• How Games can Help Children with Autism

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

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

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

  • Backyard games for kids with ASD

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

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

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

If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Portrayal of ASD characters in TV and Film

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

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

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

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

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

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

    Behaviors typically exhibited by children with ASD include:

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

    Children with a few symptoms of ASD don’t necessarily have ASD, but if your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Ventura is Getting a New Inclusive Playground

    If you are the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) you know that your child faces many challenges that neurotypical children do not have to face. On the other hand, a child with ASD, like any child with a disability, is like every other kid in many ways. No matter what your child’s capabilities may be, kids need to have time to socialize with other kids. They also need downtime, to get outside and play.

  • Soon, a new playground is coming to Ventura, with the goal of facilitating playtime for all children, regardless of ability. This is very exciting news because it’s the first inclusive playground in the City of Ventura. It will be built to include all kinds of kids, and it will have rubberized surfaces so that kids can play safely without fear of injury. There will be ramps to play structures for kids with limited mobility, and sensory components, to engage every child. Shady spots and areas to sit and rest will also be incorporated, as well as equipment that enables parents and caregivers to play with the children.

    Inclusive playgrounds are important, especially because nearly 13 percent of people in the United States are dealing with some sort of disability. For children with disabilities, research indicates that playgrounds are crucial in helping them form relationships with their non-disabled peers. At a playground, children can connect, discover, and grow, but in traditional playgrounds, children with differing abilities are not always able to play and participate.

    In a playground that’s inclusive, children connect with each other, gain new skills, and connect intergenerationally. They’re able to exercise their bodies, as well as their imaginations. When people of diverse ages and differing abilities are able to freely interact on a playground, they reap the benefits of socializing with people whose paths they might not otherwise cross. These playgrounds promote community engagement, as disparate groups of people interact with each other.

    In Ventura, design plans for the new playground are still being finalized. Construction is slated to begin in the fall of 2020, with the hope of opening the new park in the winter. Fundraising is ongoing, as the city’s funds only cover a portion of the project.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. One of the ways we do that is by keeping you in the loop on all things ASD in our community, whether it’s a new playground, a sensory-friendly event, a social activity, or an educational opportunity. Founded in 2006, STAR of CA offers 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. 

  • Introducing your child with ASD to a New Sibling

    Bringing home a new baby is exciting, but when older siblings are involved, it’s also a bit of a challenge. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be even more challengingHow do you prepare your child with ASD for the presence of a new little brother or sister? Every child with ASD is different, but some principles remain the same.  

    • Prepare your child earlyChildren with ASD often struggle with change, so prepare your child as soon as possible for all of the changes a baby will bring into the household. If Mom is pregnant, talk about that, using clear language. If any major changes need to be made- switching rooms, perhaps- these should be made early on, to minimize the number of disruptions that occur all at once.  
    • Be as honest as you can. Introduce the concept of “baby” and let your child know that this is a new family member to love. However, don’t paint too rosy a picture. Answer your child’s questions honestly, explaining that some things will change when the baby arrives. Explain that babies can’t feed themselves, are up at night, cry, and need people to change their diapers. Especially for children with ASD who are especially sensitive to sensory stimuli, knowing what’s coming is important.  
    • Use pictures and stories. Draw pictures together of families with babies, show your child photos of babies, or use social stories to help your child understand what to expect. You might take the child to a playground to observe babies, or introduce him or her to a friend’s baby. You know your own child’s capabilities, and how best to help the child understand.  
    • Involve your older child. Giving your child a sense of ownership of the new sibling will help make the transition easier. Make sure to teach concepts like “fragile” and “gentle” so that your child is not inadvertently too rough with the new baby. 
    • Maintain normalcy as much as possible. Establish something special you do regularly with your older child, like a bedtime story, and continue doing this after the baby is born. Keep the daily routine as consistent as possible after the baby arrives.  
    • Be prepared for pushbackUnderstand that not every feeling your child has about the new baby will be positiveThere will always be ups and downs in a family. Be patient with your child with ASD, and make sure you have a support system in place to help you manage once you bring the baby home. 

    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. 

  • Benefits of Applied Behavioral Therapy

    If you’re the parent of a child who has recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you’re probably looking for anything that will help your child. You may feel overwhelmed by the diagnosis, and that’s ok. In fact, there are many different therapies that may help your child, and one of the most beneficial is Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA).

    What is ABA? Used since the 1960s in treating young children with ASD and related disorders, this evidence-based best practice treatment has evolved over the years. ABA uses customized Behavior Intervention Plans to make gradual, systematic changes in the consequences of behaviors. In this way, socially positive behaviors are encouraged, while socially detrimental behaviors are discouraged. Using ABA, therapists are able to help children develop not only basic skills like looking, listening, and imitating but also more complex skills like reading and carrying on a conversation.

    ABA looks at how behavior works, and applies that understanding to real-world situations. Treatment plans are developed based on individual needs, and for children with ASD, this can help them reach goals in communication and language, social skills, self-care, play, motor skills, and learning and academics. Using ABA for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is beneficial for many reasons.

    • It works. While many other therapies are available to children with ASD, there’s more scientific evidence supporting the use of ABA than any other treatment.
    • It gives children with ASD the opportunity to make friends. The social skills that many children with ASD are lacking can be taught using ABA, allowing children to interact with others successfully and make friends.
    • It provides children with the skills they need to live real-world lives. Something as simple as toileting skills is crucial for daily function in society. ABA can help children with ASD learn basic skills and much more.
    • It helps parents to parent more effectively. ABA can teach parents how to interact with their children, while also teaching the children how to interact with others. Parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is not easy, but ABA can help you be a better parent.
    • It sets the bar higher for children with ASD. Some children lose their ASD diagnosis after ABA therapy. Applied Behavioral Analysis is beneficial because it shows parents and children what those children are capable of accomplishing. When expectations are raised, children achieve more. Behaviors that were thought impossible before the start of therapy may suddenly be within the child’s grasp, leading to the confidence that makes even higher goals possible.

    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.