The Spectrum: Autism Friendly Theme Parks

Every family deserves to be able to enjoy a vacation. However, this isn’t always easy to do when you have a child diagnosed with Autism. Yet there are still places where you and your family can relax and enjoy quality time together. Scattered across the U.S. are several theme parks that are Autism friendly.

One of these theme parks is Sesame Place, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2015, Sesame Street debuted Julia, a character with Autism. As a result, Sesame Place holds the distinction of being the country’s first Certified Autism Center. The entire staff of the park is trained in how to assist those with the condition. Parents planning a visit to the amusement park can use its website’s sensory guide. This allows them to pick and choose the activities their children will participate in during their visit. Sesame Island is an area of the park where guests can use the two quiet rooms. Families are easily accommodated in these areas and noise-canceling headphones, as well as adjustable lighting, are offered for free use. Many of the park’s rides and restaurants were designed with Autistic children in mind. There is even an area where children can watch the park’s parade without fear of becoming overwhelmed.

For families that want to enjoy a water park, the Aquatica Orlando is a viable option. Though the park is not new it has been updated to accommodate guests with autism. The staff has been extensively trained in emotional and sensory awareness as well as motor skills and the need for a quiet environment. In fact, the park now has a low sensory area as well as a quiet room. The quiet room is a very private place equipped with adjustable lights…

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The Spectrum: Understanding Behavioral Therapy for Autism

Treating Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not about finding a cure; instead, behavioral therapy for autism is designed to help children develop the social, communication and self-regulatory behaviors necessary to thrive.

Behavioral therapy is often considered to be an intervention for unruly children, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In reality, behavior therapy is employed throughout the field of psychology to treat a wide range of conditions for people of various ages. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are two common forms of psychotherapy used to treat mental illnesses ranging from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

When Should an Autistic Child Get Therapy?

For autistic children, behavior therapy provides the guidance and structure they need to build upon their strengths and develop the type of skills required to interact and engage with the world around them. Early childhood intervention is often the best choice for autistic children as the skills they develop now can help them easily integrate into the general population at school later on.

Popular Types of Behavioral Therapy for Autism

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one of the most common types of autism behavior therapy…

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The Spectrum: Preparing for College With Autism

As a parent or guardian of a child with autism, you may have questions about preparing for college. While students with autism will face unique challenges, it is possible to thrive in a college environment with the right preparation.

The best strategy to prepare a student with autism for college is to start early. As early as the eighth grade, parents can begin training their child in the academic and social skills they will need in college. It’s also important for parents of children with autism to train their child how to be independent. Allowing your child to begin cooking their own meals or doing their own grocery shopping is a great way to start, particularly if he/she is planning to live on their own in college. You can help your child develop social skills by encouraging him/her to join clubs or groups at school or participate in extracurricular activities. Volunteering is a great way for students with autism to develop social skills and find activities that interest them; it also looks good on a college application and will give your student a leg up.

When it comes time to apply for colleges, it’s important to do some research. There are many colleges that offer autism support programs for students on the autism spectrum. These often involve comprehensive programs that can assist students with the transition to college by providing resources to help improve academic and social skills. Some colleges also offer transition support as students complete their degree and transition into independent adult life. These services may also include job placement assistance and career resources…

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The Spectrum: Teaching Communication Skills to Children with Autism (ASD)

One of the greatest challenges faced by parents of children with autism undoubtedly lies in the challenge of teaching communication skills to children who find socializing extremely difficult. As a primary facet of autism, difficulties with communication can put stress on familial relationships and deeply affect how a child performs in school and job training; fortunately, there are ways to help an autistic child overcome their struggles with verbal and non-verbal communication.

Thinking Patterns of Autism

To truly make a difference in the life of a child with autism, it is imperative for parents to understand why communication is so difficult for people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). For children with autism, psychological processes that neurotypical individuals often take for granted are experienced differently and with far greater difficulty. An autistic child will often experience a high degree of sensory overload when placed in a social situation, making the process of communicating with others feel overwhelming and even painful.

Where a neurotypical child would process social information quickly and efficiently while communicating with peers or adults, for example, a child with autism will “shut down” as the part of their brain that controls executive function struggles to cope with what it perceives to be as a multi-faceted problem. Just as most of us would feel overwhelmed if we were suddenly presented with four difficult math problems that needed to be solved simultaneously and within a limited timeframe, a child with autism will often view the multiple processes at work in socializing with anxiety and trepidation.

Learning By Doing

With these concepts about the chief qualities of autism in mind, parents can help children overcome difficulties in communication by modeling the kind of interpersonal skills that children with autism often struggle to learn or cope with in a social setting. Exaggerated modeling of social skills by parents has been shown to be particularly effective in teaching autistic children about socializing; emphasizing the kind of gestures and eye contact that are central to clear interpersonal communication can do wonders for children who are learning the basics of social skills, for example, as can reducing speech to its barest elements…

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The Spectrum: Myths and Misconceptions

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common topic that is often discussed. From a simple Google search, you can find unlimited information about ASD that is scientific, as well as opinion based. With the power of the internet, and it giving people the ability to express their research, beliefs, and views at any time, there is not only a mass amount of factual information but also a substantial amount of false information as well. In our previous pieces on “The Spectrum,” we’ve focused on many different topics regarding ASD, from treatments to signs. Like anything else, ASD is surrounded by myths and non-factual information; here are a few major myths and misconceptions surrounding ASD:

People with ASD are Anti-Social
Many children and adults with ASD struggle to build and maintain relationships due to different challenges surrounding their ability to communicate. Because of this, they may come off as shy, or even unfriendly. This may give others who may not understand ASD the wrong impression. Children and adults with ASD often want to create relationships with others, just as someone who isn’t on the spectrum might. It’s important to remember, that a person with ASD may find difficulty navigating a relationship, but often still desires social interaction, or simply making friends. If you know someone with ASD, keep this in mind as you work on communicating with them. It may take a little more time and effort, but relationships and friendships can be very beneficial for a person on the spectrum.

People with ASD Can’t Express or Understand Emotions
Similar to the assumption that individuals with ASD don’t want to be social or build relationships, another common misconception is that children and adults with ASD cannot express or understand emotion…

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The Spectrum: Art Therapy

In our previous blogs, we’ve discussed different forms of therapies that are often used to treat those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  From music to cognitive behavioral therapy, treating ASD can come in many different forms, and each can be effective in their own way. One of the major forms of therapy that many parents see value in is art therapy.  While every child is different, and one form of therapy may not work as well as another, art therapy has been proven to help with numerous ASD related challenges, especially for children with severe Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Here are a few of the major benefits behind treating ASD with art therapy:

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

One of the major areas of ASD that art therapy is used for is addressing sensory issues.  Many children with ASD are faced with sensory challenges often known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). A child that is struggling with SPD may find things such as certain textures, lighting, or sounds to be extremely irritating, to the point where they may even feel physical pain. This is generally because their senses are overstimulated, thus causing them to feel agitated or angry when they are experiencing these senses. SPD contributes to an overwhelming amount of emotional and behavioral issues.  

Art therapy is used to increase the tolerance for overstimulation of senses by converting it into an enjoyable art form.  Because children with ASD often find art to be enjoyable, they are more likely to tolerate different textures better and smells that would likely bother them in a different setting.  The key is to continue to expose the child the stimuli that he/she may prefer to avoid, to help desensitize them and make it more tolerable if they were to encounter them in everyday life.

Improve Social & Verbal Communication Skills

Social and verbal communication skills can often be limited for a child with ASD.  While some children are entirely verbal, others may be less verbal, or in some cases, totally non-verbal.  It’s not uncommon for a child with ASD to experience difficulty communicating verbally, in turn, causing social limitations as well…

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The Spectrum: Transition into Adulthood

As a parent, you want the best for your child.  As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you may have concerns about how your child will make the transition into adulthood.  While many children with ASD can lead generally normal lives, it’s not uncommon for them to face different challenges as they grow and make the transition into adulthood.  However, this isn’t a reason to worry, just a reason to have a plan in advance. Here are some great steps to helping your child with their transition as they grow.

Develop a Plan

The first step to setting your child up for a successful transition into adulthood is creating a solid plan.  While your child is living at home with you, they have stability and a solid routine that they can stick to. If they are planning on going out on their own, you’ll want to do your best to prepare them for the world that they may not be too familiar with.  To do this, you can start to introduce new things gradually, and see how they react. Making decisions such as college, work, or living on their own with a caretaker are all potential options you may want to visit.

Decide on College or Not

Some children with ASD may make their way to college after they graduate from high school.  Of course, this is dependent on how severe their ASD is; however if your child is college bound, you’ll want to make sure they have the right resources for support and help when needed.  Many colleges have programs for students with special needs and other disabilities that can help support them during their time there. Community college, as well as four-year universities offer various programs and you have do your research for each individual school you may be contemplating to determine what they offer. Do the proper amount of research to find the right schools and programs; don’t forget to consider the financial aspects that may be required…

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The Spectrum: Understanding Routines

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are likely to show signs of favoring rituals and routines.  Routines tend to be an extremely important part of a child’s ASD world, as having a routine can help them feel more consistent and in order.  While relying too much on a specific routine may do more harm than good (in some cases), generally, adopting different routines can be rather beneficial for individuals with ASD; the important part is how to better understand and implement them properly to avoid issues.  Here are some of the major benefits of adopting a healthy routine:

Maintain Order with a Schedule

Life for a child or adult with ASD can often seem chaotic and hard to manage.  Creating a schedule can better help someone with ASD adapt to different areas of life that generally may be more of a challenge for them.  Visual schedules are a great way to implement this as it allows for visual images of daily activities and gives your child the opportunity to see what is happening next.  Ultimately, this can assist in avoiding potential breakdowns due to unexpected changes throughout the day. It’s important to remember that a schedule is a best practice, however, change can sometimes be unavoidable; you should always be prepared, and its best to prepare your child for potential unexpected schedule changes.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Many children with ASD struggle with severe stress and anxiety disorders.  Daily tasks such as meeting new people, being in different surroundings, and going to school,  can cause an immense amount of stress for someone with ASD and may make it harder to manage. Implementing a routine can help ease these issues and improve your child’s ability to adapt to new situations.  For example, if going to school is something that generally causes your child a mass amount of stress, develop a before school routine that will help them understand what their day will look like and help them ease into it.

Increase Potential for Learning

Using a daily routine can also increase your child’s potential for learning.  In a school setting, a child with ASD may struggle to learn and retain new information.  However, with a healthy routine, and a lowered stress level, your child will be able to better focus on the direct tasks at hand…

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The Spectrum: Homework Strategies

Homework is a task that can sometimes be stressful for parents and their children to get through.  For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), homework can often be more difficult than enjoyable.  If you have a child with ASD you are likely sitting down with them to help them complete any homework assignments after they come home from school.  Similar to daily routines that can help your child with ASD thrive, a homework routine can also do the same. To ease the process, and reduce stress, consider some of these useful homework strategies that can improve how homework is done.

Designated Homework Area

The first step in creating an easy homework routine is finding a comfortable area in your home and making it a designated homework space.  This space should be an open, quiet location, with limited distractions. Whether it’s in a quiet living space, or at a desk in your child’s room, this area should be a separate space from any general household commotion.  Keep in mind, if the chosen homework space is in your child’s room, make sure the area is clutter free and any other major distractions are removed. Once you have decided on the space, set it up with the necessary materials needed (pencils, erasers, colored markers, calculator, etc.).

Establish a Time and Task Schedule

An essential part of a homework routine is establishing a homework time and task schedule.  Your homework time should be generally the same each day, so your child knows when to expect to sit down and get things done.  Once the time is established, build out a task schedule to organize everything that needs to get done each day. This can be done in various ways and can be customized to how your child works best.  For example, you may find your child focuses best at the beginning of homework time, so you may set the more difficult assignments for the beginning. On the opposite end, if it takes your child a little while to begin to focus, you may want to get the easy ones out of the way first…

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The Spectrum: Helping Your Child Develop Relationships

Making new friends and creating new relationships can prove to be difficult for any child.  Children often need to transition to learning how to get to know others in order to work on building new relationships.  For this reason, as parents, it’s likely that you’re probably doing what you can to set up playdates and work with other parents to get your kids together.  For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and their parents, making new friends and creating new relationships can tend to be much more challenging. Despite the challenges, however, children with ASD can thrive from making friends; and relationship developing skills can be used throughout multiple areas of their lives.  Here are a few tips to helping your child learn how to develop healthy relationships:

Back to Basics

One of the most important parts of helping your child learn how to develop a healthy relationship is simple: teach them the basics of friendship. It can be easy for a child with ASD to not realize when someone may be mistreating them, and they can often mistake that for a “friend”.  Teach your child what to expect out of friendship. Build an understanding of how they should treat others, and how others should treat them. This will help them learn how to interact with peers in a healthy way, and avoid potentially being mistreated by another child, who may not understand how to interact with a child with ASD.  

Practice, Practice, Practice

Children with ASD often benefit from structure and different forms of practice to learn a new skill.  A child on the spectrum can face difficulty when reading and understanding social cues such as facial expressions, figures of speech, body language and different gestures.  Take any opportunity to practice different social skills using familiar settings (in your home with close family, for example)..

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