Wall Tramp, High End Airtrack, Ninja Course, Stunt Fall, Trapeze, and Aerial Skills.

Holiday Park

One of Indianapolis’ oldest parks, Holliday Park is located just six miles north of downtown and encompasses 94-acres of beautiful green space. Visitors can explore the nature center, play on one of the city’s best, hard-to-leave playgrounds, hike more than 3.5 miles of picturesque trails or take a stroll around the one-of-a-kind Holliday Park Ruins.

Holliday Park provides getaway for nature lovers without having to leave the city. The wooded ravines contain natural springs and wetlands, a pond, a long stretch of the White River, a beech-maple forest, and over 400 species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Bird watchers have spotted more than 200 species while hiking the 3.5 miles of trails that wind through the forest. In addition, deer, fox, beaver, rabbits, squirrels and many other native animals reside in or pass through the park grounds.

Climb Time Indy

Over 8,500 sq. ft. of climbing space, plus kids’ programs, private lessons, a pro shop & more. Since 1997, Climb Time Indy is dedicated to to providing the best that rock climbing has to offer. We are focused on maintaining a safe environment where climbers of all ability levels and ages can get better, learn more and above all else, have fun climbing. Climb Time offers a wide range of difficulty levels from very easy to moderate to extremely difficult, brought to you by some of the best route setters this side of the Mississippi. Routes are changed weekly in order to ensure there is always something new to challenge yourself with. Whether you are looking for powerful bouldering, sustained routes, or just a day out with the family, Climb Time Indy has what you are looking for.

The Park at Traders Point Northwest

As an extension of Traders Point Christian Church, The Park is designed to serve parents and caregivers while their kids play on our indoor playground equipment. We also have a designated area for little kids to play! The Park is an inclusive, safe and engaging environment for all. It is structured for open play, so parents can enjoy the tables to get a little work done, read, or converse with others while the kids enjoy. As an affiliate of Traders Point, The Park is available at no cost to you! When planning your visit, please bring your government-issued ID and socks for the kids. Traders Point offers a sensory room at all of their campuses.

Kid’s Planet

Kid’s Planet offers young families in near Indianapolis, Indiana and the surrounding areas a quality family recreation center with jungle gyms, soft contained, multi-level playground, birthday party hosting, and lots of fun arcade games.

Indianapolis State Fair

The Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center in Indianapolis, Indiana offers modern event facilities in a historical setting. The Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center first opened in 1892 and has hosted more than 129 Indiana State Fairs. Prior to 1892, the first 40 Indiana State Fairs were held at rotating sites around the state. In 1990, the Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center began its present existence as a year-round events center. Since that time, many of our venues have undergone renovations and upgrades that have continued to bring modern comforts to our ability to be a great site for conventions, consumer shows, conferences, sports, concerts, fairs, exhibitions, meetings, weddings, banquets and retreats.

Westermeier Commons Playground & Splashpad

Located near Indianapolis, Indiana and formerly West Commons, Westermeier Commons was renamed in honor of Mark Westermeier who served as Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation director for 15 years. The playground at Westermeier Commons has a futuristic design and offers children more than 25 thousand square feet of inclusive play space. Children using wheelchairs have access to lower- level amenities as well as upper-level features with the use of ramps. The playground also offers three cave-like areas to provide respite for children who need quieter spaces during play. Adjacent to the playground is a splash pad (open Memorial Day-September 30), which was designed to match the nature that surrounds it.

The Waterpark

This amusement area is nearby Indianapolis, Indiana and offers heated pools with slides, simulated surfing, play areas, cabanas & snacks. Come surf the waves on the FlowRider®️, scale the wall of the AquaClimb®️, grab a treat from the snack bar, and enjoy your own private cabana in style. With features for every age and ability—from a kiddie pool to the lazy river to adventure slides—we have everything you need for a 5-star family-friendly day!

Cool Creek Park Nature Center

Park-based natural-science center offers seasonal exhibits on habitat preservation & local wildlife. Cool Creek Park is one of Hamilton County’s most popular parks, as it offers a wide variety of features and activities. Members of the entire family are sure to enjoy this beautiful 90-acre park year-round. The park includes 4 miles of wooded trails, perfect for hiking, jogging and bird watching. Scenic paved roads wind through the park are ideal for those who cycle and roller blade. Looking for even more activities? Check out the playgrounds, soccer fields, or basketball court. For something slower paced, enjoy our nature trails, wetlands, prairies and benches along the trails, installed by Eagle Scouts.

Hoosier Heights Indianapolis

Climbing walls, bouldering & a gym in a spacious indoor facility with yoga & other classes. The best rock climbing in Indianapolis, Indiana – with bouldering, ninja warrior, and more!

Conner Prairie

FOR FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS WITH SENSORY DIFFERENCES: The second Sunday of every month from 10 am-12 pm will be Sensory Friendly Hours at Conner Prairie!
Enjoy a calm environment at Conner Prairie – and explore at your own pace. Anything that makes loud noises or has bright lights (i.e. the Dry Goods Store in CWJ) will be shut off unless specifically asked to turn on. Access to the quiet space areas in our buildings and across the grounds* will be highlighted for easy access.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

PECS And ABA Therapy – Lighthouse Autism Center

The picture exchange communication system, or PECS, is a teaching system that can help an autistic child or another individual with speech difficulties improve their communication skills. We take a look at PECS’ role in ABA therapy and unpack how it works.

Picture Exchange Communication System and its use in ABA Therapy

Many autistic children have difficulties communicating verbally. PECS is one of the many tools we use in ABA therapy to help them increase their independence and improve their outcomes. Join us as we further unpack PECS, how it works, the benefits it offers, and more.

What is PECS?

The picture exchange communication system, or PECS, is a communication system that was developed in the USA in 1985 by Andy Bondy, Ph.D., and Lori Frost, M.S., CCC-SLP, the founders of Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. It is based on the book “Verbal Behavior” by B. F. Skinner. 

This augmentative or alternative communication system was first used to assist autistic preschool students who were part of the Delaware Autism Program. It is now also used to help people of all ages with communication difficulties that are caused by many conditions. 

How PECS works

One of the downsides to other programs and methods designed to help those with communication issues, such as sign language and picture point systems, is that they rely on the teacher to initiate communication with a student. This creates a situation where the student learns to only respond in communication and to never initiate it themselves. The main goal of PECS is to help address this by teaching students to communicate more spontaneously using specific prompting and reinforcement strategies and avoiding verbal prompts, as well as improving their functional communication skills. 

Implementing PECS

Regardless of whether you are using the PECS program for autism or other causes of communication-related challenges, it has a specific process that you need to follow.

Complete reinforcer sampling

Before the PECS protocol is implemented, it’s important to first complete “reinforcer sampling.” Reinforcer sampling simply refers to the creation of an inventory of activities, toys, or other items that the student likes so that these items can be used as motivators during PECS. 

This inventory is created using an assessment process that can be completed in numerous ways, such as asking caregivers, observing the student and what they choose most and least often, and presenting the learner with pairs of options to see what they like the most. The reinforcers that are chosen will need to be consistently appealing to the learner in order to assist with PECS.

The six phases of PECS

Phase 1: How to communicate

In phase one, the student learns to initiate communication by exchanging pictures for things they really want or activities they want to take part in with a second trainer, who is the student’s communicative partner. (These desirable items and activities were identified during the complete reinforcer sampling stage.)

Phase 2: Distance and persistence

During phase two, the student learns to use this skill of exchanging a picture to get something they want in different places. They learn to do this by seeking out their communicative partner. They are also taught to initiate communication with other communicative partners using the same system. This is accomplished using different desirable items and activities. 

Phase 3: Picture discrimination

During phase three, the student is now tasked with asking for two or more of their favorite things, using multiple pictures. These images are stored in a PECS Communication Book, which allows for easy removal and return of images used by the student.

Phase 4: Sentence structure

In phase four, the student learns to complete basic sentences using what are known as Sentence Strips. These strips begin with an “I want” picture, with the student adding the picture of the item they desire to the strip from the PECS Communication Book. Once the student has demonstrated the ability to make this request, additional detail is added to these statements using descriptors, including the number, color, shape, or size of the object that they want.

Phase 5: Responsive requesting

Phase five asks the student to engage with the question “What do you want?” and to respond using the skills and tools they learned in phase four. When asked this question, the student must use the Sentence Strips and pictures from their PECS Communication Book to provide an answer.

Phase 6: Commenting

In the final phase of PECS, the student learns to answer other questions such as “What do you see?”, “What do you hear?” and “What do you smell?”. This is done by teaching them to use additional phrases such as “I see,” “I hear,” and “I smell” on their sentence strips, expanding their requests beyond “I want.”

The benefit of PECS

There are many benefits to teaching using PECS. Here are some of the advantages that it offers to autistic children:

  • Helps make communication a more understandable process
  • Improves the initiation of communication
  • Can decrease problem or negative behaviors
  • Can help improve social skills and allow students to build relationships
  • Easy to learn for a student’s partner
  • Increases the use of speech in some learners

Find out more about Lighthouse Autism Centers and how we use PECS

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we provide PECS for autism treatment and to help our students achieve better outcomes. We also provide autism resources so that you can better navigate this spectrum disorder and more insight into our Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy program and how it can help your child.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Understanding & Using AAC Devices – Lighthouse Autism Center

Augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC, is a way for people who struggle with speech, or lack the ability to speak entirely, to communicate their needs, wants, and desires. We unpack what AAC is, the types of AAC devices that you can use, their benefits, and more.

Understanding AAC and the Use of AAC Devices

As a parent, guardian, or relative of someone with autism, you may have heard about AAC devices and wondered what they were. Read to discover what AAC is, what these devices do, the different types of AAC available, the benefits they provide, and more.

What is AAC?

AAC stands for “augmentative and alternative communication.” It refers to the wide range of systems and tools used to help people who struggle with speech and those unable to speak at all. This includes people with autism, brain trauma, down syndrome, degenerative diseases, and other conditions. AAC helps these individuals connect and navigate a world where speech is often the primary way of communicating with others. 

In order to better understand AAC, it’s important to unpack what the terms augmentative and alternative mean in this communication system. Augmentative communication systems support or assist someone’s ability to speak. Alternative communication systems, on the other hand, are used in place of someone’s ability to speak.

Different types of AAC

There are two different types of AAC, namely, unaided and aided. We explore the differences below.

Unaided AAC

Unaided AAC refers to a type of communication system or strategy that doesn’t use any additional tools or materials. Examples of unaided AAC are facial expressions, gestures, body language, sign language, and vocalizations.

Aided AAC

Aided AAC refers to a type of communication system or strategy that does use additional tools or materials. Examples of aided AAC are communication boards, choice cards, speech-generating devices, and even apps on mobile devices.

Aided AAC is where AAC devices come in.

What are AAC devices

AAC devices are specific tools used to communicate when an individual is unable to express themselves using spoken or written language. 

The different types of AAC devices

There are two categories of AAC devices: low-tech (non-electronic) and high-tech (electronic). Some common AAC devices that fall into either of these categories are:

  • Low-tech AAC devices: Symbol boards, alphabet boards, communication books, and choice cards. The user may select images, words, or phrases if they are able to do so. If they have physical limitations, gestures, light pointers, gaze, or a head-mouth stick might also be used, or they might use another way to communicate yes or no, such as nodding their head, as someone reads through the options available to them.
  • High-tech AAC devices: Speech-generating devices (SGDs) or voice output communication aids (VOCAs), devices with pre-programmed messages and apps on tablets and smartphones. How a user interacts with high-tech AAC devices varies greatly, depending on its capabilities and the user. For example, some SGDs are operated by hand or using eye-tracking technology.

Depending on the cause of the communication impairment, devices from either the low-tech or high-tech category may be better suited to address an individual’s needs than others. However, while some people may need either a low-tech or high-tech device most of the time, situations may arise where they need a device that they normally don’t use. 

For example, someone who uses symbol boards may have difficulties communicating if they’re in a poorly lit room. Another person who uses a device like an iPad to communicate may find themselves unable to do so if they are outdoors and caught in the rain. This is why it is important that people have access to both low- and high-tech AAC devices where possible. 

Both low-tech and high-tech devices are further broken down into three categories, depending on the type of communication system they use. These three categories are:

Single-meaning pictures

A single image has a single meaning. Users are taught what each image means and how they can communicate by gesturing at the word or selecting it, depending on the type of AAC device. Some limitations of these systems are that they may require thousands of images before they can be used meaningfully; or that it could be difficult for them to communicate more abstract words like “help”, “stop,” or “mine”.

Alphabet systems

Alphabet systems require some level of literacy. Communication takes place with the user pointing at or selecting each letter to spell out the word they are trying to communicate, or choosing from complete words. An example of this would be words printed on cards or displayed on a digital device.

Semantic compaction

Multiple images are used in a sequence to communicate. A single image has multiple meanings – but these meanings may change depending on the combination of symbols. Users are taught the meanings of each image and how to construct sequences with specific patterns that affect meaning.

The benefits of AAC devices for autism and other speech-impeding conditions

For someone with autism, apraxia, traumatic brain injury or other conditions which affect their speech and who struggle with verbal or written communication, AAC devices provide numerous benefits. These benefits can include:

  • Empowering users to become independent
  • Improving the user’s ability to connect with others
  • Improving a user’s speech and written communication skills
  • Improving a user’s overall quality of life by reducing negative factors in their life such as stress, vulnerability, and loneliness.

How to choose an AAC device

Even if you have the best intentions, going in without the requisite knowledge of AAC devices and systems may leave you with a device that is poorly suited at best – or completely unfit for use at worst. This is why it’s important to work with a professional when deciding on which AAC devices to use. Whether it’s a speech-language pathologist (SLP), an occupational therapist (OT), psychologist, or other suitably qualified individual, they will be able to help you choose the best solution that meets the needs of the individual. 

Learn more about our approach to ABA therapy

Whether your autistic child uses an AAC device or not, we can help them develop and reach their goals with ABA therapy. Take a look at our autism resources to help you better understand autism. You can also learn more about our Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy program to find out how we can help autistic children improve their outcomes.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Technology and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Learn how assistive communication technology is used in ABA to improve social communication and behavior in autistic people.

Technology and ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an indispensable tool used in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Thus, it stands to reason that ABA therapy is inextricably linked to technological advancements that improve the quality of ABA for therapists and patients alike. 

Assistive communication devices for autism

Figuring out how to improve social communication skills in autism sits at the heart of ABA therapy. Many practitioners and patients often turn to technology for solutions. 

The development of assistive communication devices for autism has tracked the rise of technology, and these have been employed with great success in recent times. Here are some of the most innovative new developments in the technological dimension of ABA, focusing on assistive communication technologies and devices for autism. 

Augmented Reality (AR)

Studies have shown that Augmented Reality (AR) technology provides an enjoyable and stimulating environment, which reduces boredom in autistic people while increasing enjoyment and motivation. 

AR also improves social skills and communication in patients with an increased interest in the education process through participation.

In early experiments with Google Glass, the camera would interpret facial expressions of people for the patients and display a corresponding emoji. This provided therapists with a deeper understanding of the link between social situations and the behavior of autistic people. Additionally, the use of AR role-playing and interactive autism games for social skills significantly boosted the recognition of social cues. 

Virtual Reality (VR)

Although virtual reality (VR) has been around for a long time, it has only recently become more accessible and affordable. Head-mounted displays (HMDs) like Google’s Cardboard, which houses a smartphone loaded with a VR autism app, have demonstrated remarkable improvements in autistic people – especially with social functioning, emotion recognition, speech, and language. 


Incorporating video into ABA is largely based on Albert Bandura’s social learning theory (1977). This simply means people learn by watching and copying each other. 

Video-modeling, according to modern parlance, is less threatening to autistic children than face-face modeling and seems to be more motivating. It also allows patients to focus on one or two skills at a time without overwhelming them. 

Mobile apps

There has been a surge in the development of applications or apps to turn our mobile devices, like tablets and phones, into assistive communication devices for autism. Here are a few apps that have successfully dealt with communication and behavioral issues in autistic patients.

Language and Cognitive Therapy for Children (MITA)

Operating System – Android and iOS

This app delivers an almost unlimited number of cognitive exercises for autistic children with speech delays. Having passed clinical studies, MITA (which stands for Mental Image Therapy for Autism) uses simple vocabulary with higher forms of language and adaptive activities specifically for early intervention. Other features include playtime rewards and offline viewing.


Operating System – Android and iOS

Symbotalk helps autistic children to communicate verbally through flexible boards and sub-boards, as well as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. 

The app helps children associate symbols and pictures with audio. It also allows you to upload your own images and record your own voice to make it easier for the child. 


Operating System – iOS

This is not a free app but has won awards for innovation in giving a voice to children who can’t speak. Autistic children who find speech and communication difficult are able to communicate complexity through a highly intuitive interface. 

Parents and therapists can configure grammar, while core words can be learned through associated movement. 


Operating System – Android and iOS

Based on augmentative and alternative communications (AAC) as well as picture exchange communication systems (PECS), Leeloo uses cards to match words and phrases to images. 

Once a card is selected, Leeloo reveals a list of words and phrases associated with that image, then reads out the word or phrase the child selects in up to 10 different voices. 


Operating System – Android and iOS

Otsimo improves both speech development and behavior in autistic children and adults. 

With over 50 games, the app supports ABA interventions through the provision of progress reports as well as the ability to personalize each game to the needs of the individual child.

ABC Autismo

Operating System – Android 

ABC Autismo focuses on enhancing learning in autistic children through the use of over 40 interactive activities that promote attention and focus. Therapists and psychologists also use it as an evaluation tool to assist in diagnosing autism and other mental disorders.

Autastico II

Operating System – Android 

Autastico II focuses on improving cognitive skills, attention, and motor coordination through activities, sound, and music. Unlike other apps that are primarily functional, Autastico II also emphasizes entertainment and fun through engaging content and striking graphics. 

Dino Tim

Operating System – Android 

Dino Tim is a fun learning app for autistic children. The app follows the storyline of Dino Tim and his family, who are kidnapped by witches. Children are then required to become heroes to rescue them from the witches by conquering over 100 puzzles and activities that boost motor skills and increase attention and concentration. 

Wearable assistive technologies (WAT)

Wearable assistive technologies (WAT) are making it possible for autistic people to re-enter classrooms and other clinical environments to learn and even venture into real-world social situations through the use of real-time feedback. 

As the technologies mature, autistic people can navigate social interaction using WAT like smartwatches with haptic responses, augmented reality headsets like Google Glass, and almost invisible hearing aids. 

Hearing aids

Modern hearing aids have become so advanced that they can assess the acoustics of a room or environment and then remove sounds that it doesn’t recognize as speech. 

Even more impressive is that some hearing aids can simulate high-definition sound for music and speech. Better still is that they can be configured and controlled using mobile devices like phones and tablets. 

Neural command

Neural command makes it possible for people to control devices simply by using their brainwaves. Not unlike common software that converts text to speech on our mobile phones, neural interfaces (although still in their infancy) are being developed to integrate with speech-generating devices that allow people with severe speech impediments to “talk” using their thoughts and specially designed headsets.


Advances in robotics aid in teaching autistic children social skills while keeping them focused during their therapies.

A recent study using NAO, a robot created by SoftBank robotics, also showed that with appropriate software, robots can be used to assess autism in children through observing play and interaction.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning

It has recently been established that machine learning models can help predict ABA treatment programs for children with ASD and significantly assist ABA practitioners in prioritizing resources for the management of ASD from diagnostics through to intervention. 

Lighthouse Autism Center

Lighthouse Autism Center is the Midwest’s leading autism therapy institution, with world-leading autism resources and a ground-breaking Lighthouse Fusion® ABA Therapy program that fuses the best practices of ABA and speech therapy into a one-of-a-kind clinical model that delivers better outcomes for children with autism.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Holiday Tips For Autistic Kids – Lighthouse Autism Center

The holidays are generally a period to look forward to for most children, but they can be stressful for children with autism due to their change in routine and potential for sensory overload. We have five quick tips to help you and your autistic child have a good time and enjoy the holidays.

5 Quick Tips for Celebrating Holidays with an Autistic Child

The holidays are a break to look forward to for most kids, but this time of year can be both exciting and overwhelming for children, especially those with an autism diagnosis. Whether it’s due to an unexpected change in schedule, overstimulation, or just the stress of the holiday season, this time of year can be challenging for autistic children.

Below, we have compiled a list of holiday tips to help your autistic child (and all children really!) manage the stress of the season so that your family can focus on what’s most important, enjoying time together.

1. Preparation is key for supporting your autistic child during the holiday season

The first thing you should do if you are planning a holiday trip, event, or gathering is ensure that your autistic child understands what might happen. Autistic children may not deal with change well, so it’s important to give them the tools to cope with the change to routine they might experience during this time of year. You can do things like, take them to visit somewhere before the event. For example, if a sibling is in a holiday program, you might take your child to visit the space before the day of the program several times, and explain to them what will take place. You can do that by showing them photos, and talking to your child about what to expect. Additionally, you can read them books about similar situations or show them photos of a place you plan to visit beforehand. 

2. Communication with others and your child is important

During the holidays, we often see family or friends that we haven’t seen for some time. Your family and friends may not be aware of your child’s unique needs or may not have an understanding or awareness of autism more broadly. Be sure to communicate to your family and friends ahead of a gathering or event, letting them know how to best communicate with your child, and what to expect in terms of your child’s needs.

You should also make them aware of how your child can react to certain situations so that if your child reacts in a way that your friends and family are not used to, they are not caught off guard or take offense. You can also teach your family members how to assist if a meltdown occurs, or at least let them know what you, as the parent, will do to manage the situation. For example, a child who is overstimulated may walk away to avoid the stimulus, which may be confusing to those who don’t know this is how your child will react.

3. Plan or take part in autism-friendly events and activities

Many holiday events can be crowded, loud, bright, and overall overstimulating for a child with autism. Seek opportunities for sensory friendly events that might better meet the needs of your child and family. If autism friendly events are not available, try to attend an event early, or avoid peak periods so that the event is quieter and easier to manage for your child and family. Devices like earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can also be helpful during large events.

4. Plan an “easy escape” to give your child a break from the stimulation

There may be certain holiday events that are difficult to decline or change to suit your child’s needs, such as religious services. If you are attending an event like this with an autistic child, make sure to seat yourself and your child near an exit. If your child becomes overstimulated, you can temporarily leave the event to give them the time and space they need to engage in a calming activity. If a meltdown is taking place, being seated near an exit will allow you to leave the event entirely without causing too much disruption.

5. Have fun!

Remember the holiday season is about enjoying time with family. Try to avoid feeling the pressure to do what others are doing. Do what works for you and your family, whatever that may look like, as long as you are having fun!

Learn more about autism and our Lighthouse Fusion® program

We hope these tips have made navigating autism and the holidays easier for you and your child. Two more ways to help you and your child navigate through life are our autism resources and Lighthouse Fusion ABA therapy program. Explore these materials and learn about all the ways Lighthouse Autism Centers can assist you and your loved one.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential