• 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Review of Pixar’s ‘Float’

    Rubio created the film out of his own experience, drawing on his real-life relationship with his son, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The diagnosis was difficult for Rubio to process, and his wife suggested he use his art to work through it and express what he felt. In his new film, he was able to do exactly that, and the result is a piece with universal appeal, but a special significance for those living with ASD.

    If you haven’t seen “Float,” be aware that there are spoilers ahead. In the film, a father learns that his young son can defy gravity and float through the air. Because of the responses of others, he tries to hide this ability, first keeping his son indoors, then trying to weigh him down with rocks and a tether. At one point these measures prove futile, and his son flies around a playground, eliciting disapproving and even fearful reactions from other people. His father catches him, they struggle, and in the movie’s only line of dialogue, he yells at his son, “Why can’t you be normal?” The son shuts down and cries; realizing what he’s done, the father holds the child and begins to swing with him, eventually launching him into the air and celebrating his ability.

    For many people with ASD, the message is a welcome step towards understanding. One adult with ASD put it this way, “I applaud Mr. Rubio for bringing this story to life and giving a platform for us to discuss autism and acceptance on a national scale.” Another person stated, “In a world where sometimes people are given a bit more fear and a bit less encouragement, I really appreciated the message this film shares.”

    Subtle but powerful, the ending centers on the son’s ability and the father’s joy, without turning the focus back to the onlookers. Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway: it’s more important to embrace a child’s unique qualities than to worry about fitting in with the crowd.

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, 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.

  • Preparing your Child with ASD for School Environments

    Getting ready to start school is exciting, but it can also be stressful, especially if your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)For children with ASD, school can pose challenges, whether related to cognitive processing delays, sensory perception issues, or social skills deficits. Here, we offer some helpful tips to prepare both you and your child for school success  

    • Establish routines ahead of time. Because children with ASD often have difficulty adjusting to changes in their schedules, it’s best not to spring these changes on your child. Instead, well before the school year, institute routines and schedules he or she is likely to encounter when school begins. Establish the right sleeping and eating schedule well before the first day of school, and endeavor to introduce your child to activities that are likely in a school setting.  
    • Become familiar with the school and staff. With and without your child, visit the school and speak to the teachers, administrators, and support staff. When you go alone, you can outline your child’s needs and goals while familiarizing yourself with the educators who will be playing a major role in your child’s learning experience. Taking your child to school ahead of time can help make the first day less intimidating, as can finding ways to expose him or her to different social settings before school starts, particularly opportunities for interaction with peers. 
    • Gather information, and share it. Have your child thoroughly assessed, and use this detailed information to help develop his or her IEP. Speak to the teachers about your child’s needs, and how to most effectively interact with your child. If your child will be in an integrated classroom, as the teacher to speak to the class about ASD so that the other children will have a better understanding.  
    • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Talk about school, tell stories from your school days, look at photos of your child’s school, and read social stories that will help your child understand what to expect. Buy new clothes and school supplies in advance of that first day, so that your child can practice using them before school starts. Go to the school just to walk around or play on the playground, to help make your child more comfortable with all that school entails. 
    • Prepare yourself as well. Try not to be stressed about it, and talk to other parents so that you can feel less alone. Stay involved at the school, volunteering at school events and paying attention to what’s going on at school.  

    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. 

  • Helping your Child with ASD Adapt to New Places

    As a parent, you’re probably excited about exposing your child to new experiences and new places. If you’re parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however, it can be tricky. Children with ASD tend to be resistant to change because it makes them feel anxious. The world can seem unpredictable, but when things stay the same, it can make them feel like they have a little bit more control. It’s understandable, then, that new places can be overwhelming. How can you help your child with ASD adapt?  

    • Maintain as much consistency as possible. Having your child’s favorite toys on hand and keeping daily routines the same can make it easier for your child to adjust to a new place. Children with ASD find “sameness” comforting, so making things seem familiar can keep the new place from feeling frightening or confusing. 
    • Prepare your child in advance. Talk about the upcoming change, using visual aids and stories to help him or her understand what to expect. Preview what’s coming by telling a story about what your child might expect, show pictures of the new place, or visit in advance, if possible. Knowing what to expect will help your child deal with the unfamiliar more effectively.   
    • Countdown, to help ease into it. Whether you’re visiting a new place on vacation, moving into a new home, or enrolling your child in a new school, you can make the transition easier by creating a visual countdown that helps your child prepare.  
    • Offer choices and reward flexibility. Whenever there’s a chance to present a choice, do it. This will help involve your child in what you’re doing and give the child a sense of control. On a regular basis, reward flexible behaviors, even if they’re small. Praise your child and give additional positive reinforcement, drawing attention to the desired behavior and congratulating the child on being able to “go with the flow.” Doing this even for small things will make the transition easier when the change is a big one.  
    • Be patientRecognize that there may be a meltdown from time to time, and decide in advance how you’ll deescalate it. Prepare a calm down routine ahead of time, so that your child will know how to self-soothe. Children with ASD can benefit from a sequence that includes things like taking a certain number of deep breaths with their eyes closed, rubbing their hands together, and hugging their bodies. Having this predictable sequence ready will be calming during an unfamiliar experience.  

    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. 

  • 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.

  • Understanding Challenging ASD Behaviors

    In children with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, you may notice behaviors that can get in the way of daily routines. As you work with your child to improve these challenging behaviors through ABA , it can be helpful to learn to identify each behavior so that it can be addressed properly. Let’s take a closer look at some of the behavioral challenges that exist with ASD.

    Elopement

    When a child with ASD leaves a safe environment, such as his or her home or school, without permission, it is known as elopement. Elopement is common among children who have ASD.

    Non-compliance

    Non-compliance happens when a child with ASD does not follow instructions, such as directions from a parent or a teacher.

    Repetitive Behaviors

    Many children with ASD can become intensely absorbed in particular hobbies and other activities to the point that it makes it difficult for them to focus on anything else. This type of behavior may prove challenging when it comes to making big changes to the home or school environment.

    Self-injury

    Some children who have ASD may engage in harmful behavior towards themselves. Some known behaviors include hair pulling, pinching, or biting.

    Managing behaviors associated with ASD has its challenges, but help is available with STAR of CA. We provide research-based therapy near Ventura along with whole family support to facilitate happier homes for children with ASD. To learn more about our programs and dedicated team, give us a call today at (805) 644-7827.