• 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.

  • Keep as regular a routine as possible. A different set of events on your schedule doesn’t mean some things can’t stay the same. Keeping the same bedtime every night, waking at the usual time, and keeping mealtimes to a normal schedule can go a long way towards a successful holiday. Even if you’re traveling, try to keep things as close to the usual routine as possible.
  • Discuss disruptions ahead of time. This is one of the most important things you can do, and there are many tools for you to use. Keep a calendar with your whole schedule clearly posted and use social stories to explain to your children how events are going to happen. Try a first/then strategy to help children know what to expect: First we’ll go to the parade, then we’ll have lunch. It’s also good to use warnings, letting kids know when a transition is imminent.
  • Limit screen time. It’s easy to let kids zone out in front of screens when they’re out of school, but it’s beneficial in the long run to set reasonable limits.
  • Involve kids in planning and preparation. Let kids weigh in on the family traditions that are most important to them. Then, let them help make the holidays happen. Making place cards for Thanksgiving, helping to put up decorations or set the table, picking out items to donate, choosing or making gifts for family members- these are all things that children can do. When you let them help, it can ease the stress of a disrupted routine.
  • Set your family up for success. Do you have your heart set on Santa pics? Find a sensory-friendly Santa. For a parade, bring headphones and a blanket. If you suspect an event will be overwhelming, have an exit strategy in place.
  • Two words: Simplicity and Flexibility. When you keep things as simple as you can, you take pressure off of yourself and your kids. When you remain flexible, you’ll be better able to handle the challenges you encounter, and you’ll be modeling an important life skill.

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.

    • Create a routine. Your school may post a schedule but if not, it’s an important thing for you to do for your student. Children with ASD do best with a structured routine because knowing what comes next can be calming. Create a set start and end time, do the same subjects in the same order, every day. Spend the same amount of time on each subject, with breaks in between classes, and post the schedule near the child’s workspace.
    • Diminish distractions. Using the same distraction-free learning area every day will help your child to focus. Try to find a learning area that’s separate from pets and siblings; remove distractions. Make sure all learning materials are close at hand and consider headphones to help improve focus.
    • Accommodate sensory needs. At school, kids with ASD often get help managing sensory issues, using things like quiet breaks, active time, or sensory stimulation. Implement these practices at home, utilizing tools like fidget toys and bouncy chairs to help your child cope. Don’t have a bouncy chair? A stack of pillows makes a good substitute.
    • Make the schedule visual. Transitions can be hard for kids with ASD, but visual cues can make them easier. Take photos that represent each class and break, creating a visual schedule so your child can clearly see what comes next.
    • Incorporate learning into everyday life. This is important for all kids, but especially children with ASD. Use items around the house to practice skills like matching, stacking, and following directions. The more advanced your learner, the more you can assign chores that will teach vital life skills.
    • Do some learning of your own. You have a distinct advantage: you know your child better than anyone else. If you don’t have training in special education, though, it may be a good time to get some. Look for parent training resources from places like The UC Davis MIND Instituteor the Autism Research Institute.
    • Remember that you can do this. Distance learning is a challenge, but you’re used to overcoming challenges! Take advantage of resources available to you, lean on your community of support, and don’t underestimate your own abilities.

    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.

  • Fun Activities for Fall

    Fun Activities for Fall

    Fall is such a great time of year. Cooler days, nights bordering on brisk, cozy sweaters, and comfort foods are the hallmarks of the season. It’s also the perfect time to have some fun with your kids! We’ve got a few suggestions.

    • Go for roll. Rolling down a hill is great fun, and a great way to build large motor coordination and vestibular orientation. If your child seems put-off by the idea, sliding down a grassy hill on a cardboard square is just as fun.
    • Make the most of the fall leaves. Grab a couple of rakes and let kids rake them into piles, then jump in the piles to enjoy the satisfying crunch and earthy smell. After they’re worn out from the jumping, they can rake the leaves again and bag them. Raking, bagging, and dragging the bags down the driveway build muscle tone, improve circulation, instill a healthy work ethic, and promote life skills.
    • Go exploring. Take a hike, packing a snack and plenty of water. Or take it further into the woods and camp out overnight. Fall is perfect for camping and cooking over a campfire! It’s also a great time to explore fall activities. Hit the pumpkin patch, go apple picking, or take the kids on a hayride. There’s so much to experience this season.
    • Have fun in your own back yard. Or front yard, or sidewalk, or driveway- there are plenty of ways to have fall fun at home! Draw with sidewalk chalk, make homemade apple stamps, or create an outdoor obstacle course. Carve pumpkins, giving your kids the sensory experience of digging out the guts. Another fun thing to do is create a treasure hunt for your kids. Give them a list of seasonal items to find: a pinecone, a stick, a red leaf, and so on. When they collect all the treasures, discuss about what makes each item special.
    • Taste the season. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores, enjoying the flavors, scents, and ooey-gooey texture. Baking seasonal treats together is a fun and educational activity. Let your kids measure, pour, stir, and perhaps crack an egg! It can get messy, but the treat will be its own reward and your children will have built meaningful skills.
    • Make a sensory box. Fall has a wealth of wonderful sensory items. Mini pumpkins, bumpy gourds, dried corn on the cob, corn husks, popping corn kernels, and beans will have your child scooping, pouring, grabbing, and enjoying the textures and colors while developing motor skills.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with 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.

  • The Basics of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)

    If your child has recently been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you’ve probably been investigating different therapeutic options to help your child thrive. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy that has been shown to significantly improve behavior and skills in people with ASD, so it’s worth learning more about. Here, we offer a brief overview of ABA to help you decide if it’s right for your child.

    • ABA focuses on improving specific behaviors by adjusting the environment and consequences. These behaviors include social skills, communication, reading, and academics, but they also include adaptive learning skills like fine motor dexterity, hygiene, grooming, domestic capabilities, and job competence. When ABA is used consistently, it is effective for children and adults, and can improve behaviors and skills to the degree that the need for special services is decreased.
    • To influence behavior, we must understand it. When we use ABA, we take a scientific approach to understanding behavior, focusing on how behaviors change, how environment affects behaviors, and how learning takes place. The principles of ABA address environmental variables that impact behavior, known as antecedents and consequences. Antecedents happen right before a behavior, and consequences follow the behavior. Comprehensive ABA plans address antecedents, behaviors, and consequences and find ways to modify the antecedents and consequences to impact behavior.
    • Applied Behavior Analysis principals are used in several different ways. Sometimes, the goal is to increase certain behaviors, like listening to speakers or greeting people. It may be that you want to maintain behaviors, as in the case of reading previously learned sight words. ABA can also be used to help generalize or transfer behavior from one situation to another, and to reduce challenging behaviors.
    • Used correctly, ABA helps people manage many lifestyle challenges. When applied systematically, ABA principles can help individuals learn new skills and apply them in their daily lives. The range of behaviors that can be addressed is far reaching and includes things as diverse as social skills, reading, toileting, riding a bus, requesting objects, and conversing with colleagues.
    • Antecedents and consequences can be altered to affect learning. To target antecedents, instruction, instructional materials, environment, and student tasks can modified to meet the needs of the student. To implement consequences, negative and positive reinforcement can both be used effectively. It’s important, when using ABA, to have clear goals, measurable outcomes, and consistency. The best results are accomplished under heavy monitoring and continuous evaluation by a qualified applied behavior analyst.

     

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services, including ABA, to people with ASD and related disorders. Our nurturing environment offers support not only to those with ASD but also to the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Facts and Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 54 children in the U.S., and yet is still largely misunderstood. A developmental disability, ASD affects how people with the disorder communicate, interact with others, behave, and learn. The symptoms range from mild to more severe, and ASD affects different people differently. Let’s look at some common myths, and clarify some facts about autism spectrum disorder.

    • Myth: People with ASD don’t feel, express, or understand emotions.
      • Fact: People with ASD have feelings like everyone else, but they may communicate them differently. When other people communicate their emotions directly, people with ASD usually feel empathy and compassion. Sometimes they may have trouble understanding unspoken interpersonal communication, though, so things like body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions may not be as easy for them to read.
    • Myth: A person with ASD doesn’t need friends.
      • Fact: People with ASD may seem like they want to be left alone, or have trouble interacting with peers. This is just because they sometimes struggle with social skills, and not because they are unfriendly.
    • Myth: Boys and girls are affected equally by autism spectrum disorder.
      • Fact: According to data collected in 2016, while 1 in 34 boys was identified with ASD, only 1 in 144 girls received the same diagnosis.
    • Myth: People with ASD are intellectually disabled.
      • Fact: While about 31 percent of people with ASD have an intellectual disability, and 25 percent are in the borderline range, 44 percent have an IQ over 85. Many people with ASD have exceptional abilities. They can have high IQs and excel in different areas, like math or music.
    • Myth: ASD only affects children, and while children with ASD may exhibit odd behaviors, they’ll eventually grow out of it.
      • Fact: Autism spectrum disorder is the result of biological conditions that affect brain development, and children with ASD will still have ASD when they are adults.
    • Myth: Autism spectrum disorder is caused by poor parenting, emotional neglect, or vaccines.
      • Fact: There used to be a theory that mothers who weren’t emotionally warm caused autism spectrum disorder, but that’s long been proven inaccurate. And while the assertion that vaccines cause ASD has made the news, research does not support this theory.
    • Myth: There is no effective treatment for ASD.
      • Fact: While there’s no cure for this lifelong disorder, there are many therapies and treatments that can help children with ASD. Early intervention is important, which is crucial for parents to be alert to signs of ASD.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with 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.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder Through Life

    Many people think of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a disorder of childhood, but it’s actually a lifelong condition. It’s important to know, however, that while early childhood intervention can be extremely helpful, ongoing support is necessary to help people with ASD thrive throughout their lives. Like all people, people with ASD go through many significant changes in their lives. For a high quality of life, people with ASD need a firm foundation in childhood, but also ongoing support that meets their needs.

    • In early childhood, identification is important. Children can demonstrate behaviors associated with ASD as young as 18 months old, and if parents are paying attention to these symptoms, they can get an early diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows parents, therapists, and other specialists to start treatments early, which can reduce lifetime care costs by about two-thirds.
    • The next step is to build a solid foundation. During childhood and adolescence, parents and caregivers should work to help kids build life skills. You’ll want to help your child build communication skills, use a visual calendar to teach transitions between activities, and encourage self-advocacy and how to ask for things when he or she needs them. Working on self-care skills is an important step towards becoming independent, but in addition to knowing how to care for his or her own personal hygiene, your child should be learning to do household chores at an age appropriate level. As kids get older, they need to learn things like money management and safety in the community, and by the time they’re teenagers, they should be working on vocational skills. Another thing to consider when helping a child with ASD is leisure activities. Kids with ASD often have hyper-focused interests, and you can sometimes use these interests to engage them in community activities like team sports, music groups, and more.
    • Adults with ASD still need access to services and support. The goal should be maximized independence and the highest quality of life, and for many, this means employment and living in the community. It’s vital for people with autism spectrum disorder to know how to self-advocate, and it’s important for them to have support to help them live lives of happiness and dignity.
    • Each person with ASD is unique. Because of this, the experiences of each person and family are different. There are some consistent themes and issues, but it’s important to find the right support to help each individual succeed and thrive.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with 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.

  • Summer Activities for Children

  • Anxiety during a difficult time

    It’s hard to imagine that there’s a person who hasn’t suffered some anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anxiety does serve a purpose: it’s meant to protect us from threats by preparing us to respond to a crisis. It becomes a problem when we feel paralyzed by the need for assurance that we’re safe. Some people can tolerate discomfort and manage their anxiety, while others may be having trouble coping.

    How do you know if anxiety has become a problem for you? The answer is different for everyone. It’s normal to be anxious when life has dramatically changed, and our health and welfare are both threatened. It’s reasonable to be anxious about that, and anxiety can bring symptoms like chronic worry, restlessness, insomnia, feelings of dread, tense muscles, irritability, and a fight response. You might feel sad or hopeless, or panicky and overwhelmed. Consider this: trying to figure out if your anxiety is a problem can actually make you feel more anxious. The best approach is to prioritize taking care of yourself and your mental health, being open to the idea of asking for help if you need it. Here are some thoughts on how to do that:

    • Limit your exposure to stressful information. Yes, it’s prudent to keep abreast of the facts regarding the pandemic. However, staying too plugged in will almost certainly result in heightened anxiety. Get your information from trustworthy sources, setting boundaries as to exactly how much information you consume. If this means disconnecting from social media, it may be worth the peace of mind.
    • Focus on what you can control. Certain things are within your control, like sticking to the recommended preventative measures. You might also prepare an emergency kit and stock your pantry with shelf-stable foods. Do these things calmly, making sure not to let yourself spiral into panic.
    • Give your anxiety 15 minutes, then set it aside. Write down your worries, taking the full 15 minutes, and then go do something else. You might try guided meditation to quiet your mind. Remember, you don’t have to act on your anxieties, and sometimes the very act of writing them down can help you release them.
    • Stay connected to other people. This may take some creativity, but it’s important to avoid the isolation that can result in even more anxiety.
    • Seek the help of a professional if you need it. It’s surprisingly easy to get help from a therapist these days. Many mental health professionals are offering telehealth visits, preventing the anxiety that comes with having to physically go to an appointment.

    STAR of CA is here to offer support for people with special needs, providing important support services for adults, children, and families. 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 Games can Help Children with Autism

    For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), communication and social interaction can be challenging. It can be difficult to make friends because kids with ASD often find it hard to read social cues. Now, therapists are beginning to use fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) to help these young people engage with others, building social skills, confidence, and other skills. Dungeons and Dragons is one example of a game being successfully used for this purpose, but there are other RPGs out there that provide similar benefits. Why are these games so helpful?

    • They’re collaborative. To effectively work with party members, players collaborate and create strategies. This helps develop communication skills, and triumphing together as a party strengthens bonds, increasing trust between players. It’s easy to see how the skills developed in these collaborations can be useful in real life.
    • They provide the opportunity to develop decision-making skills. People with ASD often struggle with making decisions, but an RPG provides structure to help them learn to do this. There are character traits and backstories to choose, and players must make choices about their actions. Because this is an environment with no consequences in the real world, it takes the pressure off achieving a successful outcome. Players learn that decisions don’t necessarily have a set outcome but can result in a variety of conclusions.
    • They’re transformative, allowing players to “become” someone else. These games are escapist, and players can base their character or their character’s ideals on themselves or make them the exact opposite. It’s a safe space to try on new identities and observe what happens.
    • The games involve rules and consequences. These games have rules and structure built in, and the actions and decisions players make can result in different consequences.
    • They’re interactive, giving kids opportunities to make friends and build social skills. These aren’t games that you can easily play on your own. Getting into character and interacting with other players can build confidence, increase social skills, and help start conversations. Along the way, friendships form as players connect with like-minded people.
    • They require imagination, creativity, and flexibility. RPGs involve fantasy, and because they’re not video games, they require visualization. Players get to imagine whole worlds and civilizations, including fight scenes, cities, monsters, and fantastic creatures. They also have to be flexible, because the games require improvisation when a decision doesn’t have the intended result.
    • There’s no right or wrong way to play. People with ASD often fear failure, so the highly personalized gameplay in an RPG

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with 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.