• 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.

  • Backyard games for kids with ASD

    One in 68 American children has what’s known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. Children with this condition face many challenges, including issues with nonverbal communication, speech, social skills, and repetitive behaviors. They also often have unique strengths that make them different. One way in which children with ASD are very much like neurotypical children, though, is in their need for play.

  • Play is so important in childhood that the United Nations has declared it a human right, and for children with ASD, it’s an extremely useful tool to teach developmental skills. Playing outside is especially important, because it promotes both imagination and problem-solving skills as well as reducing stress, improving vision, providing vitamin D, and boosting immunity. The challenge for parents of children with ASD is learning how to create a back yard that’s safe, accessible, functional, and sensory-friendly.

    • Create sensory activities to develop fine motor skills. A sandbox, bubbles, and water play are all examples of activities that stimulate the senses and the imagination. By using your own imagination, you’ll be able to think of other sensory opportunities as well.
    • Provide fun, physically stimulating activities. Swinging is a great activity for kids, and children with ASD find it especially calming. Playground games like hopscotch and Simon says can be fun, as can drawing with large sidewalk chalk.
    • Make it a family affair. Playing with your child benefits both of you, helping to create deeper bonds while you get exercise and fresh air. Have a family campout, play games together, watch wildlife or stargaze, or set up a background treasure hunt.
    • Give your child opportunities to interact with nature. Use a birdseed bin to create a bird sanctuary, allowing your child to experience not just the joy of birdwatching, but also the various textures of seeds and the use of buckets, cups, and shovels. Start a garden, perhaps growing vegetables, or maybe just planting flowers that will attract birds and butterflies.
    • Build an accessible space. Consider your child’s special needs, as well as the needs of other children who will play in your back yard, and design areas in your backyard that will facilitate inclusive play.
    • Make your back yard both fun and safe. For any child, safety measures like fences are a necessity. For children with ASD, it’s also important to create a space where they can feel safe if they feel overstimulated, like a play tunnel, a tent, or a clubhouse. Reducing noise can also be beneficial.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. 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. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Portrayal of ASD characters in TV and Film

    It’s natural for people to want to see others like them reflected in television and film. For people with ASD, the characters they see onscreen often serve a dual purpose, not just providing representation but also increasing awareness. As these characters increase in number, though, the stereotypes often increase with the awareness. This makes ASD character portrayals a hot button topic, with disagreement even among those in the ASD community about whether or not they’re beneficial.

    • One problem often cited is the feeling that these characters serve as stereotypical punchlines. The show “Atypical”, for instance, is sometimes lauded for addressing the difficulties faced by teenagers with ASD, but faces criticism for playing ASD for laughs, and not having people with ASD on the writing staff. Another stereotypical portrayal is Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”, a scientific genius with Asperger syndrome-like tendencies.
    • On the other hand, ASD is often portrayed too optimistically. In the movie “Rain Man”, Dustin Hoffman played a savant who could memorize half the names in the phone book in one reading. Similarly, “The Good Doctor” centers around a surgical resident who struggles with social skills, yet is a brilliant doctor. This perpetuates the idea that people with ASD are super-powered geniuses, when in fact people with ASD range from those with a genius-level IQ to those with intellectual disability.
    • Misunderstanding of ASD is often reflected in the creation of these characters. People with ASD tend to be portrayed as socially clueless, interested in geeky things like computer technology, math, or science, with odd ways of speaking or behaving, discomfort in social situations, impeccable ethics, and poor fashion sense. While some of these characteristics are shared by some people with ASD, the truth is that these portrayals do not sufficiently reflect ASD, particularly because people with these disorders are all unique individuals.
    • Still, there are some shining examples of realistic portrayals. For his character in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, Leonardo DiCaprio observed teenagers with ASD and other learning disabilities. Filmmaker Janel Grillo, who has a child with ASD, has written, produced, and directed “Fly Away” and “Jack of the Red Hearts”, which have won acclaim for their authenticity. Claire Danes, too, played real-life Doctor Temple Grandin authentically and accurately, bringing awareness to the achievements of this accomplished scientist and respected ASD advocate.
    • There are some benefits to the portrayals of people with ASD onscreen. They raise awareness and empathy, normalize neurodiversity, create conversations that promote understanding, and provide new opportunities for people with ASD.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. 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. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

    What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? It’s confusing, in part because it’s actually not a single disorder, but rather a group of closely related disorders. While the symptoms and severity of autism varies across individuals on the spectrum, people with ASD generally have trouble with social interaction, communication, empathy, and flexible behavior. It’s important to remember, though, especially if you have a child who has been diagnosed with ASD, that people with ASD are unique individuals. What’s important is not the terminology, but the particular needs of the person with ASD.

    The confusion surrounding ASD has a lot to do with the name. Until 2013, there were five different categories of autism spectrum disorders, and because many people were diagnosed with or educated about ASD before 2013, these old names persist. For the sake of clarity, though, these disorders are now included in the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or ASD. Before 2013, the three most common forms of autism spectrum disorders were Autistic Disorder or autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Autistic disorder was the most severe of the three, Asperger’s Syndrome was sometimes called “high-functioning autism,” and PDD-NOS was called atypical autism.

    To be more concise, ASD is a complex, lifelong developmental disorder that occurs in one out of every 54 people. It appears in childhood, and children with ASD have brains that develop differently than neurotypical children. Because of this they often have difficulty understanding and interacting with the world around them. There’s no known cause for ASD and there is no cure, but with early diagnosis, a person can receive the right support and treatment services to allow for a high-quality life, full of opportunity. Once diagnosed, a child can receive treatment and therapy that will help with speech, social interaction, and learning.

    Behaviors typically exhibited by children with ASD include:

    • Body language, gestures, and facial expressions that are unusual or inappropriate
    • A lack of interest in others, or in sharing interests or achievements
    • Disinterest in pursuing social interaction, difficulty making friends
    • Difficulty understanding the feelings, reactions, and nonverbal cues of others.
    • Resistance to being touched
    • Difficulty with speech and understanding words
    • Inability to pick up on humor, taking things too literally
    • Speech delay, atypical tone of voice, repetition
    • Inflexibility and resistance to change
    • Repetitive body movements, continuous movement
    • Irrational attachment to unusual objects like light switches or rubber bands
    • Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest
    • Clumsiness or odd ways of moving
    • Sensory issues that involve being oversensitive or under-sensitive to input

    Children with a few symptoms of ASD don’t necessarily have ASD, but if your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. 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. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Supporting your Child Whose Sibling has ASD

    When you’re the parent of a child with ASD, you know the impact Autism Spectrum Disorder can have on your entire family. What you may not realize is how much of a toll ASD can take on the siblings of the child with ASD. Studies indicate that siblings of children with ASD are at risk of anxiety, depression, and social difficulties. While you’re coping with the challenges facing your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, how can you support your child who does not have an ASD diagnosis?

    • Be understanding when your child has negative emotions about his or her sibling with ASD. Sometimes, a neurotypical child might be embarrassed by the behavior of a sibling with ASD, or jealous of the time and energy required from the parents. Whatever your child is feeling, honor that, and help the child to work through it.
    • Recognize that each child is unique, regardless of abilities or special needs. The child who doesn’t have ASD still needs to be recognized as a unique individual with his or her own needs, thoughts, hopes, and desires. Be mindful of your typical child’s needs, making a plan to handle difficult situations that may arise. This is especially important when ensuring that each of your children gets the academic support they need.
    • Nurture a relationship between the siblings. Sometimes it’s hard for a child to build a relationship with a sibling who has ASD. Fortunately, you can teach your children how to engage their sibling, so that the children can play together and form a bond. Most children with siblings who have ASD develop a fierce devotion and loyalty to their siblings.
    • Acknowledge that your neurotypical child may be responsible for his or her sibling later in life. It is likely that your child with ASD will outlive you and will need the support or even care of his sibling. Knowing this can be challenging to siblings trying to build their own lives, but you can help by encouraging them to form their own identities outside of the family, as well as discussing plans you have in place for your child with ASD.
    • Give each child one on one time. Your child with ASD needs to be a fully integrated member of your family, but that doesn’t mean that every activity must be shared by the whole family. Remember to give your neurotypical children regular, separate time, whether that’s one evening a week or just a few minutes each day. Make a point of celebrating each child’s achievements, and allow your children without ASD to be the central focus sometimes.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. 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.

  • Enjoying Springtime Activities with your Child with ASD

    Easter is something fun that can be challenging for a child with ASD. If you celebrate this holiday, it’s important to take some steps to make it fun for your child and not overwhelming.

    • Manage your own expectations. Especially if you have neurotypical children as well as a child with ASD, you may have a picture in your mind for how Easter is “supposed” to be. You may need to let that go, and just let it be what works best for your family.
    • The egg hunt can be altered to be ASD friendly.
      • If you’re going to an egg hunt with other families, practice ahead of time, explaining the rules.
      • Consider an egg hunt at home, limiting the eggs to just one or two colors.
      • Look for inclusive egg hunts in your area.
      • Be prepared to leave if your child isn’t into it or becomes overwhelmed.
      • Bring whatever your child might need to feel comfortable, whether it’s headphones, sunglasses, a snack, or some comfort item from home.
    • Be prepared to navigate social interaction, with a backup plan if it’s too much. Easter functions can involve big crowds and tons of other kids. Sometimes they can be rowdy and loud, and sometimes they might involve family gatherings with people who might not respect your child’s boundaries. Have a plan in place to make your child feel safe, even If that means leaving.

    Of course, Easter isn’t the only thing going on in the spring. There are plenty of fun things to do with your children, and the key to managing spring activities is to understand and accommodate your unique child.

    • Playgrounds can provide exercise and socialization, but they can also be overwhelming. Observe the playground before you go, looking for times where the crowds aren’t heavy. Better yet, look for an inclusive playground.
    • Earth Day can be very meaningful, but it might be better to avoid festival crowds. Instead, do an Earth Day craft, plant a garden, or simply take a walk with your children.
    • Getting outdoors with your child with ASD can be great fun for both of you. Draw with sidewalk chalk, blow bubbles. Create an obstacle course in your yard, using household items like hula hoops and jump ropes, and letting your child help set it up.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. 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.