• How COVID-19 has Affected Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Americans to stay apart for more than a year now. This has had devastating consequences on many people’s mental health. The negative impact of school closures, service disruptions, and endless at-home time has been particularly severe among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Even so, not all of the effects have been negative. 

Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research (SPARK) conducted a coronavirus survey last year to learn more about how families were coping, and over 8,000 people responded. About 93 percent of the survey participants were female parents or guardians of school-age kids, 80 percent of whom were boys. The average age of the respondents’ children was 12 years old. Here’s what the survey reveals about how COVID-19 has affected children with ASD.  

Negative Effects of COVID-19 on Children with ASD 

  • Unwanted change: Many families reported struggling with the general upheaval and chaos brought on by the pandemicChildren experienced more anxiety, emotional breakdowns, and aggression because of the numerous disruptions to their routine. 
  • School closures and service disruptions: Almost every school in the country closed at some point last year. As a result, 63 percent of parents reported decreased access to the services and therapies their children rely on. A whopping 95 percent of these families said that the service disruptions negatively impacted their child’s behavior. The most severe disruptions to ASDS-related services occurred among families with children under five years old. 
  • Lack of childcare options: Parents expressed the difficulty of juggling work while their kids were at home with limited childcare options. The lack of trained people available to provide specialized services also proved problematic at the height of the pandemic. 

Positive Effects of COVID-19 on Children with ASD 

  • Distance learning: While some parents reported that online schooling was challenging and inconvenientmany said that the controlled setting and slower pace worked better for their kids. 
  • Extra family time: Social distancing requirements left many families with more time to spend together. This created the chance to grow relationships, pursue hobbies, and explore mindfulness activities such as meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga. 
  • Remote services and therapies: While the pandemic has limited in-person services35 percent of families said they were receiving teletherapy. About 43 percent of these families expressed moderate to significant benefits from these services. 

There’s no doubt that this pandemic has disrupted everyone’s livesMost of us have felt stressed or overwhelmed at one time or another, which has impacted our physical, emotional, and mental healthEven so, resources remain available to help parents of children with ASD manage the ongoing challenges.  

For instance, STAR of CA offers in-person services to anyone who can pass our fitness for service screening. Our program addresses developmental delays, behavioral problems, and other challenges associated with ASD using integrated, evidence-based practices. If you have concerns about participating in our program, please review our COVID-19 updates or contact us at 805.588.8896 for more information.

  • Cooking Activities for Children with ASD

     

    Cooking activities are a great way to bond with your children. If you’re the parent of a child with ASD, you may read that with some degree of skepticism. But trust us, food is fundamental to life, and when you cook with your kids you impart important life skills and connect with them in a meaningful way.

    • Visual instructions make cooking activities simple. Start with a rule chart that addresses washing your hands before preparing food and simple kitchen safety. Then create visual or adapted recipes to make things easier for children to remember.
    • Preparing ahead of time is the key to success. All of your kitchen equipment, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and so on, should be ready ahead of time. You should also make sure you have all the ingredients and that they’re stored in logical places easy for children to locate. This helps children learn where various items are kept.
    • Working in the kitchen helps kids develop important skills. As they scoop, measure, chop, cut, spread, and stir, they’re working on fine motor skills and coordination. Following a recipe helps teach them to follow directions, and cooking and eating with others helps improve social skills. It can also be a good time to bond with them and have fun as you help them learn these new skills.
    • Recipes don’t have to be elaborate to be fun for kids. You can start with making sandwiches and letting them help you make cookies or cupcakes. Even young children can place cupcake liners in pans or put sprinkles on a cupcake or cookie. If you’re looking for recipes that are more in depth, here are some great examples, complete with visual versions for your child with ASD:
    • Embrace the sensory joys of cooking. Kneading bread, rolling dough, breaking and separating eggs, and many other kitchen tasks provide opportunities for messy, sensory fun. If, on the other hand, you have a child with sensory challenges and aversions to certain textures, there are a few ways to approach this problem. You could provide non-latex medical gloves, which are thin enough to provide sensory input while protecting against direct touch. You can also expose the child to different textures in play situations, with things like Magic Sand or slime.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Can Affect Kids

    Does your child suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? If so, you may not even realize that this is the problem. Sometimes, parents think kids are just slacking off, because they seem to be losing concentration, sleeping more, and generally acting mopey and low on energy. It might not immediately occur to you that this seasonal funk is anything more than a phase, but kids can get SAD just as adults can. People with SAD tend to have symptoms in a seasonal pattern, starting when winter approaches and going away when spring returns. It’s thought that the depression associated with SAD is related to decreased daylight exposure, but it’s not entirely clear how it works. It may have something to do with melatonin, which increases in the dark and makes us sleepy, and serotonin, the hormone that increases with light exposure and makes us happy. About 6 percent of people experience seasonal depression, and it’s most common in older teens and young adults. But how can you tell if your child is suffering from SAD?

    • Mood shifts. If your child is experiencing SAD, you’ll probably notice mood swings for at least two weeks. Sadness, irritability, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness may be accompanied by your child being more sensitive than usual to criticism, being self-critical, and crying or getting upset easily.
    • Your child doesn’t enjoy things as much. You might notice that your child has lost interest in things he or she usually finds enjoyable, or feels unable to accomplish tasks successfully.
    • Sleep pattern changes. Your child might have trouble sleeping or might sleep much more than usual. It can be hard for kids with SAD to get out of bed and ready for school in the morning.
    • Your child lacks energy. Regardless of sleeping habits, you might notice unusual tiredness or unexplained fatigue.
    • There are changes in eating habits. Children with SAD often crave simple carbohydrates, like comfort foods and sweets. They may also tend to overeat.
    • Your child has trouble focusing. Grades might drop, as your child becomes less able to concentrate and less motivated to succeed.
    • He or she spends less time socializing. If your child is spending less time with friends or in social activities he or she previously enjoyed, this could be a symptom of depression associated with SAD.

    If you suspect your child is suffering from SAD, talk to your pediatrician. Treatment depends on the severity of the child’s symptoms, but there are several different approaches that may help. Increased light exposure, light therapy, medication, and talk therapy are all used to combat SAD.

    If you’re concerned that your child may be suffering from SAD or another form of depression, don’t hesitate to seek help. STAR of CA provides a wide array of services to children, adolescents, and adults, to address a variety of mental health needs. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • How Siblings can become ASD Advocates

    Siblings share a bond that’s unique and special. They know each other like no one else does, and whether their relationship is good or bad, it has a large impact on who they become. Siblings of children with ASD are in a position that brings challenges from a young age, yet allows them to be powerful advocates for their brothers or sisters.

    • Having a child with ASD can be a challenge for the entire family. It can be especially difficult for siblings, who don’t have the coping strategies of adults. Sometimes, the behavior of the sibling with ASD can be embarrassing, distracting, or stressful. Without the right support, it’s easy for a neurotypical sibling to fall into patterns of acting out or withdrawing. On the other hand, these siblings may put themselves under pressure to be “good” so they don’t cause trouble for their parents, and they can end up feeling angry.
    • Sibling relationships are complicated. This is true in every family, but for siblings of those with ASD, there’s another level of complication. They must not only learn to cope with the needs of a family member with ASD, but they also must be prepared to potentially care for their sibling after the parents have gone. While the relationship with a sibling with ASD can be positive as well as negative, it should be acknowledged that it brings with it responsibilities that don’t exist in typical families. Some people may feel cheated of a “normal” sibling relationship. They may choose not to start a family of their own, because of their feelings about their sibling with ASD.
    • Neurotypical children need attention and support, too. Children with ASD require a great deal of parental attention, but parents must remember that their other children need them as well. It’s crucial for parents to set aside quality time focused on each child individually, regardless of their abilities.
    • Talking openly about the situation benefits the whole family. Parents should clearly explain the diagnosis and what it means, remaining open to listening to their children’s questions as well as feelings about what’s going on in the family. Speak in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and how families work together to support each other
    • There are some ways in which siblings of children with ASD benefit. Many people whose siblings have ASD report positive feelings about their experience with their siblings. There’s evidence that having a sibling with a disability can help a person to be more compassionate and empathetic, kinder, more tolerant, and more aware of the needs of others.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Setting Goals with your Child for 2021

    As the year winds down and we start looking ahead to 2021, most of us set goals for the coming year. While you’re setting your goals, why not take the time to help your child set some as well? Teaching children the valuable skill of goal-setting is important because it’s something they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.

    • Begin on a positive note. Brainstorm with your children, first making a list of things they do well, then looking for areas where they’d like to improve or learn something new. Consider “Three Stars and a Wish” as a planning exercise. Have the kids establish three “stars”, or strengths, and one “wish” of something to aspire to.
    • Strive for goals that are both ambitious and obtainable. This year has been a challenging one for most students, so there’s likely to be an area in which your child doesn’t feel especially competent and would like to improve. By making sure the goals he or she sets are obtainable, you’ll help to build confidence.
    • Choose some goals that are just for fun. Maybe your child wants to learn origami this year, or how to blow bubbles with bubblegum, or how to whistle. It makes working towards goals more interesting if there are aspirations in the mix that aren’t too serious.
    • Turn wishes into goals. What’s the difference between a wish and a goal? It all comes down to having a plan. Help your child determine exactly how he or she will reach the goal you’ve set together, breaking it down into achievable steps.
    • Write everything down. It’s helpful to have a visual reminder of the goals you’ve chosen, perhaps in the form of a chart. When you have a chart on the wall, you and your child can easily record progress being made toward achieving the stated goals.
    • Set a timeline and check in periodically. Talk with your children about a reasonable length of time needed to achieve their goals. Establish expectations, not just for the main goal, but for the little steps along the way. Determine intervals at which you’ll check in to see how your child is feeling about the progress being made.
    • Don’t assume the achievement is its own reward! While your child will feel a sense of accomplishment upon achieving the stated goal, rewards are a great motivator. This can be as simple as stickers on the chart along the way, or you can plan for a big reward once the goal is met.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Indiana Teen Shares his Autism Experience

    Typically, when we read about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we’re reading information documented by experts or observers, rather than people who have actually experienced ASD personally. Recently, a Fort Wayne teenager has written a book documenting his experience with ASD, to help people understand what it’s like to be a person with autism spectrum disorder. Ayden Kenny’s book, “Autism and Me”, is currently in the process of publication.

  • Now 15 years old, Ayden Kenny was diagnosed with ASD at the age of three. His mother, Denise, took his diagnosis in stride, without sadness. She and his father Aaron took action to help boost his development through occupational therapy, an interactive and socially engaging schedule, and, eventually, homeschooling. He’s now considered “high functioning.”

    Ayden left public school in third grade, and his memories of elementary school are not all happy ones. He remembers feeling isolated, being taunted and bullied, and unnecessarily reprimanded. He had a hard time making friends with his classmates. In an interview with Fort Wayne’s NBC, he talked about having trouble with socializing and distraction, which affected his schoolwork. That’s why he wrote and illustrated his book: to help people better understand ASD. He and his mother hope it will spread awareness and knowledge of how to treat people who may have autism spectrum disorder.

    Denise Kenny says, “I feel so strongly that not enough people, even adults, understand, really, what autism is. Kids with autism or any other disability might seem different but, really, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be played with or don’t want friends. … It’s important that kids do know about it, so that when there is someone with autism in their grade or class then they can recognize it and be friends and accept their differences.”

    Ayden also hopes that the book will help kids with ASD feel seen. “Other people could be having the same struggles, so you can tell this story and it might help you relate to them,” said Kenny. “I also have trouble talking to kids on the playground. It’s mainly about awareness of autism and noting signs of autism, like people not liking change or not wanting to socialize. I hope it can help other people relate to kids with autism.”

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Adults Speak About their Autism Journey

    When we talk about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we’re often talking about how to help children facing the challenges that come with it. Children grow up, and if you’ve got a child with ASD you’ve probably thought a lot about your child’s future and how it will be different from the future of his or her neurotypical peers. ASD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that exists in people of all ages. So, what happens to adults with ASD?

  • Some adults struggle after leaving high school. About forty percent of adults with ASD don’t find a job in their early 20s, and some struggle with social interaction. Body language can be difficult to read, and people with ASD often have trouble understanding social interactions or making eye contact.

    On the other hand, many adults with autism spectrum disorder do quite well. Nicole Appel, for instance, is a successful artist with an enviable waitlist of collectors. She works part time at LAND Studio and Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, an exhibition space and studio for artists with developmental disabilities. “I enjoy making [drawings] and giving them. Both,” she says. “Giving people drawings makes them happy; making people happy makes me happy.”

    Alexis Wineman, another successful adult with ASD, is the first woman with autism spectrum disorder to participate in the Miss America competition. She was diagnosed in middle school and says, “Prior to being diagnosed with autism, neither I nor my family had an explanation for my meltdowns and other issues. After the diagnosis, it was incredible how my siblings reacted. They were superheroes. They took me everywhere and pushed me into activities. They helped me with homework. It was just amazing how they sprang into action after years of not knowing what was going on.”

    Familial support seems to be an important factor in the success of people with ASD. People without a strong support system can feel marginalized and have trouble thriving. As society becomes more accepting of people with ASD, embracing their differences instead of treating them as disabled, it becomes easier for those individuals to find their way in the world. Says Brooks Wolfner, a young man with ASD who works as a food services technician in a hospital, “I am aware that I have a disability, that I am different and that there are limitations to that. But I think being different is a good thing. If everyone were the same, it would be boring. It’s easier to accept and embrace who you are than to try to change. It’s easier to be happy.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Traveling During COVID with Your Children

    This has been a stressful year, and many people have put off traveling because of COVID safety concerns. Now, as the holidays approach, they’re wondering if it’s safe to travel again. For those with children, particularly children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s even more of a concern. Travel can be rough on a child with ASD, even under normal circumstances, and a global pandemic certainly adds a new layer of stress. There are a few steps you can take, however, to make traveling safer.

    • The first big question, of course, is whether COVID makes traveling unsafe. The answer depends on several factors. Do some homework before you make a plan, determining whether COVID-19 is spreading in your home community or your destination. Assess whether anyone in your family is at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. If you live in an area where rates are declining, you’re traveling somewhere that rates are declining, your family is healthy, and you’re willing to take a few precautions, you’re at lower risk.
    • If you do travel, what’s the best mode of transportation? Airlines have upped their cleaning procedures, installed hospital-grade air filtration, and put policies in place to adhere to pandemic guidelines. If you end up seated by an infected person, however, you risk contracting the virus. Traveling in a car with members of your household is relatively safe. The risk associated with car travel is, of course, stopping along the way to eat and use the restroom.
    • Traveling with children can be complicated. As a parent, you’ll need to prepare to meet your family’s needs. Currently, this means planning not just for travel, meals, and lodging, but also for COVID-19 protection. Teach children safety measures, like handwashing and social distancing, and explain that they’re going to need to wear masks in public places. Bring along hand sanitizer and wipes, and if you’re staying at a hotel or rental home, wipe down high-touch areas as soon as you arrive.
    • Prepare your child with ASD for the trip. Talk about the plans in advance, using tools like a calendar and social stories to explain what to expect. Rehearse situations you believe might be challenging and try to keep the sleeping and eating schedule close to the normal routine. Bring comfort items on the trip, along with documentation of your child’s diagnosis, in case you need to give someone an explanation. Make sure your child is comfortable wearing masks; airlines require them and be advised they don’t typically make exceptions for special-needs kids.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Navigating Broken Routines During the Holidays

    If you are the parent of a child with ASD, you know the importance of routines. Because children with ASD often display rigidity and are uncomfortable with changing plans, routines help to make them feel safe and secure. During the holidays, the disruption of the regular school schedule, paired with the disruptive and over-stimulating nature of the holidays themselves, can negatively impact a child with ASD. Don’t worry, you’ve got this. It just takes some thought and planning.

  • If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Distance Learning for Students with ASD

    Distance Learning for Students with ASD

    2020 has been a challenging year, and one of the highest hurdles for parents helping their children meet the demands of distance learning. Distance learning can be a struggle for any family, but if your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) it can be even more overwhelming. Don’t worry, you’ve got this! And we’ve got some tips to help you.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids and providing important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.