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Having fun with your child with autism is absolutely essential.  It’s a key to your emotional health, and to the relationship you’re building both with your autistic child and with your typically developing children.  Perhaps just as importantly, when you see your child with autism outside of the classroom or therapist’s office, you may just discover that (1) he or she has some talents you never noticed before and (2) your child with autism is actually a lot of fun to be with

Each Sunday in April we’ll featuring a guest post from Lisa Jo Rudy, the author of Get Out, Explore and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities.   She was the the About.com Guide to Autism for five years, and is now an inclusion consultant for community organizations and  museums, a writer for autismafter16.com, and (of course) the mom of Tom Cook, age 15, diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Find her at www.authenticinclusion.org or at www.lisajorudy.com

Take TV to the Next Level!

Our kids are often sponges, who can learn almost anything by heart if it’s introduced through videos, TV or even music.  At first we were horrified by our son’s echolalia: he’d simply memorize entire scripts from his favorite TV shows, and recite them.  Later, though, we came to embrace certain TV shows and videos: they provided him with the tools he needed to engage with other kids, with the real world, and even with academics.

Like many parents, when our kids were small we allowed only “educational television.”  But kids watch an awful lot of shows on ad-heavy cable TV.  We didn’t want either of our kids getting seduced by ads, but even more particularly we didn’t want our son wandering around reciting ads for pop-tarts.  So we started borrowing videos and DVDs of kids’ shows from our library.  We could choose our time to watch together – and avoid the ads completely.

If you have a child who is mesmerized by TV, you may have started to use TV as an opportunity to get away for a little while.  Instead, try this:

  • Choose a TV show that your child really likes, and purchase a few toys (action figures, die-cast figures, etc.) that relate to the show.  Don’t worry too much if your child is “too old” for the show: grown ups still love the Muppets, and even grandparents love Disney
  • Choose a time to watch together, and talk about the show as you watch.  Ask your child questions; if he doesn’t reply instantly, try saying outrageous things that he knows are wrong (eg, Big Bird is purple with green stripes, isn’t he?).  Your child’s connection with and love of the show and characters may well prompt him to interact with you in new ways
  • Once the show is over, try using your new toys as puppets, acting out bits from the show.  Or use them in interactive play (Thomas the Tank Engine is ideal for this, since model train layouts are fabulous tools for sharing, creative thinking, role play, etc.)

You may find that your child is more verbally responsive to Thomas the Tank Engine or Elmo than he is to other human beings – or more fascinated by the tracks than by the people playing with them.  If that’s the case, you can build on that in the real world!  Your child might love attending puppet shows or going to TV-show oriented events (a Wiggles concert could be an ideal introduction to concerts and plays, even if your child is “too old” for the Wiggles).

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Having fun with your child with autism is absolutely essential.  It’s a key to your emotional health, and to the relationship you’re building both with your autistic child and with your typically developing children.  Perhaps just as importantly, when you see your child with autism outside of the classroom or therapist’s office, you may just discover that (1) he or she has some talents you never noticed before and (2) your child with autism is actually a lot of fun to be with

Each Sunday in April we’ll featuring a guest post from Lisa Jo Rudy, the author of Get Out, Explore and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities.   She was the the About.com Guide to Autism for five years, and is now an inclusion consultant for community organizations and  museums, a writer for autismafter16.com, and (of course) the mom of Tom Cook, age 15, diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Find her at www.authenticinclusion.org or at www.lisajorudy.com.

Meet a Critter

My son’s first word was “cat.”  His best buddy to this day is his cat Dot, and his favorite recreational activity is bird watching.  Tom is not at all unusual among people with autism: many, in fact, are more comfortable with animals than with people.

Perhaps the best known example of an autistic adult with a strong connection to animals is Temple Grandin, who is a leader in the humane management of cattle.  But your child need not be a Ph.D. scientist to enjoy connecting with animals of all kinds.

If your child with autism is an animal fan, what’s the best way to help him pursue his interest in the community? A few possibilities include:

  • Horseback riding.  Hippotherapy or plain old riding lessons can open all kinds of doors for children with autism.  Riding builds physical strength and balance, communication skills, and even social skills when riding is done in a group setting or as part of an equestrian team.  Some people with autism become so engaged with their horse and stable that they volunteer and work for their local stable owner.
  • Bird Watching.  Alone or in a group, birdwatchers exercise their powers of observation, enjoy the natural world, and become part of a worldwide interest group.  In the long run, bird watching can even lead toward a career as a naturalist, nature educator, conservationist or scientist.
  • Animal Rescue Work.  The ASPCA and other animal rescue organizations are always looking for volunteer help. Children with autism can spend time with rescue animals, helping to socialize them or otherwise providing support to the rescue organization.
  • Visiting Zoos, Aquariums and Nature Centers.  While it can sometimes be tough to take a child with autism to a zoo or aquarium due to crowds and smells, nature centers are wide open and much less congested.  Some kids, though (like my son) are so motivated by their interest in the animals that they’re able and willing to overlook crowds, heat and smells to spend time with their favorite critter.
  • Animal Shows.  Whether you’re watching elegant Lippizaner horses from Vienna or local livestock, it can be fascinating to spend time at an animal or pet show. Kids with autism may not be able to spend a great deal of time at a show, due to sensory or behavior issues, so starting with low-cost options is probably the best choice.
  • Pet Stores.  Every mall has a pet store, and every pet store has at least a few adorable critters to observe.  Sometimes, pet store owners will even allow visitors to take a puppy into a small room where it’s possible to interact without risk to dog or child.

Whatever your child’s level of verbal ability or behavior, don’t pass by the possibilities provided by animals.  Non-verbal children are as capable as anyone of establishing a positive relationship with an animal . Your child may well surprise you with her compassion, connection and willingness to build a relationship with a non-human friend.

 

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Having fun with your child with autism is absolutely essential.  It’s a key to your emotional health, and to the relationship you’re building both with your autistic child and with your typically developing children.  Perhaps just as importantly, when you see your child with autism outside of the classroom or therapist’s office, you may just discover that (1) he or she has some talents you never noticed before and (2) your child with autism is actually a lot of fun to be with

Each Sunday in April we’ll featuring a guest post from Lisa Jo Rudy, the author of Get Out, Explore and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities.   She was the the About.com Guide to Autism for five years, and is now an inclusion consultant for community organizations and  museums, a writer for autismafter16.com, and (of course) the mom of Tom Cook, age 15, diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Find her at www.authenticinclusion.org or at www.lisajorudy.com.

Take a Hike!

With so much on your plate, it can be hard to find the time or inclination to take your child with autism on a simple walk in the woods, a visit to a pond, or a trip to the beach.  Yet people with autism are often very much attracted to a connected with the natural world.  And, because there are few social or physical demands made by chirping birds, rippling brooks or cool green forests, you may find that your child calms down, relaxes, and enjoys himself.  You may just find that you do the same.

Start by choosing a nearby destination that is likely to be uncrowded and undemanding.  Before you go, take a trip on your own with a camera or video camera in hand, and create a preview of your plan.  Ideally, choose a location with a water attraction: a pond, lake, brook, river or beach.

Choose a day that’s not physically challenging (terribly hot, cold, or wet), and tell your child about your plan.  Show her your preview images or video, and discuss how long you’ll be out (no more than a couple of hours), what you’ll see and do, what snacks you’ll bring along, what you might see along the way, and so forth.

Then, get out and start enjoying.

Pay close attention to your child’s demeanor, her likes and dislikes, and her preferences.  Does she enjoy walking briskly for long distances, or get tired easily?  Is he bothered by bugs, or oblivious to them?  Is the woods a good choice, or would your child be happier in a meadow, a city park, or another type of natural setting?

What does your child notice?  Our son happens to be very interested in birds, and can spend a good deal of time watching birds on ponds, in marshes, and near harbors.  To make the experience more interesting and fun for all of us (his parents, sister, and family friends), we now go for nature walks and bring along binoculars and a field guide to birds of New England.

If there is water in your area, spend some time there.  Try skipping stones, or experimenting together by tossing in different types of objects (stones, pine cones, acorns, wood chips).  Is your child following your lead?  Can you follow his?


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Having fun with your child with autism is absolutely essential.  It’s a key to your emotional health, and to the relationship you’re building both with your autistic child and with your typically developing children.  Perhaps just as importantly, when you see your child with autism outside of the classroom or therapist’s office, you may just discover that (1) he or she has some talents you never noticed before and (2) your child with autism is actually a lot of fun to be with

Each Sunday in April we’ll featuring a guest post from Lisa Jo Rudy, the author of Get Out, Explore and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities.   She was the the About.com Guide to Autism for five years, and is now an inclusion consultant for community organizations and  museums, a writer for autismafter16.com, and (of course) the mom of Tom Cook, age 15, diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Find her at www.authenticinclusion.org or at www.lisajorudy.com.

Get Splashy

You may feel it’s tough to enjoy sports with your autistic family member, but perhaps you haven’t considered swimming.  Kids with autism often enjoy water – and swimming may come very naturally.  The great thing about swimming is that it’s very versatile.  It’s easy to swim as a family – but it’s also possible to swim as part of a team, in a pool, lake or ocean, with other kids or on your own.

If you’re thinking about pool swimming, I can highly recommend the YMCA.  Most Y’s have pools, and most Y pools are intended for recreational swimming (meaning they’re warm enough to be comfortable).   Y’s offer daily passes, so you can give it a try without committing a fortune.  Many Y’s also offer special times for family swim, and even for special needs swim.  If your child turns out to be a natural swimmer, Y’s are always willing to include special needs kids in their lessons and teams.  If you enjoy swimming as a family, Y’s also offer financial aid so that you can join and come whenever and for as long as you like.

Start off shallow and easy: in the kiddie pool or in a pool where she can easily stand.  Make as few demands as possible; just enjoy floating around and having fun together.  If your child shows an interest, you can consider lessons or provide lessons yourself.   Of course it’s very important that your child build enough water skills to stay afloat – but excellent stroke skills and the ability to dive aren’t critically important.  If your child is really interested in going further with swimming, individual or group lessons may be in order. And if your child turns out to be a great swimmer, swim teams are a terrific option.

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Awareness of autism is no longer enough. We need to take action everyday in April. Click here to get a full size version of the  calender of to dos to take action for autism.

Follow all of ASF’s Autism Action Month Activities on Pinterest here where we’ll be pinning the to dos daily.

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Orange Nose DayTomorrow, October 5, is the first annual Orange Nose Day in celebration of the top five steps to good health:

  • Wash hands
  • Get immunized
  • Eat colorful foods
  • Exercise
  • Avoid body fluids

For the autism community this also includes the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” for diagnosing autism and other developmental disabilities early in a child’s life. From birth to 5 years, children should reach certain milestones for playing, learning, speaking and behavior. These milestones are easy ways for parents to know if their child is on course or might need some extra help.

Early diagnosis are critical for children with autism as it allows a child to get the treatments they need. Children with autism in a good early intervention program can make meaningful gains in skills. In fact with early treatment, 30-50% make enough gains to be mainstreamed by kindergarten. Scientists can effectively screen children as early as 12 months [1], and recent studies have even found that some diagnoses can be made as at 6 to 8 weeks [2]. It’s important to note that early intervention programs vary by state, so check with your local organizations.

Beyond early intervention, Orange Nose Day is a reminder for all of us to take a moment and focus on your health. Pledge to take the 5 steps to good health and to wear an orange nose for the day. Our staff will be sporting an orange nosed profile pics on Facebook for the day. You can make your own for free on the Orange Nose Day website.

How will you mark Orange Nose Day with your family? Will you take an extra walk or maybe incorporate a new colorful food into your dinner? Share with us how you’ll be marking this healthy day!


[1] Pierce, K et al. “Detecting, studying and treating autism early: the one-year well- baby check-up approach.” Journal of Pediatrics. Vol. 159, Issue 3 (2011). http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476%2811%2900240-X/abstract.

[2] Klin, A. “Diagnostic Indicators of Autism Spectrum Disorders In the First Six Months of Life.” Speech presented at the IMFAR 2011, San Diego, CA. May, 2011.

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The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) strongly supports the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 (CARA) introduced today by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the United States Senate and by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) in the United States House of Representatives. 

The new bill reauthorizes the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (CAA), which has played a critical role in advancing autism research and treatment.  The original CAA, set to sunset on September 30, 2011, expanded federal investment for autism research through NIH, increased services, diagnosis and treatment through HRSA, and enhanced surveillance and awareness efforts by the CDC.  The CAA authorized nearly $1 billion in federal research spending over five years—increasing autism research spending by almost 50 percent.  This research has led to improved understanding of the causes of autism and has helped us begin to develop new interventions.  Additionally, the research funded through CAA has increased the ability of professionals to more properly screen, diagnose, and treat individuals with autism. The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 ensures that the programs established under the original law continue for an additional three years, including CDC surveillance programs, HRSA intervention and training programs, and the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC).

The Autism Science Foundation strongly supports this new legislation and urges all members of Congress to act swiftly to pass it into law.  We thank Senator Menendez, Senator Enzi, Congressman Doyle and Congressman Smith for their continued focus on the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We look forward to continuing to work with them and the broader autism community to ensure passage of this important legislation.  At an IACC meeting earlier this year, the Obama administration pledged to support CARA and to sign the bill into law upon passage.

The Autism Science Foundation is 501(c)3 public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing and disseminating autism research. The organization also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.

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