• 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. 

  • Sleep Problems among Children on the Spectrum 

    Many of us have trouble falling asleep but for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, sleep can be especially problematic. Falling asleep is often difficult, and so is staying asleep once they finally nod off. Here, we look at the causes, consequences, and solutions for sleep problems in children with ASD.  

    • Sleep problems are more common in children with ASD than in other children. In fact, while only about 10 to 16 percent of children in the general population have trouble sleeping, the percentage jumps to anywhere between 44 and 86 percent for children with ASD. 
    • People with ASD tend to have a wide range of sleep problems. They may suffer from insomnia, taking about 11 minutes longer than typical people to fall asleep, and they may also wake up frequently throughout the night. Some people with Autism Spectrum Disorder also have sleep apnea, which causes them to stop breathing at different times throughout the night. Another reason may be due to having less restorative sleep than most people.  For individuals with ASD about 15 percent of their sleeping time is spent in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, a time of learning and retaining memories, whereas most neurotypical people spend about 23 percent of their sleeping time in REM.  
    • Evidence indicates that this lack of sleep can have significant consequences. Too little good sleep may make certain issues worse.  Children who lack sleep have more severe repetitive behaviors and more difficulty in making friends than other people on the spectrum.  Moreover, they are more likely to score lower on intelligence tests. One study found that children with autism who have sleep difficulties are more hyperactive and easily distracted than those who sleep well. However, it is unclear whether these issues stem from poor sleep, contribute to it or both.   
    • There are different reasons a person with ASD would have trouble sleeping. Often, they have additional conditions that contribute to the problem of disrupted sleep, including gastrointestinal issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or anxiety. They might also be taking medications that can negatively affect sleep. Additionally, a 2015 study suggests that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are twice as likely as typical people to carry mutations in their genes that govern the sleep-wake cycle.   
    • Traditional sleep studies aren’t always appropriate for people with ASD. Polysomnography is the most common sleep test, performed in a lab using sensors and wires to track brain waves, eye, and limb movement, and breathing patterns. This kind of study is not always practical for those with ASD, as such a research group has brought equipment into the homes of people with ASD to try and solve the problem. Sleep can also be tracked through actigraphy, which records movements throughout the night using a wristwatch-like device, or researchers can interview families and ask for sleep diaries.  
    • There are some solutions that may help your child sleep better. Sometimes, it can be as simple as establishing a better, more consistent bedtime routine, or changing the temperature or lighting of the bedroom. Sticking to a regular schedule is also important. The United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved insomnia medications for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but melatonin supplements may be a good option in some cases.  This option can be discussed with your doctor. For serious sleep issues like sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend a nighttime breathing device or, rarely, surgery.  

    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.  

  • Top Ten Books for Kids with ASD 

    Reading to children is a joyful experience and one that sets them up for lifelong learning. One of the best things about books is that we see ourselves reflected in them, and that can be not just informative but also truly delightful, especially for a child. It’s even more important for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder because reading about autistic characters can help them face challenges like relating to others, understanding emotions, and making and keeping friends. The right book may even help a child with ASD find his or her place in the world, offering comfort and understanding. If you love a child with ASD, try some of the books on this list and see if you can find the perfect match.  

    1. All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, by Kathy HoopmannThis book offers fun photographs of cats and kittens, along with a humorous look at the ups and downs of raising a child with ASD. Drawing parallels between children with ASD and household cats, the book touches on things like sensitive hearing, picky eating habits, and a dislike of being touched. This book is best for ages 7 and up.  
    1. All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism, by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer: Written for children ages 5-8, this book is about Zane the zebra, who develops an understanding of his ASD and how it actually makes him special.  
    1. Andy and His Yellow Frisbee, by Mary Thompson: Directed at readers age 5-8, this book is about a boy named Andy, his protective older sister Rosie, and Rosie’s explanation of ASD to a new girl at school.  
    1. The Asperger Children’s Toolkit, by Francis Musgrave: This book for ages 6-12 is directed at children with ASD, focuses on positive behavior, and is written in easy to understand language  
    1. The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-so-obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome, by Jennifer Cook O’Toole: A must for older kids with ASD, ages 10-17, this bestselling book written by an author with Asperger Syndrome raising three children with Asperger’s, offers illustrations and humor along with easy-to-understand explanations of important social rules.  
    1. Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, by Jennifer ElderWritten for kids 8-12, this book tells of historical figures who were probably on the autism spectrum, including Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Lewis Carroll, Andy Warhol, and more.  
    1. Autism Is…? By Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan: This book, written for children ages 5-8, offers easy-to-understand, child-friendly answers, as a child named Logan hears his grandmother’s explanation of the facts about ASD. It’s part of a series aimed at young children on the spectrum, which includes books like, “Feelings Are…?” and “Danger Is…?” as well as a range of other topics. 
    1. Tacos Anyone? / ¿Alguien quiere tacos” by Marvie Ellis: Children aged 4-7, along with their parents and siblings,  will appreciate this bilingual book about a boy trying to relate to his younger brother, who has ASD.  
    1. The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (and Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.: Directed at adolescents age 8 and up, this guide offers straightforward answers to questions and problems kids with ASD might have.  
    1. How to Be Human: Diary of an Autistic Girl, by Florida Frenz: Written by a teenager with ASD, this memoir is both powerful and informative. Aimed at kids ages 7-12, it’s often used in classrooms.  

    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.  

  • Tips for Teaching Children with ASD to Swim

    Swimming is an important skill for every child, but for children with ASD, it’s especially crucial. Water can hold a special fascination for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and this can be dangerous when a child is also prone to wandering. This makes accidental drowning a very real threat. Reducing the risk of drowning, however, is not only possible but also rewarding. When kids with ASD learn to swim, it can bring them more confidence, joy, and coordination, while strengthening their bodies and lowering their anxiety. Here, we offer some tips for making that happen.  

    Whether you’re teaching your child on your own or looking for a class, these guidelines are important in teaching a child with ASD: 

    • Be clear and direct. Don’t use slang, but keep all of your instructions clear and literal. This will ensure that the child understands exactly what to do.  
    • Stay consistent. When skills are repetitively practiced, it will help your child to learn more easily.  
    • Proceed slowly. Rather than bouncing from one thing to the next, which can be confusing, take the time to slowly and deliberately introduce changes and transitions.  
    • Celebrate often. Every triumph is a cause for celebration, even if it’s just touching the tip of the nose to the water. Make a big deal out of each accomplishment, to encourage your child.  
    • Keep it fun. Children need time to explore the water, under close supervision. Especially if your child is attending many different therapy sessions and doctors’ appointments, swimming lessons can be a welcome and refreshing break from routine.  
    • Address fears and behaviors. For a child with ASD, swimming lessons need to be about more than just kicking, breathing, and strokes. It’s important to acknowledge fears, helping the child to relax and trust you. Letting the child know you’re in it together is a powerful tool for helping him or her overcome fear and move forward to learn how to swim.  

    You may be comfortable using this advice to teach your child to swim, or you may want to find an experienced swimming instructor. You can find facilities that offer special needs swim lessons by doing a little bit of research. Look for a swim school that’s a member of the United States Swim School Association, which trains instructors to teach swimmers with special abilities. The National Autism Association’s website has a list of YMCA locations with Special Needs Swimming Instruction, and Safe Splash Swim School has locations across the country, so you are likely to find one near you. You might also find a good swim school for kids with ASD by speaking to an occupational therapist or someone at your local pool.  

    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.  

  • Local Sensory-Friendly Summer Activities

    Summer is here, and it’s a great time for fun activities with the kids. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, finding the right fit can sometimes be challenging, but there’s plenty of fun to be had. Check out this list for some great ideas! 

    • Enjoy a sensory-friendly morning at a museum. The first Sunday of each month, from 9-10 a.m., the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum offers special activities for kids on the spectrum, with a designated quiet space inside the classroom. You can also enjoy quiet times at this museum after 2 p.m. each day. The San Diego Natural History Museum offers ASD mornings, in which little ones can explore the museum an hour early with fewer people, more room, and more sensory-friendly exhibits. This event occurs on the second Sunday of each month, and you’ll need to call ahead and reserve your spot.  
    • Check out Shane’s Inspiration/Inclusion Matters for playgrounds and fun eventsShane’s Inspiration has created universally accessible playgrounds around the world, with several here in California, built for fun and inclusive play. One fun event they sponsor is My PlayClub, which offers face painting, arts and crafts, and snacks, giving families with children of all abilities a great opportunity to spend a fun morning at the park.  
    • Zip Zop Zap gives kids with ASD a chance to try improv. With fun opportunities like the Teen Improv and Social Skills group, this organization offers specially designed programs to help kids develop social and emotional skills and connect with each other, in a guided atmosphere. This can help with social goals like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationship skills.  
    • Ability First offers fun events for families. On July 1st, the organization will debut a new event, AbilityFEST, celebrating diversity and inclusion and featuring activities like an adaptive rock-climbing wall and carnival-inspired games. This event is free and open to the public.  
    • Sensory-friendly nights at PlayWerx are fun for families. Every second Thursday from 6-8 p.m., kids with ASD and their families can meet, hang out, jump, climb and play. There’s even a snack bar available, as well as tables for parents so they can sit and chat while they watch their kids play.  
    • The La Mesa Library offers a fun Sensory Playtime with STEAM. Libraries are already a wonderful place to hang out on a hot summer day, but on the first Sunday of each month, La Mesa makes it even better.  This tactile event, held at 11 a.m., allows kids to touch, play, engage, and even make noise.  
    • Engage with horses, with some equine therapy. Interacting with animals is beneficial for kids with ASD, and learning to ride a horse helps them develop balance and hand-eye coordination. In Rancho Santa Fe, check out the Helen Woodward Animal Center, or if you’re in La Mesa, try Partners Therapeutic Horsemanship 
    • Make a splash at a monthly Family Pool PartyThis free family fun event features a saltwater pool at the perfect temperature, with pizza, drinks, and lifeguards. It’s held the second Friday of the month from 6-8 p.m. by the San Diego Autism Society and Aqua Pros, at the Boys & Girls Club indoor pool.  

    There are many more fun and sensory-friendly events in the area, from movies to gymnastics to imaginative play to fun in nature, so take the time this summer to look around for opportunities for quality time. 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 Your Child’s Rights in the Classroom

    Individuals who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and similar conditions have certain educational rights and responsibilities, and it’s important for them—and their parents—to understand what those are. If you are the parent of a child with ASD, it’s time to learn what special education services are available and how to determine eligibility.  

    What kind of education could my child be eligible to receive?  

    By federal law, a child has the right to a free education that is suitable for his or her unique learning needs. For children who have ASD, this means that they may be eligible for special education services that make it easier for them to navigate the classroom environment and get the most out of their education. For instance, your child may be eligible for: 

    • ABA therapy 
    • Speech therapy 
    • Physical therapy 
    • Extended school year services to ensure that his or her development continues on schedule during summer and holiday breaks.  

    Is my child eligible for special education services? 

    If your child has ASD or a related learning or attention disorder, school officials must first determine if your child’s disability is covered. Then, they must decide if the learning impairment is severe enough to warrant special education services. Here’s what these steps entail: 

    • The educational evaluation: You, your child’s teacher, or another concerned party can request an educational evaluation from the school. With parental permission, a team of professionals—often including the school psychologist—will conduct assessments and review his or her school records.  The results of the assessment will determine whether your child has any of the 13 disabilities covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 
    • Determining eligibility: If the educational evaluation reveals that your child has a qualifying disability, the school must then decide whether he or she needs special education services. If so, the next step is to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Be aware that the school may decide that your child’s disability doesn’t inhibit classroom learning to a significant enough extent to warrant special education. 

    If you are looking for the up-to-date ASD resources your child needs, it’s time to get in touch with STAR of CA. We offer education and treatment for families who are confronting the challenges of ASD in the Ventura area. If you have any questions about the mental health services we offer, call (805) 644-7827 today.  

  • How Does Natural Environment Teaching Work?

    Natural environment teaching is an approach to teaching children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that focuses on their daily surroundings. Think about the environments your child sees and explores on a daily basis: home, school, daycare. These places are the context in which your child’s learning takes place and his or her development happens. Natural environment teaching uses these surroundings to teach important skills, often through the creation of specific learning opportunities for your child. Ultimately, your child should be able to independently use the skills he or she learns in each of these environments.  

    At STAR of CA, we offer a fully integrated approach to providing the education and resources families affected by ASD need. Our team offers a wide array of services, from ABA therapy to family support. If you’re in need of ASD services in the Ventura area, you can reach us by calling (805) 644-7827 today 

  • Dealing with ASD-Related Sleep Problems

    For children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), getting a good night’s sleep is essential for learning new skills during the daytime. Unfortunately, over half of the children with autism have one or more chronic sleep problems. This video offers some helpful tips for parents of children with ASD who are trying to instill good sleep habits.  

    STAR of CA offers a range of helpful resources for individuals who have specialized needs, including ASD. Our friendly staff will be happy to answer your questions about ASD and other developmental disorders. If you are looking for mental health services in Ventura or the surrounding areas, call us today at (805) 644-7827 for more information.  

  • Ideas for Making Travel Less Stressful for Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Family vacations can be delightful. For parents of children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, they can also be stressful. Fortunately, there are strategies you can adopt to make travel an enjoyable experience for you and your child. Here are some tips to get you started:  

    Keep your child’s routine as consistent as possible.  

    One of the main reasons why children with ASD have difficulty with travel is the disruption to their usual schedule. While it’s impossible to avoid some changes in routine while traveling, you should try to keep your child’s day as familiar as possible. Meals, naps, and bedtime should all continue to happen at the same time of day. It’s also a good idea to bring along favorite toys and other objects that will help to maintain a sense of familiarity for your child.  

    Plan your schedule ahead of time.  

    While you may not be able to predict everything you do during your vacation, making a general schedule for each day can help you anticipate any potential issues that might arise for your child. You might even want to put together an easy-to-follow schedule for your child, with illustrations. This can help him or her get ready for each step of the day before it happens.  

    Call ahead to make special arrangements.  

    Keep in mind that many of the places you’ll be visiting on your trip may be able to make special accommodations for children with ASD. For instance, hotels, airports, and even restaurants may all be willing to make changes to accommodate your child’s unique needs. It’s a good idea to make these preparations before your trip, so that you aren’t rushing to make important arrangements at the last minute.  

    When you are looking for help in navigating the difficulties that come with an ASD diagnosis, you can always turn to STAR of CA. Our services are individualized to meet the needs of each family we work with. For integrated, evidence-based treatments in the Ventura area, contact us today at (805) 644-7827 

  • What Parents Need to Know about Pivotal Response Therapy

    Pivotal response therapy (PRT) is an empirically supported comprehensive behavioral treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that focuses on pivotal areas of a person’s development, rather than treating individual behaviors one at timeFirst developed in the 1970s, PRT is now widely used as an intervention treatment for children with ASD and related disorders. Here are the answers to some common questions parents have about PRT.  

    What does pivotal response therapy target?  

    PRT is intended to address pivotal areas of development, including a child’s motivation, responses to multiple cues, the child monitoring his/her own behavior, and the ability to initiate interactions with other people. By targeting these important areas, PRT results in improvements in other social, communicative, and behavioral areas that are not specifically targeted. PRT utilizes motivational strategies to increase child engagement in learning such as child choice, task variation, interspersing already learned tasks with new tasks, reinforcing the child for reasonable attempts, and using direct and natural reinforcers.  With PRT the child plays an essential role in determining the activities and objects that will be used in treatment.  The goal of the therapy is to utilize the motivational strategies to engage the child in learning and provide positive reinforcement to increase skill development.  

    Who can provide pivotal response therapy?  

    PRT can be provided to a child by a number of different specialists, including behavior analysts, behavior technicians under the direction of a behavior analyst, psychologists, teachers, instructional assistants, and speech and language therapists.  Because PRT is a naturalistic intervention, meaning it is done in the child’s natural environment, parents themselves can also learn to apply PRT within their family’s everyday routine. Parents can create learning opportunities at home that will help to reinforce the skill development that is being taught during therapy sessions. 

    Is pivotal response therapy right for my child? 
    Every child’s needs are different, so an individualized approach should be taken to providing treatment to any child who has ASD. However, it’s possible that PRT could be an effective therapy for your child. PRT has proven to be especially helpful in encouraging children to develop stronger social and verbal communication skills.  Additionally, it’s been shown to be effective in teaching play and academic skills and decreasing disruptive/self-stimulatory behaviors. 

    STAR of CA offers a wide range of servicesincluding individualized therapy, for children who have ASD and other developmental disorders. We use evidence-based treatments, and we are continually working to improve and expand our services. Our team has been serving Ventura and nearby communities since we opened our doors in May 2006.  We provide services to San Jose,  To learn more about our behavioral intervention services, call (805) 644-7827 today.