• How to Make the Christmas Season Bright and Sensory Friendly

    The holidays can be hectic under the best of circumstances, but if you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you may be facing them with a sense of dread. This busy time of year, with all its sights, sounds, smells, and crowds can be absolutely overwhelming. How can you make the Christmas season merry and bright, while keeping it sensoryfriendly? 

    • For a child with ASD, the holidays can be a time of sensory overload. The mall can be overwhelming, even for neurotypical people, so do your best to avoid taking your child there if it’s not absolutely necessary. Shop online, find a sitter, or ask someone to pick a few things up for you. Look for “sensory-friendly” Santas and other low-key holiday options, and if you’re heading to a big holiday event, have a plan B in place just in case it’s too much for your child.  
    • Another issue with holidays is that they disrupt the normal routine. Consider carefully before you commit to things that will put a crimp in the schedule, and try to keep things as normal as possible. If you’re traveling, make sure to bring along your child’s favorite things, and try to stick to the regular routine in regard to things like mealtimes and bedtimes if you can. When you do choose to attend a special event, practice behaviors ahead of time so your child knows what to expect. Don’t be afraid to say no to things that you don’t believe will be in the best interest of your child. 
    • Visiting with unfamiliar friends and family members can be stressful for a child with ASD. Make a plan ahead of time, and anticipate which gatherings and traditions will be stressful for your child. Be polite but firm, and explain your child’s needs to family members, so that they can understand how best to help you, but bring your own necessities and have a plan in place to escape to a quiet room or another location if things become overwhelming.  
    • Have a plan in place for managing your own holidaysKeep things simple, and establish traditions that will be fun for everyone in your family. Don’t set unrealistic expectations, but try to stay low key when you can, while still considering the needs and desires of your other children and family members. Take care of yourself, too, and create the kind of holiday season that you’ll remember fondly in years to come.  

    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. 

     

  • Holiday Tips for Children with ASD

    For many people, the holiday season is a joyous and eagerly anticipated time of year. For families of people with autism spectrum disorders, it can also be a time of disrupted schedules, broken routines, and other challenges. How can families lessen the holiday stress and make this time of year more enjoyable? We’ve got some ideas, garnered from input given by the Autism Society, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Easter Seals Crossroads, the Sonya Ansari Center for Autism at Logan, and the Indiana Autism Leadership Network.  

    • Be prepared. Think about your child’s individual needs, and how much preparation is appropriate. If he or she suffers anxiety over upcoming events, you may need to consider how far in advance you reveal certain happenings. Use a calendar to mark the dates of different holiday events, creating a social story to explain what will happen at each event. Prepare yourself for the holidays too, realizing that you may be the recipient of unsolicited advice. Understanding that this advice will probably be well-meaning, practice saying “I’ll think about that” with a smile.  
    • Consider your decorations carefullyFor some children with ASD, decorations can be disruptive. To ready your child for the changes you plan to make to the house, it may be helpful to look at photos from previous holidays. It might also help to engage your child in the process of decorating, involving him or her in shopping for or putting up decorations. Once your decorations are in place, make sure you have direct, specific rules about what can and cannot be touched, and that you are consistent in enforcing the rules.  
    • Ring in the holidays gradually. Some children with ASD have trouble with changes in their environment. If that’s the case for your child, it may be best to decorate the house gradually, keeping the child as engaged in the process as possible. Creating a calendar detailing what will be done each day can also be beneficial.  
    • Limit obsessing over gifts. A child with ASD may obsess over a particular desired item, and if that’s the case, it can be helpful to set limits. Be specific about the number of times the gift can be mentioned, perhaps giving the child five chips or tokens, and explaining that he or she can exchange one token for a designated length of time spent discussing the gift. You can also offer to write the gift down on a wish list. Be clear with your intentions, and if you are not going to purchase the gift, explain that, too.  
    • Empower by teaching self-management. Teach your child how to get support when a situation becomes overwhelming. If you’re having visitors, for instance, create a safe space so that the child can exit the event if he or she is feeling overwhelmed. Encouraging this kind of self-management is empowering, and will serve your child into adulthood. If your child is not at that level of self-management, work together ahead of time on a signal or cue that will indicate anxiety, so that you can prompt your child to use the safe space. You might even want to practice using this space in a calm manner ahead of time.  
    • Bring a touch of home on your holiday travels. Take along your child’s favorite foods, books, and toys when you travel for the holidays because this can help to alleviate stressful situations. Before the trip, discuss what will happen on the trip, using social stories to rehearse scenarios like boarding a plane, and preparing the child for situations like delayed travel.  
    • Use a photo album to prepare for visiting familyShow your child photos of relatives and guests you will see during the holidays, speaking briefly about each person. Then allow your child unrestricted access to these photos during the holidays.  
    • Practice and use roleplay to prepare for gift exchanges and other traditionsRehearse scenarios like giving gifts, taking turns opening gifts, receiving gifts, and responding to an unwanted gift. You might also find it helpful to practice religious rituals your child will encounter during the holidays.  
    • Prepare your extended family with appropriate strategies. Help your family members understand the person in your family with ASD, letting them know whether hugs are appropriate, and other factors that can facilitate smooth interactions during the holiday season. Coach them on strategies for minimizing behavioral issues.  
    • Keep the sleeping and eating routines steady. If your child is on a special diet, have food available that he or she can eat. Be careful about sugar consumption, and try to keep the sleep and meal routines as close to normal as possible.  
    • Understand your loved one with ASD. Think about his or her individual needs, and know how much sensory input can be tolerated. Consider your child’s level of anxiety, and how to prepare for situations that may arise. Avoid stressful situations when possible, and be sensitive to your child’s need for a quiet place to regroup.  

    Knowing how to prepare can help you have an enjoyable holiday season, and knowing where to find the right resources can help you overcome the challenges of 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. 

  • Helping Children with Autism Learn to Communicate

    For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), communication can be a major challenge. Children whose language skills do not develop typically often have difficulty conveying their wants and needs effectively, which leads to frustration. This puts these children at risk of potentially harmful and misunderstood behaviors like tantrums, aggression, or self-injury. That’s why it’s vital to focus on working with children with ASD to help them develop communication skills.  

    One effective way of doing this is with functional communication training (FCT). Rather than teaching kids to label an item, FCT focuses on using language to get something needed or desired. This information is conveyed with language, signs, and pictures, to help individuals achieve a desired result. The object may be obtaining something like a toy or food, expressing the desire to participate in an activity, or stating a need for something like a trip to the bathroom or a break from something. Using positive reinforcement, FCT helps teach children about language and communication, in order to increase their ability to have their needs met by interacting effectively with others. By rewarding appropriate methods of communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, we’re able to empower children with ASD to advocate for their own wants and needs.  

    • How does FCT work? The first step in the process is to identify something that highly motivates the child. It could be a favorite television show, a toy, a favorite snack or an activity. The child is taught a sign or given a picture that represents that thing. Using errorless learning, the therapist guides the child to use that sign or picture in order to get the reward. Repeating this process, with the presentation of the picture or sign always bringing the earned reward, helps children become familiar with the process and more independent in communicating. As signs, words, or pictures are being consistently used correctly, new ones can be added gradually, to increase the child’s vocabulary.  
    • What are the goals of FCT? The goals vary between children, depending on the child’s level of communication. For children with complex needs or significant language impairment, it may be challenging to build a small repertoire of functional communication. Children with a higher level of function and less complex needs may be able to gain as much language as their typically developing peers, by using FCT. Using assistive tech, some children may be able to speak in full sentences. Others may only be able to use single words. It’s important to tailor the goals and the treatment to each unique child. That’s why functional communication training is typically taught one-on-one by a clinician with a speech or language pathology background, or by a behavioral psychologist trained in applied behavior analysis (ABA). A major factor in the success of FCT is reinforcement of the training by parents and teachers. It’s important for children to learn that the appropriate sign, word, or picture must be presented in order to obtain the desired reward.  
    • How does FCT help with behavioral issues? The development of functional communication training originated as a way to reduce troubling behaviors exhibited by children with ASD. By assessing the function of the inappropriate behaviors, we can determine the reason the child is behaving that way. If it’s because of a lack of communication, then teaching a child to communicate reliably and effectively should extinguish the behavior. For example, a child might engage in self-injurious behavior to get attention, access something he or she wants, escape something undesired, or serve a sensory need. When this succeeds, it’s accidentally reinforced, but with FCT, these unhealthy behavioral patterns can be broken. When a child learns to self-advocate using a word, sign, or picture and discovers that the reward is given quickly and efficiently, he or she is likely to choose the easier path of appropriate behavior.  
    • Does the age of the person with ASD matter in FCT? Functional communication training can work with every age, and some adults who have been introduced to FCT have been known to gain skills quickly. However, the earlier the intervention can happen, the better, because the younger the child is when the communication repertoire is built, the better off he or she will be.  

    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. 

  • Do Sensory Processing Issues Get Better Over Time?

    For children with an autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing issues can be problematic. Overwhelmed by loud, chaotic environments, children with ASD may become overstimulated and act out in ways that are unsafe or inappropriate. Sometimes, parents make the decision to stop taking children into crowded places, to avoid meltdowns. But do these problems resolve themselves as the child grows to maturity?  

    In short, yes. For most people with ASD, sensory issues become much milder as the child grows. Sometimes they resolve on their own, but even when they’re severe and continue for many years, sensory processing issues do improve. Often, this improvement can be enhanced by skills learned in occupational therapy or by providing the child with environmental accommodations.  

    • Understanding sensory processing issues. Often, children with ASD have trouble processing sensory information they take in through not only their five senses- taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell- but also through two lesserknown internal senses. These internal senses are proprioception, which has to do with body awareness and movement, and vestibular sense, which involves balance and coordination. When a child is overly sensitive to sensory input, it can become overwhelming, which leads to avoidance. On the other hand, some children are undersensitive, which can cause them to bump into things and people intentionally, and seek out additional sensory stimulation. Some children face both issues, depending on the type of stimulation.  
    • Occupational therapy may help. Occupational therapists use different strategies, like swinging, spinning, and deep pressure, to help kids calm down, and they work with children on gross and fine motor skills. Some OTs work in schools, consulting on accommodations for children with ASD and helping children to regulate within the environment of the classroom. Pillows for sitting, weighted vests, fidgets, and breathing exercises can all provide sensory input that helps children feel more in control.  
    • Continuing to use the coping skills learned in OT can be beneficial. Using weighted blankets, drinking through a straw, chewing gums, wearing headphones in public places, and using fidget toys are all compensatory measures that can be helpful even for teenagers and adults. As people grow and mature, they learn to avoid potentially overwhelming situations, and how to develop strategies for self-help.  
    • Maturity can also bring the motivation to tolerate discomfort. Young children are not as self-aware as teenagers and adults, and so they may not realize which behaviors are not socially appropriate. As kids grow up, they learn to manage some of their sensory issues, so that they can achieve things they want, like staying in a social situation a little while longer. There are also neurodevelopmental processes that can help change certain behaviors and improve sensory issues.  
    • Sometimes, sensory issues stick around. Not everyone with sensory issues improve with time. Some people still require some accommodation in order to function in situations that they find stressful or overwhelming. Knowing how to adapt and how to self-advocate is important in managing sensory issues. Avoiding triggers like crowds and loud noises can help, as can compensatory tools like soft clothing and dark glasses. Technology is also a boon, and there are adaptive and assistive technology tools that can help people with sensory processing issues accomplish things they might otherwise have been unable to manage.  

    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. 

  • Conditions that Commonly Accompany Autism Spectrum Disorder

    People with Autism Spectrum Disorder face many challenges, not just from ASD, but also from conditions that often accompany it. Varying from one person to the next, these co-occurring conditions can have an impact on the timing of an ASD diagnosis, or can exacerbate symptoms. Since more than half of people with ASD have four or more accompanying conditions, it’s important to understand how some of the more common ones interact with ASD.  

    Conditions that coincide with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically fall into one of four categories: medical problems, developmental diagnoses, mental-health conditions, and genetic conditions. Examples of medical issues include epilepsy, gastrointestinal problems, or sleep disorders, while genetic conditions may include things like tuberous sclerosis complex and fragile X syndrome. Developmental diagnoses like language delay or an intellectual disability are common, as are mental-health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

    The occurrence of these conditions is hard to estimate, largely because of differences in diagnostic criteria and the diversity of people who have ASD. A child with a mood disorder, for instance, may not be accurately diagnosed if he or she does not speak. What’s more, presenting concerns like anxiety can look different in people with ASD than they do in those who are neurotypical. To try and overcome difficulties in diagnosis, researchers are looking for innovative solutions, like an autism-specific depression-screening questionnaire.  

    It’s important that we take a closer look at these co-occurring conditions because they can have a direct impact on a person’s well-being. If we could reach a better understanding of these conditions, we could improve the quality of life for people with ASD. Sometimes, resolving one of these accompanying conditions may even ease the symptoms of ASD. For instance, when sleep or gastrointestinal problems are resolved, the result is often improved mood and a decrease in the severity of challenging behaviors.  

    Unfortunately, the conditions that accompany ASD may complicate the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. That’s because there can be overlap between the traits of ASD and the symptoms of a co-occurring condition. Sometimes, the relationship between these conditions and ASD is complicated and multifaceted. Through further studying these conditions and their connections to Autism Spectrum Disorder, researchers are hoping to come to a better understanding of how the conditions relate and how to help people with ASD live better lives. 

    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 805.644.7827.  

  • Understanding Asperger’s 

    How much do you know about Asperger’s? Asperger’s is a mild form of Autism Spectrum Disorderand some experts believe it’s present in at least one in every 250 people. Many historical figures, like Mozart, Einstein, Marie Curie, and Thomas Jefferson, have shown symptoms of Asperger’s, and yet the condition is not something that most people really understand. Recently, Josephine Mele, whose grandson has Asperger’s, came up with an ingenious way to help people understand Asperger’s, using this ABC guide.  

    • A: Aloof. Kids with Asperger’s are often perceived as aloof, when in fact, it’s just that they lack social skills. They’re not always good with abstract concepts, so they’re better at games with step-by-step rules.  
    • BBehavior. Sometimes people perceive children with Asperger’s or another type of Autism Spectrum Disorder as having behavioral problems, but it’s actually a medical problem.  
    • C: Conversation. Conversations can be awkward for a child with Asperger’ because they don’t understand small talk. Instead, they use talking simply to share information. 
    • D: Different. A child with Asperger’s typically becomes aware of his or her differences from other kids at around age 7.  
    • E: Eye contact. Children with Asperger’s tend to avoid eye contact, even as infants. They may have trouble concentrating on what someone is saying if they are looking into a person’s eyes.  
    • F: Favorite subjects. A child with Asperger’s will want to talk about every detail of a favorite topic, whether or not the other person is interested.  
    • G: Groups. Groups are often a problem for kids with Asperger’s because they have an unusually strong sense of hearing. Overwhelmed by the noise level of a large group, they may act out.  
    • H: Hyperactive. Hyperactivity is a common symptom of Asperger’s. 
    • I: Impulsive. Because of an inability to see things from another person’s perspective, kids with Asperger’s often display impulsive behavior that can be embarrassing for parents in public.  
    • J: Jokes. Kids with Asperger’s tend to absorb information literally, so they often have trouble with pretend play or jokes.  
    • K: Kindergarten. Kindergarten can be challenging for a child with Asperger’s because everything is new, unfamiliar, and confusing.  
    • L: Listening. Kids who have Asperger’s can be good at listening, even if they don’t seem to be paying attention. When they’re not interested in the topic, though, they may not listen. 
    • M: Motor skills. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to have difficulty with muscle control, which impedes their motor skills.  
    • N: Naïve. Because kids with Asperger’s are honest, with good intentions, and expect others to be the same, they’re often the target of practical jokers and bullies. They take things at face value and believe things without question.  
    • O: Order. Kids with Asperger’s function better when everything is in the same place all the time: order is important. 
    • P: Patience. Like other kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, children with Asperger’s lack patience when they need something, but have a lot of patience with babies, animals, older people, and people with special needs.  
    • Q: Questions. Lacking a social filter, kids with Asperger’s may ask questions at inappropriate times and don’t respond when told to stop.  
    • R: Routine. Routines are absolutely necessary, and kids with Asperger’s may have trouble coping with changes to the schedule or rules. 
    • S: Sitting. Sitting still can be difficult with Asperger’s, because cramping, twitching muscles can pose a physical problem. 
    • T: Tantrums. Tantrums thrown by a child with Asperger’ can be out of control, and often seem to lack cause.  
    • U: Understanding. Kids with Asperger’require extra understanding because they learn differently than other children.  
    • V: Voice. Children with Asperger’s may have trouble reading aloud, because their voices often sound like they lack intonation or emotion, and each word is spoken as stand-alone information rather than part of a story. 
    • W: Weight. Full-length body contact, perhaps from a heavy blanket or a strong hug, can calm down an overactive brain. 
    • X: X-ray. Doctors are using x-rays and brain scans to gather more information on Asperger’sThis is how they know that the brain of someone with Asperger’s works differently than a neurotypical brain.  
    • Y: Young. The younger a child can be diagnosed with Asperger’s, the sooner he or she can get the help needed to be successful. That’s why all children should be screened for developmental delays at 18 and 24 months old.  
    • Z: Zone. Children with Asperger’s can get so deeply involved in what they’re doing that it’s often hard to get them out of the zone and help them focus on something else. Setting a time limit, requiring breaks, and giving a warning may help.  

    Learning about Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder is the first step towards understanding and being able to help a child with ASD navigate the world. 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.

  • Sesame Street Character Speaks Volumes About Life on the Spectrum 

    Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 in 68 kids in the United States, and yet for children with ASD, it can often be challenging to find themselves reflected in our culture. In an exciting move, long-running children’s show, Sesame Street, has taken a step to remedy that. Julia, a sweet little girl who loves the show’s theme song, “Sunny Days,” has just been introduced as the first Muppet with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

    Sesame Street has been on since 1969, and it still has a powerful effect on children. What makes the program so unique is that it’s created as a realistic place that resembles what children actually experience in the world. Though the Muppets themselves are fantastical characters, their experiences mirror reality in a way that children can appreciate and understand. Through these relatable characters, Sesame Street has tackled issues like death, hunger, incarcerated parents, and even HIV, helping children understand the world around them even as they’re learning their ABC’s and 1,2,3’s.  

    The idea for a character with ASD originated in the late 1990s with Leslie Kimmelman, then an editor at Sesame Magazine. Her young son, Greg, had Autism Spectrum Disorder and seemed to really connect with the Sesame Street characters and content, singing along with the songs and developing a fascination with Elmo. Kimmelman discovered that there were other parents on staff whose children had ASD, and they began discussing the possibility of giving the children an opportunity to see a reflection of themselves on the show. What’s more, they thought, a character with ASD would give other children a chance to better understand the disorder as well.  

    The challenge of creating such a character had to do with ASD itself. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are an extremely diverse group, ranging from children who are chatty but socially unaware to children who do not speak and have significant sensory issues. Some people with ASD need support for the most basic needs, while others are simply differently-abled, rather than disabled. How could a Sesame Street character navigate the landscape of ASD, offering an accurate representation when the defining characteristics are so wide-ranging? 

    To tackle this project, Sesame Street consulted with educators, psychologists, and activists. Starting in 2010, their creative teams worked with experts on ASD, Sesame staff visited schools and clinics, and Leslie Kimmelman was asked to write a storybook in which a character with ASD was featured. Once they decided that the character would be a girl, Kimmelman named her Julia, after her older daughter, and her book, We’re Amazing, 1,2,3introduced Julia to the world in 2015.  

    The central theme behind Sesame Street’s approach to ASD is that it doesn’t define a person. Understanding that it’s human nature to define people by what makes them different from us, Sesame’s response is the concept, “See Amazing in All Children.” Just as Big Bird is not defined by his feathers and Oscar’s worth is not determined by his trashcan, Julia has her own unique personality, in which ASD is merely a factor.  

    Bringing Julia to life is a team of artists, writers, actors, puppeteers, and others who often draw on their own lives for inspiration. The puppeteer has a son with ASD, the designer has a friend with ASD, and the person with ASD in the scriptwriter’s life is her older brother. Their experiences in life inform their work and help make Julia a fully realized character. Their goals include clarifying and destigmatizing Autism Spectrum Disorder for viewers.  

    Julia’s on-air debut happened this past April, during Autism Awareness Month, on an episode in which she creates a vivid, precise painting and plays tag with the other kids on Sesame Street. Along the way she behaves in ways that confuse Big Bird, failing to respond when he says hello, for example, flapping her arms when she’s excited, and jumping up and down while playing tag. Abby Cadabby, another popular character on the show, acts as Julia’s champion and Big Bird’s guide, explaining that Julia has ASD and “just does things a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.” 

    The response to this new character has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder feel that their kids are being validated by seeing a character with whom they can relate, and people with ASD are responding with letters and emails expressing excitement over seeing a reflection of themselves on Sesame Street. The Georgetown Center for Child and Human Development, studying the impact of Sesame Street’s autism initiative’s website, stated that the site can help “reduce biases and stigma, increase acceptance and inclusion, and empower ASD with knowledge and positive information about themselves.” Those are worthy goals, and certainly challenging, but with the help of Julia, Sesame Street is well on the way to helping bring positive change to societal attitudes about children 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.  

  • A Guide to Helping Children with Special Needs Change Schools

    With a new school year right around the corner, most parents are focused on back-to-school shopping. However, as the parent of a special-needs child, you have more on your mind than merely stocking up on binders and mechanical pencils.  

    As you well know, children and teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning disabilities, sensory issues, and other special needs have a more difficult time adjusting to changes than typically developing kids. So if you moved over the summer, or your child is transitioning from pre-K to elementary school or elementary to middle school, joining a new class could be especially stressful this year. Here’s a guide to help your child with special needs change schools successfully. 

    • Communicate: The more information you can give your child about their new school, the better. Be open about answering your child’s questions and letting them know what to expect. 
    • Focus on the positives: Reassure your child that while change makes people nervous, a new setting has lots of positives, such as getting to have fun and meet new peopleAsk family members, friends, and therapists to share examples of times they went through a scary change and how it all turned out great in the end. 
    • Tour the school: Contact the school to find out if your child can walk the halls, have a guided tour, or even get to meet their teachers before school starts. If a tour isn’t possible, you can at least visit the school and walk the grounds to get your child familiar with the location. 
    • Arrange playdates: Ask the school about other special-needs kids in your child’s class so you can contact their parents. Find out if any are interested in getting together before school starts. This gives your child a chance to make friends with classmates so they have few friendly faces to look for on the first day of school. 
    • Read school transition books with your child: Engaging titles that give young special-needs children more confidence about attending a new school include Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate; Yoko and My Kindergarten by Rosemary Wells; and I am Too Absolutely Small for Kindergarten by Lauren Childs. For soon-to-be middle schoolers, try Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins or The Detention Club by David Yoo. 
    • Inform teachers, staff, and therapists about your child: Write up a concise, one- to two-page letter outlining your child’s strengths, weaknesses, sensory issues, preferred reinforcersand dietary restrictions, if any. This gives school staff an important head’s up about your child’s special needs and opens up a channel of communication.  

    Feel free to modify the tips in this guide to match your child’s age, challenges, and capabilities. The compassionate team at STAR of CA can help! Our behavioral and psychological services for people with ASD in Ventura, CA can help your child more confidently tackle the upcoming school year. To learn more about our individualized programs, please contact us at 805.588.8896. 

  • Helpful Apps for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Mobile apps available on smartphones and tablets have transformed the way kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn and communicate. They give parents, teachers, and therapists additional options for teaching children who develop at a different pace than their peers. Here are the apps we find most helpful for pre-K and kindergarten children with ASD. 

    Starfall ABCs 

    This app teaches the alphabet by helping young learners sound out letters. Children are delighted by the sights, sounds, and ability to interact with the brightly colored letters on the screen. 

    Download Starfall ABCs for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. 

    Starfall Learn to Read 

    Once children master their letters and the sounds they make, it’s time to start reading! This app helps children grasp the relationship between the spoken and written language while having fun with Zac the Rat, Peg the Hen, and other friendly characters. 

    Download Starfall Learn to Read for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. 

    The Monster at the End of This Book 

    This storybook app from Sesame Street is bright, playful, and laugh-out-loud funny! It features notes for parents trying to help kids overcome their fears, along with tips to make reading the story more interactive. 

    Download The Monster at the End of This Book for $4.99 from the Apple App Store or $3.99 from Google Play. 

    Autism Emotion 

    One challenge of Autism Spectrum Disorder is the limited ability to recognize facial expressions and emotions. This app uses music and slideshows to depict what different feelings look like and why different situations make people feel a certain way. 

    Download Autism Emotion for free from the Apple App Store. 

    Pop Math 

    This app is a fun way for kids to practice basic math skills. Bubbles with numbers and simple equations float on illustrated backgrounds. The player pops the correct bubbles to move on to the next level! 

    Download Pop Math for $1.99 from the Apple App Store or $.99 from Google Play. 

    Toca Boca 

    The Toca Boca universe grants kids access to open-ended, gender-neutral games ranging from Toca Kitchen Sushi to Toca Mystery House to Toca Life: Hospital. The interactive app offers appealing characters and roleplaying opportunities. 

    Check out the Toca Boca library with apps available for both Apple and Android devices. 

    Agnitus Kids: Learn Math & ABC 

    Agnitus provides a range of educational games that teach fine motor skills, letters, numbers, math, memory, and recognition. The app was designed by teachers who follow the common core curriculum 

    Download Agnitus Kids: Learn Math & ABC for free from the Apple App Store. 

    At STAR of CA, we believe in taking advantage of all available resources to help your child learn and grow. In addition to trying out these educational apps, we invite you to check out our behavioral and psychological services for people with ASD in Ventura, CA. We can help you create a personalized program to meet your child and family’s needs. To learn more about us, please contact us at 805.588.8896. 

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder Myths

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 59 US children sits somewhere along the autism spectrum. Despite how relatively common this condition is, it remains quite misunderstood by the general public. One reason is because it took the better part of a century for researchers and behaviorists to even understand what Autism Spectrum Disorder is—and what it isn’t. If your child was recently diagnosed with ASD, make sure you can distinguish the myths from the truth. 

    Myth: Kids with ASD are not interested in having friends. 

    Some parents with newly diagnosed children may say, “But my son can’t be on the autism spectrum—he’s interested in other kids.” However, the defining characteristic of ASD isn’t a lack of motivation to socialize—it’s a lack of skills needed to socialize appropriately.    

    In fact, many children on the spectrum desperately want to make friends, but they don’t know how. They may not know how to respond to a peer showing them a new toy or how to initiate a game of tag with a peer effectively; it may look a little awkward.  They may end up being socially isolated as they get older, but not by choice. With repeated unsuccessful attempts at socializing and making connections, they may stop trying.  This is a critical myth to understand as the parent of a child with ASD. 

    Myth: Every person with ASD is a savant. 

    While precision, attention to detail, and impressive technological skills are common among people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, genuine “autistic savants,” like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, are rare. According to Advanced Proficiency and Exceptional Ability in Second Languages, only about one in a million people have savant syndrome, and about 30 to 50 percent of these individuals are also diagnosed with ASD. Still, there’s no doubt that people on the autism spectrum see the world differently, which can grant unique skills, talents, and passions if honed correctly. 

    Myth: Vaccines cause Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

    This myth surfaced in 1998 when a doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a flawed study linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Celebrity moms, such as Jenny McCarthy, openly blamed vaccines for their children’s autism, further perpetuating the myth. 

    However, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphiaseveral studies disprove the notion that the MMR vaccine is linked to ASD. Here are some examples: 

    • 1999 study of 498 children with ASD: There is no difference in the prevalence and age at diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in vaccinated and unvaccinated children. 
    • Seven-year study from 1991 to 1998 of over 535,000 children: The risk of autism is the same between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. 
    • Three studies ranging from 1977 to 1995: If one identical twin is diagnosed with ASD, the other is as well 92 percent of the time. The rate is only 10 percent when the twins are fraternal, demonstrating that ASD is genetic and not linked to vaccines. 
    • Comprehensive review of ASD and family home movies compiled in 2006: Children exhibit subtle symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder before reaching one year of age, and therefore, prior to receiving the MMR vaccine. 

    Myth: “Fad” treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder are effective. 

    Various diets, vitamins, and a heavy metal-removing process called chelation have all been touted as potential treatments for ASD. Howeverto date, these methods have no scientific backing. The best way to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder is with behavioral intervention designed to teach children social and communication skills that help them access their needs, build meaningful relationships, and improve their quality of life 

    STAR of CA in Ventura, CA offers the behavioral and psychological services you’re seeking for your child. We can develop an individualized program to facilitate your child’s unique learning style. To learn more about our evidence-based treatments, please contact us at 805.588.8896.