Autism meltdowns are often confused with temper tantrums but while they may appear similar, they are fundamentally different and require a unique approach. Discover the key features of an autistic meltdown and the best strategies to prevent, prepare, and recover from them.
Tips for Spotting a Meltdown and How To Handle It
Autism meltdowns are involuntary responses to overwhelming/overstimulating situations, feelings, or environments. When an autistic individual becomes overwhelmed or overstimulated by a situation, they may experience extreme distress and temporarily lose control of their behavior. This can trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response, making it difficult for the individual to regulate their sensory processing and behavioral responses. This could be expressed verbally (shouting, screaming, crying), physically (kicking, lashing out, biting), or in several other ways.
What triggers autism meltdowns? The exact triggers will be unique to each person, but triggers generally fall into the following categories: sensory overwhelm, changes in routine, anxiety, and communication difficulties.
Today, we’re taking a look at the key features of an autistic meltdown and the best strategies to prevent, prepare, and recover from them.
Autism meltdown vs. temper tantrum
If your child is having an autism meltdown, it may look like a normal “temper tantrum”. It’s important to know, however, that while they may appear similar, a meltdown is not a temper tantrum and should not be treated as such.
While tantrums are most common among neurotypical children, autistic individuals can experience meltdowns throughout their lives. Next, tantrums are generally goal-oriented and occur in response to an unfulfilled desire. In contrast, meltdowns are related to a trigger, and are never a voluntary response. Finally, meltdowns are not “bad” or “naughty” and should not be punished. Remember that the child or individual experiencing a meltdown is in a state of extreme overwhelm and distress. They will require immediate support both before, during, and after.
This means that autism meltdowns are more intense, more emotional, longer-lasting, and more difficult to manage than the average tantrum.
Qualities of an autism meltdown
There are a number of autism meltdown symptoms that can help you recognize when you’re dealing with a meltdown and take the necessary steps to either prevent it or support your child through it.
Autistic meltdowns are characterized by the following features:
Meltdowns are preceded by signs of distress
Autistic meltdowns begin with warning signals called “rumblings”. Rumblings are external signs of distress, including physiological and behavioral changes, that can either be obvious or subtle.
Meltdowns involve intense stimming
Rumblings may include or progress to “stims” (self-stimulatory behaviors) such as rocking, pacing, finger flicking, and slapping. Stims are self-calming techniques used to help regulate anxiety or sensory input. Intense stimming or other obvious signs of agitation indicate that a meltdown is imminent.
Meltdowns are involuntary
Temper tantrums are usually a form of either conscious or unconscious manipulation, where a child has learned that they can get what they want if they cry or scream. By contrast, autistic meltdowns are not manipulative but rather, a genuine cry of distress.
How to stop an autism meltdown
So, how to handle autism meltdowns? There are three stages to a meltdown; the build-up, the meltdown, and the recovery. The build-up phase, which consists of rumblings, stimming, and other behavioral changes and symptoms of distress, is the best time to intervene. During this phase, your goal is to recognize the potential for a meltdown and provide a safe cool-down space to prevent further progression. Strategies will include distraction, diversion, calming, and the removal of triggers. If this is not possible, try introducing pre-established coping mechanisms and sensory tools.
Once the meltdown phase has begun, it can be difficult to stop, and the best thing to do is to ensure neither the individual having the meltdown nor anyone in their immediate surroundings is harmed.
Supporting your loved one during a meltdown
Once you’ve reached this phase, you’ll need to know how to calm an autistic child during a meltdown, rather than try to put a stop to it. During this phase, your child’s behavior may become explosive and uncontrolled. As such, it’s important that they are moved to a safe, quiet environment, that the triggers are stopped as quickly as possible, and that they are provided with both support and space to work through it in their own time and way. This is not the time to reason, redirect, or teach new lessons or coping skills.
Generally speaking, the focus should be on sensory and emotional support. This includes:
Staying calm and creating a safe environment.
Keeping your own frustration or distress in check.
Reducing verbal communication by using visual representations and “yes” or “no” questions.
Decreasing sensory stimulation by reducing sensory input in the environment (dimming the lights, turning off the radio/TV etc.).
Meltdowns can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the severity of the trigger and the way it is managed. Once you enter the recovery stage, your child is likely to feel vulnerable and emotionally exhausted. Your continued love and support are necessary as your child may be embarrassed or ashamed at their autism and anger outbursts. It is important to keep in mind that the meltdown was completely involuntary and to reassure them that everything will be okay. It is best not to discuss the incident immediately, as this could retrigger them, but to wait until they are fully rested, recovered, and calm.
Unlock your child’s potential with Lighthouse Autism Center
Explore more helpful autism resources available from the Lighthouse Autism Center. Here, you’ll also discover our innovative model and creative approach, Lighthouse fusion ABA therapy, which combines the best practices of behavior analysis and speech therapy to help your child progress in a safe, fun environment.
When it comes to your child’s education and development, therapeutic preschool programs and ABA therapy are both valuable approaches. Read on to discover the key elements of both programs, how to adapt your child’s schedule to suit their needs and the benefits of combining various approaches.
Developmental Preschool vs. ABA Therapy
Whether it involves making cherished artworks or new friends, preschool is an exciting (and sometimes scary) time for children and parents alike. When your autistic child reaches preschool age, you’ll need to consider the different available schools for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Certain developmental goals for preschoolers need to be factored in and ABA therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy all play a vital role in helping your child develop the necessary skills to be able to reach their full potential.
In this blog, we explore the main differences between school-based and center-based learning and development programs in order to help you decide on the best course of action for your child.
ABA treatment programs
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based therapy that has proven to be an effective and reliable method for developing and improving social, language and communication, learning, and daily-living skills in autistic children. It consists of two major treatment methods: discrete trial training (DTT) and natural environment training (NET). DTT teaches target behaviors through simplified and structured steps (similar to a typical classroom setting), while NET focuses on learning through play and social interactions.
As part of an ABA treatment program, a therapist will evaluate your child’s skills, abilities, and challenges. They will then tailor an individualized program designed to maximize overall development and skill acquisition, while at the same time decreasing problematic forms of behavior that impede learning. Another component of this intensive therapy is parent training, which has been found invaluable by parents who want to learn how to better engage, teach and support their child.
While this is undoubtedly one of the most effective special education options for children with autism, working 1:1 with a therapist may not provide educational opportunities associated with a classroom setting.
Preschool programs for children with disabilities (PPCD)
PPCD are typically offered in the classroom of a public school under the supervision of a special education teacher and two educational associates. Classes usually consist of at most 12 children who have a variety of special needs, ranging from moderate to severe. During classes, children work on appropriate activities designed to develop and improve language, social, cognitive and self-help skills.
This type of setting is highly conducive for socio-emotional development and affords children an opportunity to learn how to socialize with peers. When considering this approach it is important to keep two things in mind. First, that the setting must enable the child to catch up developmentally and second, that there will be limitations to the level of expertise of staff members compared to specially-trained therapists. Additionally, school-based programs alone do not allow for the frequency or intensity of training and supervision essential for quality programming, which may make the addition of more intensive forms of therapy necessary in order to achieve appropriate preschool developmental milestones.
Combining ABA and preschool
It should be clear, then, that both ABA therapy and PPCD can play a vital role in the development of autistic children. Which learning environment is best for your child will depend on their skill levels, needs and a number of other factors. In many cases, a combination of the two approaches can be successful. This may mean focusing on ABA treatment first, for one or two years before transitioning into preschool or even incorporating ABA into your preschool schedule by choosing a part-time preschool schedule followed by part-time ABA sessions.
The Lighthouse Fusion® approach
Fortunately, ABA therapy can be tailored to fit a wide range of autistic children’s needs, making it easy to work into a therapeutic preschool program. To make things even easier, Lighthouse Fusion ABA therapy introduces an innovative approach that combines ABA and speech therapy into one enhanced therapy solution. Our team of Board Certified Behavior Analysts and Speech-Language Pathologists work collaboratively with your child’s BCBA and RBT to incorporate speech therapy directly into daily ABA programs. So, rather than receiving 30 minutes of speech training a week, your child will benefit from daily opportunities for speech development, ultimately leading to better outcomes for your child.
At Lighthouse Autism Center, we offer center-based ABA therapy in a natural, play-based environment. Following an assessment, a program is developed specifically to target each child’s unique needs. With our Early Learner Program and Junior Learner Program, we incorporate many of the academic skills a child would be taught in a typical school setting, such as reading, math, group classes, peer play and more.
Early Learner Program
Generally, this program supports learners between 18 months and 6 years of age and focuses on learning through play. The skills learners acquire through this program will provide the building blocks required for them to generalize what they have learned across different subjects and environments. In the Early Learner Program, children focus on:
Fine and gross motor skills
Letters, numbers, and colors
Name and age
Listening skills and following directions
Children develop new words through song, music, and reading
Days of the week, months of the year, the weather, seasons, and more
Children participate in group classes like art, music, and gym
Junior Learner Program
Typically, this program includes learners 7 years and older and follows a similar structure to what a learner would see in a school setting. As the learner progresses through the program, they spend less time learning while playing, and more time learning from an educator while sitting at a desk or in a group setting, similar to what the learner would experience at school. In the Junior Learner Program, children focus on:
Reading development and comprehension at the appropriate level for the child
Basic math skills at an appropriate level for the child (addition, subtraction)
Life skills like folding laundry, hanging clothes, sweeping and vacuuming, etc.
Social skills including peer-to-peer interactions in a group setting
Choosing a gift for a loved one can be challenging, and this task is even harder for someone with special needs. We take a look at the different things you should keep in mind when choosing a gift for a young autistic person, and share some gift ideas as well.
What To Gift an Autistic Child
Choosing the right gift for someone can sometimes be pretty daunting. This undertaking can be even more difficult for parents, family members, or friends of an autistic person. To help you answer this question and choose a gift that they will love, take a look at our gift-giving advice below.
How to choose a gift for an autistic child or teenager
Regardless of their age, choosing gifts for autistic children or teenagers can be a challenge for various reasons. Some individuals with autism struggle with communication, meaning that if you ask them what gift they want (or don’t want), they may be unable to express their desires effectively. Others may have specific sensory needs that you need to factor in when picking a present. If these examples resonate with you, or there are other possible reasons making gift buying difficult, here are some tips that can help you pick the perfect gift:
When in doubt, ask
Even if the child or teenager you are buying a gift for struggles to communicate their wants, it’s usually a good idea to start by asking them. If this doesn’t work, you can always ask a parent (if they aren’t your child) or someone else who spends a lot of time with them, like a caregiver or a teacher, what they think. They may be able to give you valuable advice on what gift to purchase.
Work with their specific interests
When deciding what is a good gift for an autistic child or teenager, it’s important to have an idea of what their favorite hobbies or activities are. While some autistic children struggle with ADHD, others are hyper-focused on certain interests, sometimes to the detriment of other important things in their lives. Learn what their interests are and choose an appropriate item from that hobby or activity. For example, if the child or teenager has a passion for animals, consider getting them a stuffed toy of their favorite creature. You can make this gift even better by considering a weighted version of the same toy, as weighted items can help regulate their mood.
They may not like surprises
While many children love surprises, many don’t. This includes many young autistic people, who may become anxious or upset when presented with a surprise gift. This may be because they don’t know what is inside or simply because they don’t know how they should react. If you are unsure, ask a parent, family member, or caregiver how they might react. Consider avoiding wrapping the gift so the person receiving it can see exactly what it is.
Be careful to avoid anything that might overload their senses
Children or teens who have autism often struggle with sensory issues, which is why it’s important to carefully consider any gift to avoid picking something that might overwhelm their senses. This may be an audio sensitivity or discomfort brought on by bright lights or certain textures. It may be a combination of these and other sensory issues for some. For example, some may struggle with the sound of a toy car or even the wrapping paper that a gift is wrapped in.
Consider items from specialists
As awareness and education around autism increases, so does the number of specialists offering toys, autism resources and other items specially designed for an autistic child or teenager’s needs. So if you’re ever struggling to decide what to get an autistic child for their birthday or what to get an autistic child for Christmas, check a specialist store to see what it has on offer.
Even a well-thought-out gift may not be well received
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the young person you are giving the gift to may not react with joy upon receiving it. Some may have a neutral reaction, while others may share their disappointment or even unhappiness if it isn’t exactly what they expected. Even if you spent hours researching the perfect gift, you might discover it’s not the right brand or it isn’t right for their collection, which results in this response.
While it would be nice to simply know what the best gifts are for an autistic 2-year-old, what are perfect gifts for an autistic 4-year-old, or even what you could buy for a teenager with autism that they will undoubtedly love, there’s, unfortunately, no guarantee when it comes to buying gifts for many young autistic people. A young person may be at a developmental stage that differs from their biological age. Moreover, their individual preferences will also play a major role in choosing a gift. This is why it’s so important to do your homework when choosing a gift for someone who has autism.
That being said, here are some ideas for autistic children and teenagers that you may find useful and that they may enjoy.
Here are some of the best gifts for autistic kids:
Chew toys – These chewable items are useful for an autistic child to calm down and self-regulate.
Fidget toys – From cubes to spinners to pop-its, there are a wide variety of fidget toys to help keep kids’ hands busy, while also developing their fine motor skills.
Sensory mats – These mats can be used to simulate the range of textures a child would experience in a more natural environment and can be a great way to expose a child to different surfaces and improve their cognitive functions.
Tangle toy – This is another toy that can be used to keep the child busy but can also help relieve stress through repetitive, twisting motions.
Weighted stuffed toys – Many children love stuffed toys, but weighted toys have an added advantage in helping children with sensory issues better regulate their moods and calm themselves down.
Here are some gift ideas for older kids and teenagers who have autism:
Board games – Board games are not only fun but are a great way for teenagers to develop their social skills, concentration, and many other faculties.
Crash pads – Crash pads can be a great way for young folks with sensory issues to have fun and develop their sensory awareness.
Hanging cocoon chairs – Apart from being extremely comfortable, hanging cocoon chairs can help teenagers calm themselves by creating a sensory “cocoon” around them.
Noise-canceling ear muffs or headphones – These are beneficial to anyone who is sensitive to specific sounds and can help lower anxiety levels of those who are sensitive to noise.
Sensory lamps – At a glance, these might appear like lava lamps to most people, but these sensory lamps can provide a calming effect on autistic people.
Happy gift shopping!
We hope our advice and gift ideas have provided you with a good starting point to purchase a present for your autistic friend, family member, or loved one.
Winter in the Midwest is often unpredictable, cold, and filled with snow. For parents, finding winter activities for your child with autism can be a challenging. While the snow can be a fun and welcome activity for children, other times, the bitter cold can prevent children from playing outside. So, how do we keep children and children with autism busy during the cold winter months?
When the temperature is a lovely 35 degrees (which is quite warm in this area during the winter months!) and there is a fresh blanket of snow, here are just a few activities to try with your child with autism.
Build a snowman – this can be a wonderful activity that your child can do independently or as a family. Consider building a replica of a favorite character or naming your snowman. Be sure to always explain that a snowman is only temporary and will melt when it gets warmer!
Sledding – get your child active by finding a park (be sure to find a safe space!) where your child can enjoy a trip sledding down a hill. A favorite past-time of most, this is sure to be something your child with autism will enjoy as well. Consider getting a sled big enough for two people so your child can sled with the assistance of an adult.
Frozen Water Balloons – fill balloons with different color water (just add food coloring!) to make a fun and beautiful display in your yard. Fill the balloons with water and place them outside. Within a few hours you should have a beautiful display of frozen water.
Make Snow Angels – this can be a great sensory activity in the winter for children with autism!
Take a Drive – go look at all the Christmas decorations in your neighborhood.
Go for a Nature Walk – being outside in the winter can be one of the most calming activities for children with autism. It provides them an open space to run, play and explore without the stimulation of indoor environments. If the temperatures are agreeable, bundle up and head outside to a nearby park or trail.
Paint the Snow – a fun and creative alternative to playing in the snow is to paint it. Simply fill some squirt bottles with water and food coloring (make sure you use a lot!), then turn the snow into your canvas.
When the weather turns bitter cold or there are several inches of snow on the ground, you may find your child’s school closed and a house full of children. Here are a few ideas to keep your child with autism (and all of your children!) occupied when they are stuck inside:
Pajama Day – consider letting your child have a lazy day in pajamas. Make them their favorite breakfast and let them watch a favorite movie or TV show.
Mall Visit – If the kids (and you!) are itching to get out of the house, take a trip to the mall. Make a game of walking around the mall to get some steps in and energy out. If you are able, let your child pick out a new toy or item once you have done so many trips around the mall.
Movie Day – this can be done at a local theater or at home. If you want to get out of the house, take advantage of discounted matinee prices and take the kids to see a favorite movie. Pop some popcorn at home and bring that jumbo size purse to provide some affordable snacks at the theater.
Indoor Snowball Fight – you can buy fake snowballs or create them using crunched newspaper.
Make Pretend Snow – bring the snow inside by combining 2 ½ cups of pure baking soda with ½ cup of conditioner in a bowl and mix together. Show your child how to make snowballs and build a snowman together inside! Show them how to play with this new texture and encourage them to tell you what they are thinking as they touch and shape the pretend snow. This is a great sensory activity for your child with autism.
Build an Indoor Fort – gather your sheets, blankets, cushions and pillows for a magical afternoon at home. You can even create a “fort kit” box for that very purpose. Prepare your child’s favorites a snacks, read a few books, and even encourage a nap – everything is more fun in a fort.
For children with autism, on days when school or an ABA therapy center is closed, be sure to do your best to keep a routine and follow through on skills and activities they are working on at home. ABA is meant to be consistent, and can only be successful if parents do their best to practice many of the same ABA skills that your child does at their ABA center at home.
Children with autism may be labeled picky eaters, but the truth is that they face a unique set of challenges around mealtimes. Discover helpful tips on introducing new foods and expanding your child’s diet in a way that is more enjoyable for everyone at the table.
Tips for Introducing New Foods and Healthy Eating Habits
If you’re tired of googling “best foods for picky eaters” and ending up frustrated after mealtimes, it may be time to take a different approach. People with autism may be sensitive to the taste, smell, color, and texture of foods. Because of this, they may limit or avoid particular foods or even whole food groups.
Of course, you already understand the importance of consuming a well-rounded diet with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Recent studies have shown that children with autism-related symptoms are five times more likely to demonstrate atypical eating behaviors, including narrow food selections, ritualistic eating behavior, and meal-related tantrums, which can make getting the necessary nutrients a challenge.
Today, we’re looking at how to expand your child’s food choices by addressing underlying anxiety, inflexibility, and sensory issues. We’ll share some of our best picky eater tips for parents to help reduce problematic mealtime behaviors and the stress that accompanies them. You might even be inspired with a few school lunch ideas!
Picky eating vs. food rejection
While it’s common for autism to affect your child’s eating habits, it’s important to understand that there is a significant difference between what is colloquially considered “picky eating” and the unique challenges that children on the autism spectrum face. Most children, especially toddlers, go through stages where they refuse certain foods because of taste, smell, or texture. Generally, this is something they grow out of.
Children on the spectrum, however, aren’t just “being difficult.” Problematic mealtime behaviors may be a result of sensory issues, underdeveloped oral motor musculature (which makes certain textures troublesome), GI issues they aren’t able to communicate, the need for routine, or challenges with trying new things in general.
Another factor that contributes to the idea that autistic children are picky eaters is the myth of “high functioning autism,” which suggests that an individual who excels academically or is socially competent has “high function.” However, autistic children with high intelligence or excellent social skills are still likely to struggle with daily tasks like brushing their teeth, making decisions, or telling time. When children seen as “high functioning” struggle with eating certain foods, their behavior can be misconstrued as merely “being difficult.”
If left untreated, unhealthy mealtime behaviors may continue to escalate. Parents are often overwhelmed by a number of challenges at the same time. These issues may take precedence over feeding difficulties, and parents may find themselves relying on the few foods their child is willing to eat to avoid negative backlash. The longer feeding issues are allowed to continue, however, the more difficult and time-consuming it may be to help your child develop healthy eating habits.
Everyone knows how challenging changing your eating habits can be, and this is especially true for autistic children. Because they may hyper-focus on certain foods while refusing to try others, both behavioral therapy and nutritional therapy may be necessary. This will help adjust symptoms that may otherwise become maladaptive behaviors, as well as ensure you are working towards a well-balanced diet.
Ruling out medical issues
Common gastrointestinal issues associated with food rejection include acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and eosinophilic esophagitis. Autistic children are just as likely to suffer the same GI disorders as other children, but the difference is that they may not be able to localize or verbalize their discomfort. If a child senses or fears that a specific food may trigger pain, they are likely to refuse it, become suspicious of it, or throw tantrums.
This makes it important for parents to be proactive in discovering the source of their child’s discomfort. A pediatric gastroenterologist can help rule out medical issues.
Techniques for expanding your child’s diet
1. Start small
Your child most likely has a select few favorite foods. When introducing new foods, or previously rejected foods, you can create a positive association by introducing minuscule amounts of these foods alongside their pre-established favorites. The first time, they may not necessarily eat the food, but they can still get used to its presence and appearance. Even if they don’t want to try it, you can encourage them to touch, smell, and explore the food. The next time, you might ask them to try a single bite and praise them for being willing to try.
2. Try desensitization practices
If your child has strongly rejected a certain food, but you feel it is necessary as part of a healthy diet, or it’s a staple in your household, you’ll need to reintroduce the food even more slowly, using a desensitizing technique. For example, if your child hates apples, start by placing apples in the house. Next, bring an apple into the room during playtime. This way, they can get used to the food without having to eat it. After a while, you might place some apples on the table during meals without requiring them to touch or eat them. Next, put a slice of apple on their plate. When they are okay with the apple slice on their plate, and their original feelings of aversion have been resolved, invite them to try a bite.
3. Offer choices and control
No one likes to be told what to eat, and sometimes, your child will simply not like a food – this is completely natural. To accommodate this and give your child the opportunity to exercise healthy control, offer a wide variety of choices (within the necessary categories that form a well-balanced meal), and allow them to decide. For instance, when choosing dinner, allow your child to choose one ingredient from a variety of vegetables, starches, and proteins. If you’re making a curry, stew, or pasta dish, ask them to add one “mystery” ingredient to the dish for the other family members to discover. They might choose chicken, broccoli, or beans, for instance.
4. Adjust textures
Hypersensitivity to textures is a common occurrence in people on the spectrum and can show up during mealtimes. Often, it’s the way a food feels in the mouth, not its flavor, that produces a strong aversion to certain foods. The crunchy texture of an apple or the squishy texture of a freshly sliced tomato is a classic example. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways to prepare foods and also a variety of healthy substitutes. Pears, for example, are much softer than apples, and apples could also be served stewed. Tomatoes can be blended or chopped finely into salsa or cooked into a sauce and served over pasta or as a dip for potato wedges.
One of the best ways to get picky eaters to eat veggies is to prepare them in a new and exciting way or work them into other dishes where they are not as easily distinguishable. For example, you could grate zucchini into oatmeal, add broccoli to homemade chicken nuggets, or blend leafy greens into smoothies without anyone noticing.
5. Set realistic goals
Mealtimes shouldn’t be a battleground, so be sure to manage your emotions, adjust your expectations, and set realistic goals. Many children need to taste a food more than a dozen times before they’re willing to eat it without any fuss. Autistic children with food aversions may take longer, so be sure to practice patience and create a safe environment for your child to explore new foods.
There are likely a number of behaviors that require some practice when it comes to mealtimes, so rather than trying to correct them all within a single meal, break them into individual goals. Then prioritize those goals and address them one at a time. Are you trying to increase the variety of foods your child consumes? The amount they eat? Correct disruptive behavior at the table? Identify your primary target, make the target known to both your child and other caretakers, and focus meals on progressing in that area.
If, for instance, your child barely eats two or three bites at a meal, it’s unreasonable to expect them to clear their plate, and it’s probably not the best time to start introducing new or previously rejected foods. Instead, try increasing their intake by one bite per meal, and be sure to praise their success rather than piling more expectations on them because you think the meal is going well.
Lastly, expect a certain amount of resistance. This might include crying or whining, verbal aggression, and/or disruptive behaviors. The presence of these things doesn’t mean you’re not making progress, so adjust your expectations accordingly and don’t give up or give in.
Other things that can help reduce anxiety around mealtimes include:
Role modeling healthy eating behaviors
Consistent and enjoyable mealtime routines
Making changes to how you prepare and/or present previously rejected foods
Playing with and exploring new and/or previously rejected foods
Praising every sign of progress, no matter how small
Take a multifaceted approach
Like many things, it may take a multifaceted approach to see a significant difference when it comes to picky eating and autism. With time, consistency, and patience, however, you and your little one are sure to experience incredible progress.
Sensory activities involve toys, games and activities that stimulate the senses. Sensory play is important for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who often struggle processing sensory information. Children with autism are often sensitive to certain sounds or lights, or even certain textures. Sensory activities for kids with autism are important to help regulate the sensory system. Engaging children with autism in sensory activities is beneficial for the development of several skills, including:
Language skills. Engaging in pretend play helps develop a child’s language skills by increasing their vocabulary as they discuss their experiences.
Fine motor skills. Manipulating small objects not only aids in hand-eye coordination, but it also helps strengthen the muscles in a child’s hands and wrists, which in turn helps develop their fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills. Encouraging kids to practice their running, jumping, and throwing skills through pretend sensory play is an excellent way to develop their gross motor skills by strengthening their large muscles through fun body movements.
Social skills. Engaging in pretend play with peers doesn’t just build little imaginations. It also teaches important skills like sharing and taking turns!
Self-control. Sensory play helps develop a child’s ability to respond appropriately to sensory stimulation, which helps enhance their self-control and self-regulation.
Try a range of activities to stimulate all of the five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing.
The list below has been compiled by Autism Speaks for children with Autism, Aspergers, and Sensory Processing Disorders. There are several sensory friendly toys as well as specific online games and activities designed for children with autism.
Animal Agentz Fun and interactive computer learning tool to help children manage and overcome stress, anxiety and poor concentration. Children interact with a family of bright and colorful animal characters who teach them important coping skills to help them manage stressful situations. www.animalagentz.com
Autism Toys and More Autism toys, books, puzzles, games, and resources for parents and professionals. Categories include: fine motor skills, focus and attention, cognitive development, sensory, social/pretend play, and more! www.autismtoysandmore.com
Automoblox Automoblox award-winning line of mix-n-match, wooden toy cars have been used as an important learning tool for children with autism. www.automoblox.com
Aven’s Corner Here you will find the web’s most unique online kids games. This is a free online preschool games site built specifically for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. avenscorner.com
BionicBlox Award-winning BionicBlox invents building and construction products for 2D and 3D sensory and educational play. The open-ended, captivating press together blocks and connectors provide enhanced stimulation. The size and durability of children’s masterpieces promotes social processes through collaborative play. bionicblox.com
bluedominoes: Shaping A Healthier Playtime bluedomines’ Activity Dough and Finger Prints are the first art supplies product to receive approval from the Celiac Sprue and acceptance by the Feingold Association. Both of our products are gluten free, artificial color free, bromine free and heavy metal free. www.amazon.com
Discovery Toys: A Link to Learning for Children with Autism Discovery Toys interfaced with the famous Princeton Child Development Institute to develop an Autism Support Project. This project has created toys to develop independent play with some limited instruction, toys that promote sustained engagement, toys that build skills for cooperative play, toys that create opportunities for children to talk about their play experience, toys with obvious completion criteria and more! www.discoverytoys.com/autismspeaks
Fun and Function Fun and Function was founded by a mom who also happens to be an occupational therapist. Her goal in starting the company was to fill a void for a lack of high quality toys, games and therapy products geared towards special needs children. Funandfunction.com provides children with special needs outstanding products to enable them to reach their fullest potential. funandfunction.com
Give Me 5 Social Skills Board Game Give Me 5 is a fun, non-competitive social skills game covering 8 sub-domains of social skills: self-awareness, situational awareness, non-verbal communication, verbal communication, emotional awareness, perspective taking, manners, and understanding the big picture. It incorporates learning through analyzing social scenarios, using visual cues, role playing, problem solving, and the use of an emotional awareness model. High 5s are given along the way to support the children’s positive social development and nurture their self-esteem. thedevelopmentalgarden.com
Her Interactive: Nancy Drew Adventure Games Her Interactive is the leading mystery-maker and pioneer of fun and inspiring interactive entertainment. Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew games have sold more than 9 million copies. Nancy Drew players now include moms who have introduced their daughters to the girl detective, making her one of history’s longest-running iconic figures spanning generations. As the number-one PC mystery franchise since 2004, unit sales of the Nancy Drew series have exceeded those of Harry Potter, Myst and Tomb Raider. www.herinteractive.com
Infantino Smartly-designed products for happy parenting. Packed with smarts, full of fun and ready for the daily adventures of parenting, we’ve created a line of products to help you and your little ones grow together. They’ve all been thoughtfully designed and smartly styled, from tip to toe, to make this whole parenting thing less of a job and more of a joy. Here’s to happy! www.infantino.com
Make Beliefs Comix Come visit MakeBeliefsComix.com, where parents and children can create their own comic strips online and practice writing, ready and storytelling. Parents and teachers of autistic children are using the site to communicate more effectively with their children by creating comic strips to teach and convey information to them. makebeliefscomix.com
Me and My World™ Social Skills Board Games and Curriculum The set of 6 unique themed puzzle cut game boards (Dragon, Pirate, Space Alien, Castle, Zoo Adventure and Sea Life are interchangeable with any of the Me and My World Game Card Decks. The Me and My World Curriculum includes more than 50 lessons that are aligned with the American School Standards for Students. Each lesson addresses a specific objective, includes several activities and recommends children’s stories to use. www.joshuacenter.com
Melissa and Doug Over 2,000 unique and exciting products for children of all ages. Our promise is to make each and every customer a happy and permanent member of the Melissa & Doug family, while offering products with tremendous value, quality and design. Our line offers something for everyone! www.melissaanddoug.com
OZMO Fun Toys for Autism and Other Special Interests Created by parents of an adult with autism and OCD to encourage easy, safe, wonderful fun with toys, books, puzzles, sensory and special interest items all geared toward individuals with autism. www.ozmofun.com
Piano Wizard Piano Wizard is an amazingly simple video game that can teach anyone from 3-103 how to play the piano and read music in minutes. With a digital piano hooked up to your PC or Mac, you’re playing real keyboard within seconds of sitting in front of a song. The game’s 4-step method has won awards for its simplicity. Even a 3-year-old can play Step 1 and by the time you finish Step 4, you’re reading real musician notation. After Step 4, we’ve seen kids go straight to real piano, and find themselves playing the same song effortlessly. www.evenyoucanplay.com
Pick and Draw Pick and Draw is a fun, one-of-a-kind drawing game that teaches you how to make very creative cartoon faces. It is simple and easy to use providing endless hours of fun and learning. In five minutes or less you will know how to play! pickanddraw.com
PlayAbility Toys A world of special toys for special kids. PlayAbility Toys is THE source of fun, unique toys that are developmentally appropriate for all young children and in particular children with special needs! The company specifically designs and markets toys that have many sensory features that incorporate auditory, tactile, visual, and motor stimulation. www.playabilitytoys.com
Playtime with Zeebu Bring the world of Playtime with Zeebu home to play! Our goal at Thought Bubble Productions is to make the connection between you and your child/student purposeful. www.playtimewithzeebu.com
Raise Your Rainbow® Health Eating Tool Raise Your Rainbow® is an interactive game that motivates children to eat fruits and vegetables. Kids track the fruits and vegetables they eat throughout the day using the colorful rainbow band magnets – when all 5 bands have been raised to form a complete rainbow, they win! Raise Your Rainbow® is easy to play, fun for kids, and promotes healthy eating. Play right on the fridge or portable for tabletop – also comes with food list by color. www.raiseyourrainbow.com
SimplyFun Board Games Simply Fun offers award winning educational board games for all ages. Our board games are unique and can not be found in stores, they are easy to learn and fun to play, they are designed for learning and connecting, and they are high quality. We have a great deal to offer to parents and families of loved ones with autism and other special needs. www.simplyfun.com
Special Needs Toys We are providers of carefully selected fun products designed to help you or those in your care enjoy life, and achieve more. Use this site and our catalog to stimulate your imagination, begin programs, or reinforce encouraged behaviors. There is a lot that we can achieve…while having Fun. We are committed to offering the best customer service available. www.specialneedstoys.com
The Speech Bin We have tons of fun, new games to improve speaking and listening skills! www.speechbin.com
Stages Learning Materials was founded by a UCLA trained ABA Therapist in 1997, when Autism diagnosis first began to rise. Our top-selling autism education product, the Language Builder Picture Cards, was designed to specifically meet the learning needs of the individual with Autism. The Language Builder Series has become a staple in home and school programs across the world. Today Stages offers a full range of real photo products for autism education. Stages products are found in pre-schools, day care centers, early childhood classrooms, autism programs, speech language programs, and homes around the world.
Step2 The Step2® Company, LLC, headquartered in Streetsboro, Ohio, is the largest American manufacturer of preschool and toddler toys and the world’s largest rotational molder of plastics. Our mission is to be the leading innovator of children’s products that build imaginations and enrich the family’s celebration of childhood. www.step2.com
Topobo for Children with Autism and ASD Topobo is the world’s first construction toy with kinetic memory, the ability to record and playback physical motion! Research studies with autistic children show that, in comparison to passive blocks, Topobo leads to far more cooperative & parallel play, increased observational behavior, and reduced solitary play patterns. www.topobo.com/autism-asd.html
Toys”R”Us Toy Guide for Differently Abled Kids Toys selected by experts to aid in the development of children with physical and cognitive disabilities. https://www.toysrus.com
WonderWorx LLC WonderWorx invents products for musical, sensory and educational play – and unique pieces for parks, gardens, schools and museums. These imaginative creations combine splashes of sound, color, music or motion to stimulate the senses and encourage social, cooperative interaction. www.wonderworx.com
ZAC Browser: Zone for Autistic Children ZAC is the first web browser developed specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders. Come find the best environment on the internet for your autistic child! zac-browser.en.softonic.com/
Zigo Leader Carrier Bike System Our Mission is to provide human powered vehicles, strollers, and bicycle trailers for use by active parents or other caregivers along with their children. The Company’s first product, the Zigo® Leader™ Carrier Bicycle System,can operate as a three-wheeled carrier bicycle, a stroller, jogging stroller, urban bicycle, or trailer, converting among these modes in under one minute.
Below is a compiled list of camps and summer programs all over Indiana that cater to children with autism, as well as children and adults with other disabilities. Click on the links below to visit the website of a camp in your area.
Close to Leo, Camp Red Cedar is place that features everything camp has to offer – games, horseback riding, swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, nature hikes and singing around the campfire. In addition to summer camps, enjoy year-around therapeutic and conventional horseback riding or rent our facilities. Of course, the entire camp is completely accessible and autism friendly. Discover a whole new world of possibilities within Camp Red Cedar’s 57 acres of meadows, woods, lake and trails.
Inspiring self-discovery in individuals with special needs through a safe, traditional camp experience. Camp Millhouse envisions a world where individuals with special needs are encouraged to realize their full potential and value to make a difference in their communities.
Jacob’s Place operates Youth Sports for Autism, a free program where kids are put on teams and allowed to play sports in a sensory and accepting environment! We also are opening the new Autism Rec Center for Indiana which will host gym nights, game and movie nights, clubs and other recreational activities, provide job training in a working candy store, and host parent and homeschool support!
At our Summer Day Camps, we can tap into the specific interests of each camper by targeting their individual skills and interests. Because we welcome youth with and without disabilities, our inclusive environment encourages everyone to learn, grow and have fun.
Life Compass Camp is 5 day, day camp that offers youth with special needs the chance to experience a more traditional summer camp setting that caters to their individual needs and uses games and activities to teach important life skills.
Jameson Camp began in 1928 when the leaders at Marion County Tuberculosis Association came together with the community to meet the need for a summer program that bridged a gap in health and nutrition for children. Since then, Jameson Camp has offered numerous camps especially for children impacted by physical and mental health diagnoses. Today, Jameson Camp is proud to offer a space where any child can feel welcome, safe, and accepted while they discover their strengths, build friendships, and experience nature on over 130 acres of forest, meadow, and streams.
Nestled along its namesake, the Anderson River in rural Southern Indiana, Anderson Woods was founded in 1978, and is a private, not-for-profit corporation chartered to provide summer camp experiences, as well as other services, for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Bradford Woods is Indiana University’s Outdoor Center. We provide experiential and therapeutic outdoor programs to people of all backgrounds and abilities on our 2,500-acre campus, located between Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Our vision is to be global leaders in delivering inclusive and experiential outdoor programming.
Our annual Summer Camp will consist of fun daily field trips in and around our communities for exploration, vocational skills, physical activities, life skills, creative experiences and more. A monthly calendar will be provided with daily field trips for information, planning and any cost associated.
My Summer Journey is a summer program for teens on the autism spectrum, ages 13-19. Our fun-filled days help keep kids in a routine that can make the transition back to school much easier. The focus of the program is to make new friends along with working on life and social skills.
For over 100 years Camp Crosley YMCA, located in North Webster, Indiana, has been making people feel like they belong through programs like Summer Camp (boys and girls ages 6-15), Group Retreats, School Groups, and Family Events. Located on the shores of Lake Tippecanoe in Northern Indiana, we serve the communities of Muncie, Chicago, Carmel, Fishers, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Valparaiso, and more. Our caring staff want to invite you to experience all that we have to offer.
In line with optimizing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities or special needs, Youth Services fosters a safe space to promote learning, growth, and acceptance among peers while encouraging compassion and friendship.
When facing the challenges of parenting a child with autism, it is important to know the resources that are available to you. Not only are there many local services available for parents, but there are also several national conferences that seek to teach parents to navigate the challenges of raising a child with autism. Check out these five conferences to learn more about how they can help you help your child with autism.
Profectum is an “organization committed to gathering the most cutting-edge practices in autism,” helping to teach families how best to use them with each unique child, and building a community of families affected by autism. They hold various conferences throughout the year all over the country. Check out their website to see when a conference may be happening near you.
Autism Speaks is a national foundation dedicated to raising money and awareness for the treatment and prevention of autism. It also seeks to bring together friends, families, and concerned community members to build a supportive network.
While Love & Autism is an organization dedicated to autism awareness and community like the others, its main focus is the annual conference. One unique aspect of Love & Autism is many of the events that take place, including musical and art presentations, are performed by individuals with autism.
The Autism Project is an organization dedicated to connecting researches and practitioners with families affected by autism. They seek to help the entire family unit by teaching the latest practices regarding autism and by providing a supportive and collaborative community.
The World Autism Organisation was founded to create a global autism community. The group seeks to gather research and practices from around the world and create a common space where professionals and families can collaborate at an international level to share best practices, research, etc…
This conference is made possible by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education in partnership with Penn State Outreach and the Penn State College of Education.
Penn State offers online programs in behavior analysis through Penn State World Campus, including a Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Educating Individuals with Autism, a Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis, and a Master of Education in Special Education with emphases in autism or applied behavior analysis.
Verbal Behavior Therapy is a vital tool used to help those with autism improve their communication skills. Learn more about this approach to teaching communication and the benefits it offers to those with autism.
What is Verbal Behavior Therapy
Lighthouse Autism Center uses the Verbal Behavioral (VB) branch of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Verbal Behavior Therapy (VBT) is used to teach communication and language skills by focusing on why we use language, the purpose of words and how they can be used by the speaker with characteristics of autism to get their needs met or to communicate ideas.
VB is derived from the same philosophy of behaviorism, employs basic scientific methodology and is concerned with the development of an individual’s socially and educationally significant behaviors. Its examination stresses the use of language in the environmental context within a verbal community.
How Verbal Behavior Therapy works
VBT uses verbal operants, or types of verbal behavior, to teach autistic children how to better communicate, and can be very effective as a part of early intervention. A few of these operants are:
Mand: When a person or child uses language to make a request. For example, the child is thirsty, says “water”, and receives a glass of water to drink.
Tact: When a person or child labels something in the environment. For example, the child sees a glass filled with water and says “water”.
Intraverbal: When a person or child is able to respond to a question. For example, a teacher asks “Would you like a glass of water to drink?” and the child responds “Yes”.
Echoic: When a person or child repeats what another person said. For example, a teacher says “water” and the child repeats the word “water”.
The History of Verbal Behavior Therapy
The research and practices of VBT are based on the book Verbal Behavior, published in 1957 by a very influential behaviorist, B.F. Skinner. Skinner discovered operant conditioning, which is the fundamental idea that behaviors that are reinforced will tend to continue, while behaviors that are punished will eventually end.
While the analysis of VB is extended from lab experiments of operant conditioning, it involves not only the environmental variables but also the behavior of other people who also use the same language. In other words, VB operates at the level that both the listener and the speaker are taken into consideration along with any and all other factors in the environment.
VB is different from other language theories that emphasize the cognitive or physiological process inside the living organism. B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior turns the focus to controlling variables in the environment that impact the cause or function of language.
This means that VB is not only for vocal verbal language but also non-vocal use of language such as gestures, eye contact, pointing and the use of other nonverbal cues. VBT is not too concerned with the forms or structures of language, but these are important in the analysis of linguistics.
The Pros of VBT
There are a number of benefits to the Verbal Behavior approach to ABA.
Enhances analysis of the way we learn to speak in a natural environment. (Language acquisition can be natural but should not be confused with being innate.)
Allows language to be broken down into small sections for in-depth analysis.
With the analysis, specific instructional sequences can be systematically developed for an autistic individual.
When learning issues occur, the analysis allows us to pinpoint possible sources.
Allows for individualized instructional strategies based on what the individual needs.
Helps create intensive and systematic intervention plans for individuals who have difficulties with communication and/or intellectual disabilities.
Intervention plans for individuals with difficulties with language and/or disabilities can be incorporated into natural and artificial settings.
Advances empirical research due to operational definitions that can be precisely defined, and each small component can be isolated to pinpoint the primary controlling variables.
Communication can be challenging for children with autism. We take a look at how using visual language can help a child with autism communicate and grow their independence.
Communication and Autism: Using Visual Language
How Does Autism Affect Communication Skills?
There are many theories, but it is not yet known what causes autism and why children with autism struggle with communication. What we do know is that autism affects their communication skills, with communication difficulties being one of the key characteristics of autism.
Children with autism may struggle with verbal and nonverbal communication methods in various ways. For example, they may have difficulties with:
Understanding and using words
Learning how to read and write
Understanding and using gestures
Understanding facial expressions or tone of voice
Engaging in conversations
Thankfully there are ways to help them manage these challenges. One such method is visual language.
What is Visual Language?
Research tells us that children with autism are able to better communicate their wants and needs through images rather than words. With this knowledge, many autism therapy providers have started creating learning programs and software that focus on allowing children with autism to communicate with familiar and consistent images. This helps increase their understanding of basic communication and more easily communicate their wants, needs, and emotions. This “visual language” method of learning has proven incredibly successful in helping children with autism develop communication skills and achieve developmental milestones.
Using Visual Language to Communicate with Children Who Have Autism
Communication can be a major problem for families. It accounts for an estimated 60% of all family-related stress experienced on a daily basis. It is also the main reason that some children are slower to develop their social skills. Autism communication strategies are vital to help those with autism and their families. By using visual communication tactics, families and autism therapy providers can give the child the tools they need to communicate their needs effectively. Once the child has these skills, it often alleviates many problems for families.
So, what are some of the visual communication techniques and visual supports your child with autism can use? Here are some of the visual systems and communication devices for autism:
1.) Dry-Erase Board – The child can use a piece of paper or dry-erase board to draw objects that symbolize their wants and needs.
2.) Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) – This is when a child has several pre-made (and often laminated) cards with images that communicate everything from needing to go to the bathroom to requesting a snack and telling someone how they are feeling. The parent can then react or provide the item to fulfill the need they are expressing.
3.) Tablet – Children can use communication software downloaded to a tablet such as an iPad and use a system similar to a PECS system. This allows children to select images that express their wants and needs in a way that a parent or adult can understand.
These are three of the ways you can overcome the challenges of autism and communication. To learn more about visual communication and about your child with autism, contact Lighthouse Autism Center at 574-387-4313. We also have a variety of autism resources for parents who are looking for additional advice.
Early intervention is vital to assisting a child with autism, but this doesn’t only include professional help. Parents play a key role in helping their children in a variety of ways. Join us as we take a look at how.
The Importance of Parental Involvement
At Lighthouse Autism Center we believe in a team approach to helping your child reach their fullest potential. While every member of the team (parents, caregivers, therapists, educators, doctors, advocates) play a part in your child’s success, parental support is arguably the most important.
How Increased Parental Involvement Helps Children with Autism
As a parent, it’s important to understand the key benefits your involvement will have for your child. Research has shown that increased parental involvement will often help a child with autism manage their symptoms or improve any skills they are struggling with.
A study titled “Parent-mediated social communication therapy for young children with autism (PACT): long-term follow-up of a randomized controlled trial,” which was completed by the University of Manchester in 2016, has more good news for parents.
This study has also shown that early intervention from parents offers general improvements in a child with autism’s symptoms and that this reduction is long-lasting, highlighting how beneficial parental intervention is for the child.
How Parents Can Assist Their Children
Here are some ways parents can help their autistic children.
Support Starts from the Beginning
While the causes of autism are still unknown, it is important to start looking for the signs of autism early. Studies have shown that catching the signs of autism early in a child’s life can lead to better outcomes. Some of these early signs include missing various developmental milestones, no babbling, no eye contact, no response to name, and lack of expression (happiness, smiling). If you suspect that your child may be exhibiting these signs, it is important you contact your healthcare provider to determine if your child has autism.
Support Through Therapy
Once a child receives an autism diagnosis, the next question a parent will ask is how to support a child with autism. It is crucial that parents and caregivers seek appropriate therapy services for their child, which may include ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, or a combination of these and other therapies.
Specifically, ABA therapy is the only therapy recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General for the treatment of autism. With individualized treatment plans designed by Board Certified Behavior Analysts and the work of a trained Registered Behavior Technician, we see children achieve great outcomes through this type of therapy.
Therapy At Home
It is equally important that parents work to provide a child with the autism support they need outside of therapy sessions. This can be achieved by implementing the same skills their child is working on in therapy at home. For example, if a child works on using utensils as part of a therapy program, but parents do not work with the child to use utensils at home, that child may learn they only have to use utensils when they go to therapy but not at home. Consistency and follow-through are key to a child’s success, and that requires the commitment and work of parents and caregivers to follow through at home.
Lighthouse Autism Center
For parents and children at Lighthouse Autism Center, our Board Certified Behavior Analysts provide parent training and often go into a child’s home to assist parents. We want to make sure that parents have the tools and knowledge to follow through at home and help their child achieve their highest potential. We also have various tools for parents to help their children with autism.
To learn more about Lighthouse Autism Center, call 574-387-4313.
It’s vital to be able to assist a child with autism as early as possible. We take a look at the benefits of early intervention, the signs of autism, and how we can help evaluate your child.
INFOGRAPHIC: Why is Early Intervention for Autism So Important?
Recognizing the signs of autism in early childhood can help improve a child’s chances of success in the future. Here’s a quick look at why early intervention is so vital and the positive results of identifying the early signs of autism in children:
What are the early signs of autism?
As a parent, you may be wondering what some of the autism symptoms you should keep an eye out for are. There are key developmental milestones that can help you identify whether your child has autism or not. You can also keep an eye out for certain early signs of autism, such as social, behavioral, or emotional practices, which may indicate the early signs of autism.
How early should you try to assist a child diagnosed with autism?
Depending on the child, early intervention programs can begin from as early as 18 months of age.
How early intervention can help
There are many benefits to early intervention, but here are some of the specific benefits a child can gain, including improving:
IQ, including improvements in IQ tests
Language abilities, including listening and understanding
Coping skills, including emotional regulation
Physical development, such as balance and coordination
Social interactions, including a child’s peers and with a child’s parents
Nonverbal autism where there’s a lack of or limited use of verbal communication
Evaluating your Child
Are you seeing the signs of autism in your child but don’t have an evaluation yet? Early intervention is crucial to improved outcomes and increased success and independence in the long run. You can view our list of early signs and symptoms of autism in babies, toddlers, and young children. Then, you can connect with Lighthouse’s network of professionals who understand how to identify children with autism, and who can let you know more about how early autism can be diagnosed.
Contact us to find out more about how we can help.