• 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 Brief Overview of the Verbal Behavior Approach

    The verbal behavior approach is a type of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy that focuses on improving language. The purpose of the therapy is to assist individuals who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in developing better language skills by breaking verbal output down into specific subtypesThere are four sub-types of words that the verbal behavior approach focuses on: 

    • Mand, which is a verbal request. 
    • Tact, which is an observation or label. 
    • Intraverbal, which is a response. 
    • Echoic, which is a repetition of another word or phrase. 

    This approach is often used in conjunction with other ABA treatments as part of a comprehensive treatment program. 

    At STAR of CA, we specialize in providing the best services available for children who have ASD and other developmental disorders. We can develop an individualized program for your child that targets his or her particular needs. When you need behavioral health services in Ventura, call (805) 644-7827. 

  • Hearing from Women with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    There are numerous myths and stereotypes about ASD that are at odds with the facts, particularly for women who have the disorder. In this video, you’ll learn about some of these myths—and the truths that lie behind them.  

    If you have ASD or a related condition, it’s time to reach out to the team at STAR of CA. We work to provide families and individuals with up-to-date resources for living with ASD. For more information about the services we offer, call (805) 644-7827.  

  • How ASD Can Differ in Boys and Girls

    If you are the parent of a child who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may be wondering if the disorder manifests differently depending on the child’s gender. In fact, there are notable differences between the way ASD appears in boys and girls. These are some of the areas in which girls display ASD symptoms differently than boys:  

    Communication Skills 

    For boys who have ASD, trouble with social communication skills may become apparent early on, as they begin interacting with their peers. Girls who have ASD, on the other hand, may not experience serious difficulty with social communication until they reach adolescence. The same holds true for non-verbal communication skills, which girls tend to experience less trouble with than boys. Thus, it may be more difficult to observe the signs of ASD in girls who have it.  

    Disruptive Behavior 

    Many parents of children with ASD notice that their children tend to act out and display disruptive behavior. While both boys and girls who have ASD may manifest this behavior, some experts are observing that girls with ASD may demonstrate higher levels of imitating socially appropriate behaviors.   

    Limited Interests 

    Many children who have ASD become fascinated with one or two interests to the exclusion of all others, such as trains or building blocks. While girls do manifest this symptom, they tend to become absorbed by interests that do not seem unusual to their parents, such as dolls or television shows. Therefore, this symptom can easily go unnoticed, and a case of ASD may not be diagnosed right away.  

    If you and your loved ones are struggling to deal with the challenges that come with an ASD diagnosis, you may benefit from the services offered by STAR of CA. We have been serving Ventura and the surrounding areas since we first opened our doors in May of 2006. For the comprehensive ASD services you deserve, contact us today at (805) 644-7827. 

  • Who Should Be Screened for ASD?

    If you are concerned that your child may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), your first step should be to obtain a professional screening as soon as possible. But you might not be certain precisely how to determine whether or not your child displays any of the symptoms of the disorder. If any of the following things are true of your child, you may want to consider scheduling a screening.  

    Your child is missing important developmental milestones.  

    As they develop, children tend to hit certain milestones at certain ages. By the time of their first birthday, children should be able to gesture and babble; by 16 months, single words should emerge; by their second birthday, they should be able to use simple phrases on their own. Additionally, by 12 months, your child should often seek your attention and to share their experiences with you by pointing out items of interest in their environment or looking to you as a means of identifying how they should respond to a novel situation (e.g. social referencing). If your child misses any of these milestones, they may need a screening for ASD.  
    Your child is regressing after reaching milestones.  

    If your child is having difficulty using certain language or social skills after already achieving them, it’s a definite warning sign. For example, if your child seems to be having difficulty using words or gestures to express him or herself after being able to do so previously, you should consider having an ASD screening in addition to a medical screening.  

    Your child has a sibling who has ASD.  

    If your child has a sibling with ASD or another developmental disorder, it’s important to watch carefully for any warning signs of ASD. If you notice any similar symptoms arise at any stage of development, you may want to have your child screened by a professional for ASD.  

    If you are searching for the right resources to help you and your family support your child with ASD, let STAR of CA be your guide. We have been serving areas across California for more than a decade, and we are continually working to expand and improve the behavioral and psychological services we offer. For more information, call us today at (805) 644-7827. 

  • Why Are Rates of ASD Rising?

    In recent years, the number of new diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased drastically. Why exactly is this happening? As this video explains, this trend may not mean that actual instances of ASD are on the rise. Instead, the answer may simply be that we are getting better at identifying ASD and other developmental disorders.  

    If you have a child who has ASD or a related disorder, it’s time to get in touch with the team at STAR of CA. For the past decade and longer, we have been helping individuals and families in Ventura find the right services for their needs. To learn more about the wide array of support services we offer, call us today at (805) 644-7827.

  • Enjoying the Winter Holidays with a Child on the Spectrum

    If you have a child who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may be wondering if he or she can still enjoy the holiday season. Fortunately, the answer is yes! Children with ASD can still enjoy all of the warmth, fun, and excitement of the holidays—as long as you know how to manage the experience for them to ensure that it is positive. Here are some tips to keep in mind.  

    Consider alternatives to shopping with your kids.  

    Children who have ASD may react negatively to the noise and tumult that comes with the territory of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking your child along on a trip that may be upsetting or unsettling, you might want to think about leaving your child with a sitter or respite worker, a family member, or even doing most of your shopping online.  

    Plan your decorations carefully.  

    While children may enjoy decorating a tree or putting up lights with you, it’s important to supervise them at all times. Keep in mind that flashing lights can be distracting or even upsetting for children with ASD. You may want to choose lights that emit a steady glow, and you might want to emphasize calming colors, such as light blue.  

    Be prepared for holiday trips.  

    For many families, the holiday season means traveling. If you are going to be taking a trip with your child, it’s important to take some precautions in order to avoid sensory overload. Bring plenty of toys and games to keep your child from getting restless, keep your child’s dietary preferences and needs in mind, and make sure you have a quiet, safe place to take your child whenever he or she needs a break.  

    At STAR of CA, our goal is to help families with children who have ASD get the effective, up-to-date therapies and resources they deserve, including evidence-based treatments, parental education, and counseling. If you have any questions about ASD or other developmental disorders, you can reach us in Ventura by calling (805) 644-7827.  

  • Preparing for the ASD Assessment Process

    Making a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is essential in order to ensure that the individual gets the therapy he or she needs. However, getting that diagnosis can be tricky. After all, there is not a single definite test that can be used to determine whether a person has ASD or not. If you’re wondering what you should do in order to prepare your child for the ASD assessment process, here is what you need to know.  

    When should an ASD assessment take place?  

    The most reliable assessments of ASD generally take place by or around the age of 2. However, the symptoms of ASD are often visible by around 18 months of age. If you have identified any possible symptoms of a developmental delay in your child, the next step is to schedule a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.  

    What happens at a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation?  

    If your child shows any early signs of ASD, setting up a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation will allow you to determine whether your child does indeed have this condition. At the evaluation, which is usually performed by a specialist, your child will receive a complete examination, and areas such as hearing, vision, and developmental history will be taken into account.  

    What should I bring to my child’s diagnostic evaluation?  

    In order to ensure that your child’s evaluation for ASD is as productive as possible, you will want to take the time to assemble the materials you’ll need ahead of time. You should be sure to bring any relevant medical information, such as your child’s vision and hearing records, to this evaluation. It may also be helpful to bring some personal notes, such as any questions you have about ASD or your own observations of your child you’d like to note. 

    STAR of CA provides a wide range of support services for individuals with ASD and their families in Ventura County, including individualized intervention programs, family support services, and parent education classes. We are committed to offering the best services possible to everyone we work with. To learn more, call (805) 644-7827.