I don’t need therapy. I have a dog!

autism therapy dog

If you’re wondering about getting a dog for your child, if you think it will help, I can tell you in our family, it does. We were told by our psychologist when our son was in the 1st grade, to get a dog.  He said it would help everyone to get along better in the family. It stayed in the back of my mind, but that psychologist was right. Getting a dog was good for our son. It was good for our family.

Getting our dog was unexpected. It was not something we were considering when it happened. We were not thinking about getting a pet. Nevertheless, 5 puppies showed up in our neighborhood one day when our children were little. The puppies were abandoned. I protested as best I could, but my son, daughter and husband were all for keeping one of those dogs. So one puppy came to live with us on that warm September day!

Benefits of a dog: The kids have a companion and playmate who is gentle and loving, never fights with them, and brings them more joy than we ever imagined. He lets the kids hug him as much as they want. He never makes demands, he serves as a pillow for the kid’s heads, he is always ready for fun, and he distracts and supports during drama or meltdowns.

Responsibilities of a dog: He needs to be walked every day. He needs trips to the vet. He poops in the yard, and we need to clean up after him. A dog is a commitment. A dog becomes a member of the family. Long after the “honeymoon” period is over, he still needs to be fed, walked, and cleaned up after, every day.

Is it worth it? I think it is, yes. This is the only pet our family has ever had. I think we’re very lucky. It’s been 14 years, and this lovely canine has made our lives fun and joyous! We are richly blessed with him. There is a reason they call them “Man’s Best Friend!”

Caution: The personality and temperament of the dog is pretty important. These need to match your family and your lifestyle. So take your time deciding on a dog. Maybe even have a trial period to see if everyone gets along. Best of luck to you if you’re getting a dog for your family.

(The title is a joke. Even if you get a dog, you may still need therapy.)

Talking About the Diagnosis

How and when should you tell your child about his diagnosis? Situations vary for child, and family. Some children have a temperament and intellect, so you’re talking about it early and often. Some children have no interest, may not be old enough to understand, or with lower intellect, may not understand and benefit from detailed explanations. Whatever your situation, there is probably some benefit from telling your child about his diagnosis.

Our son got an Aspergers diagnosis when he was in the 4th grade, and since it took 6 years of searching to diagnose him, he was well aware of the process. These were the 13 different diagnoses that were suggested over the years:
Anger management
ADHD
Sensory Integration Disorder
Pragmatic Language Disorder
Autism
Bi-Polar
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Reactive Attachment Disorder
Emotional Disturbance
PDD-NOS
Gifted but bored
Anxiety
Asperger Syndrome

We talked openly about his difficulties all along, starting at age 4 in preschool. We also talked about his strengths (he taught himself how to read, he built amazing Lego creations, completed jigsaw puzzles quickly, and memorized all the states and capitals.) In kindergarten, one doctor diagnosed ADHD and suggested medicine, and we talked about how it was hard for him to pay attention in school, and the medicine could help with that. (BTW the medicine was not too helpful for him.) He went to a social skills group in 1st grade, and we talked about the reason for going (to learn skills to get along with classmates). He went to an OT after he got a Sensory Integration Disorder diagnosis. We talked about how the OT would teach him how to keep his body calm (he was dis-regulated often due to his sensory sensitivities), and to help him build strength in his hand and arms, and improve crossing midline (helping him improve in karate, which he loved.)

Your child has strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. If my son needed eyeglasses I would talk about the diagnosis (“The doctor thinks you have nearsightedness”) and explain how the eyeglasses help. Frankly, every time we got more information, my son was relieved. He wanted to understand himself! The diagnosis explained a lot about him. And we thought this one was the best diagnosis for our child. We read books and talked to other families with kids like this.

I think a diagnosis, when correct, is helpful. Here is one helpful thing to remember: absolutely nothing changed in your son or daughter! When we got our diagnosis, nothing was any different about our son. He was still the same wonderful, smart, quirky kid as before we had a name to call it. But it provided relief for him and for us, and we got to follow the treatments and the therapies recommended for this diagnosis. It assisted his public school in creating an appropriate Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for him. It opened up a world of acceptance in his classroom and school. Now he was finally more than just that troubled kid! He had a diagnosis and it was helpful.

Persistence

Wow! If I could add one skill to my son’s toolkit, it would be persistence! His poor ability to distill the important message in the presented information, organise, plan, anticipate, break into do-able parts, synthesise information, problem-solve (all executive functioning) made my son’s project for communications class SO HARD this week! And he found it so hard to persist through the difficulty. While he often has great persistence on tasks he enjoys, his persistence on something someone else assigns him can be so poor!

Some things to try next time:

  • set concrete, visual goals
  • break project into pieces
  • cut distractions
  • manage frustration
  • provide breaks
  • start early
  • anticipate
  • problem solve
  • practice (do a dry run)
  • edit

Probably more on the list! I need to lend support to my son sooner next time, I think.  Man, I am still learning new things! I’ve got to remember that.

 

 

 

Free Book Giveaway

Would you like the opportunity to get a free signed copy of my new book?

If you’re a Facebook user, stop over at the Raising An Amazing Child with Autism Facebook page and comment there to be entered into the free drawing on December 15th.

If you prefer not to use Facebook, you can still enter the drawing by commenting here with this question – What is one thing you want others to understand about autism spectrum disorder? The winner will be drawn December 15th, and receive a free signed copy of my book.

SHARING IS CARING. PLEASE SHARE THIS POST!

Books may be ordered on Amazon at Raising an Amazing Child with Autism.

 

Disclosing Autism at School – Presentation Script

When my son and I disclosed his Asperger Syndrome (high-functioning autism) to his classmates in the 5th grade, we read from a script I wrote for the presentation to the class. See the post on what we did to disclose my son’s diagnosis to his classmates here.

I’m posting the pdf of the script here. I adapted it to be more general for others to use. It also reflects some changes to the DSM-5 when Aspergers was replaced by the general term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. If you use this tool to help talk to your son or daughter’s class about Asperger Syndrome, add your child’s name and make it more specific to him or her (the things they are good at, and the things that are hard for them.)

I’m happy to provide an editable doc if you request it. Thanks! Paula

The books we used were

  • All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, Kathy Hoopman
  • Can I Tell You about Asperger Syndrome?, Jude Welton
  • My Autism Heroes, Jennifer Elder

The video we used was

Intricate Minds II: Understanding Elementary School Classmates with Asperger Syndrome, Dan Coulter, coultervideo.com

When Private School Doesn’t Fit – Changing to Public School

School can be a challenge with a student with a disability. Private schools can be particularly unhelpful when they are asked to provide for a student’s unique needs. This is something we experienced with our son in elementary school. It was September of 2001, and although most folks remember that as the time America was attacked by terrorists, I remember the difficulty my son was having in kindergarten at our private Christian elementary school.

Our daughter was in the 4th grade and she was an agreeable student – quiet, obedient, didn’t cause trouble, as girls often are at school. Our son was struggling in Kindergarten. He needed to stand frequently (his Kinder teacher said he did the entire year standing at his desk, and not sitting.) He had difficulty understanding abstract language, and melted down at unannounced changes or when he was overwhelmed by sound, or smells. He continued to have difficulty in 1st and 2nd grade, and my husband and I were actively seeking a diagnosis so we could assist him better. The private school administration, however, was not equipped to provide the specialized education my son needed. So we eventually pulled our son out of the Christian school and put him into our neighborhood public school for 3rd grade.

I learned a lot during that experience and this is to inform and encourage you if you are standing at this same crossroads. Some things we experienced were:

Where was God in all this? While our public school was highly-rated, we wanted an education for our children that included our faith. I wrestled with God on this one! Why had God made our child the way he is (it seemed likely he would have to leave this school), when we were trying to honor our faith and provide a Christian education? There were many mornings I sat in my car after dropping my children off at school, crying and pleading with God to figure out what to do to help my son be successful at this school. While I didn’t get an answer to my Why? right away, eventually I came to acceptance that moving him out of this school was a better scenario than keeping him there.

Not all private or parochial schools have a hard time supporting children with special needs. I know of one local Catholic school that has a very supportive environment (in 2017) for students with disabilities, particularly those with autism or Aspergers. Unfortunately these schools are few and far between.

Our private school was not equipped. I knew I could still access services at my public school if it was warranted. I asked for a public school evaluation when my son was in the 1st grade (at private school). They did the evaluation, and that was another piece that informed our next steps with him. They did not offer him services. But if they had, they would have been obligated by law to provide the services at the public school. If my public school had offered it, I could have brought my child to the public school to see the OT (occupational therapist), SLP (speech language pathologist) or counselor, and to have him participate in social skills groups!

By February of 2nd grade, the private school teacher refused to have my son in class and the private school principal’s best suggestion was to pray about it. What she was saying was the private school was simply not equipped to deal with my son’s challenges. I wished it was different, but when faced with the reality, I had to imagine public school would be able to offer him more. So my husband and I made the difficult decision to switch him to public school.

Talking about the change. Talking about the change was a natural thing to discuss with my son. He was undergoing a lot of different evaluations at the time, and he knew he was having trouble at school. (In 2006, following 12 different diagnoses, he was correctly diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Read about our journey to his correct diagnosis in this post.) So we talked about the things he would gain from changing to the public school. He would get some services right away, like OT and counseling. He got an IEP with modifications like preferential seating, breaks when he got overwhelmed, an AlphaSmart word processor to do written work on (he struggled with writing with a pencil.) Also his neighbor friend was going to this school and that provided more opportunity for them to be together.

My daughter continued to attend the private Christian school, and that caused some challenges. My children had to ride in my car together, first to the private Christian school to drop off my daughter, then to the public school to drop off my son. I had to field questions from him on several occasions “Why don’t I go to this school anymore?” and “Why doesn’t Mrs B. (the Principal) want me at this school anymore?” I answered as best as I could, “You know how you work with the OT, and there’s a counselor at your new school? They don’t have these things here, so that’s why you go to your new school. Mrs. B. tried to help you, but she just didn’t have the special things you need here.”

He was no longer “the worst kid in school”. A benefit was seen right away in public school. My son, with all his issues, was no longer the worst kid in school. There were a bunch of children in his public school who were diagnosed with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and many other disabilities. Of course, kids with disabilities are not bad. I am referring to the other parent’s opinions of my child. I’m sorry to say the parents at the private Christian school did not include me or my child in their lives. Frankly, they ostracized me and my child. By the time we left, when he was in the 2nd grade, they were no parents in my son’s class, who were friendly and accepting of us. This changed when we moved to the third grade. Still I made closer friendships with families that also had children with learning disabilities, but the acceptance and connectedness at the public school was an improvement.

Services followed his needs. For the first time in school, we were offered support services for my son. Now it wasn’t all wonderful, but we were headed in the right direction. My son suddenly had some protections because he had an IEP. I believe our case was fairly serious, because the evaluator recommended a 3rd grade SDC (special day class) for ED (emotional disturbance). My son had been through 3 years of school in a regular classroom without supports. I was just wanting supports, so I refused the SDC and put him in our neighborhood school. My son would not have gotten services at the private Christian school. His IEP and those services were the life raft to my sinking ship! It was a decision that proved to be beneficial over the years to come.

Private school tuition got used on other services. With the switch to public school, I suddenly found myself with that unused tuition money. Now I was able to spend money on a private OT who I discovered was brilliant with my child. I paid for social skills group lessons with a private SLP. I paid for an educational counselor, which I was unable to do when I was paying my private school tuition. It was an added benefit to the whole situation.

Changing schools was not what I wanted or expected. But as I worked toward new goals, I began to see the positive side. It took a long time, but this, like many experiences I had with my son diagnosed with Aspergers, caused me to grow and develop a sensitive side in me that would never had happened if I had an ordinary neurotypical child.

 

 

Best Tips for Parenting a Child with Autism

aspergersI was not exposed to autism or other learning disabilities when I was growing up. I had a distant cousin with an intellectual disability, but most people I knew were neuro typical. Even in my training as a speech language pathologist, I only saw one child with autism, and he was low functioning and non-verbal.

I was certainly surprised to come to the realization that my own son was on the autism spectrum. His diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, a kind of high-functioning autism, came years ago in grade school, although we knew he was unique, and experienced the world in a different way, even earlier when he was in preschool.

While autism may not be what you expected, life often gives us things we are not expecting, or that we feel unprepared for.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned in the last 15 years about parenting a child on the autism spectrum.  It’s good advice to navigate the storms that you will experience raising a child with a disability.

Tips for Parenting a Child with Autism

preparePreparation is key.  The best days I have are often the ones I have prepared for.  Think ahead.  Plan out the day’s activities. Prep the night before with school lunches, homework etc. Get yourself and your child prepared for appointments using calendars, picture schedules or social stories. Rehearse activities. Get your supports in place. Don’t leave it to chance. Help your child know what activity is coming and when. Driving to school or appointments? Leave early and give yourself a buffer of time, in case of a meltdown.

flexFlexibility.  I can’t say enough about being flexible. If you try it one way and it brings a meltdown, change it up! Be prepared to leave the park early if your toddler is overwhelmed. Have a backup plan if your child isn’t able to handle the sensory stimulation of that birthday party or sleepover. Like the rubber band that s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s, so must YOU! I know we, as educators, try to teach flexibility to our students, but parents will benefit from learning to be flexible, too.

unexpectedExpect the unexpected.  I found that when things are going along pretty well, I become discouraged when issues do happen, or a meltdown occurs. Rather than be upset when things get nutty, I tell myself to expect it. If my son has a meltdown, I am mentally prepared for it. And when things go well, it’s a pleasant surprise and a testimony that he is learning and doing better.

learnLearn from your failures.  Children with autism surprise us, and the things we thought would work (or that worked in the past) sometimes do not. When some sensory strategies didn’t work for our son, I was always ready to try new ones, till I found something that worked. I once heard the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!” This is very true. You must learn from your mistakes and try something new and different, to make the life you want with your child.

tomorrow1Tomorrow is another day.  When faced with a rough day or a failed activity, it’s important to remember that there’ll be another chance tomorrow. Take a moment to reflect on how things went and prepare a plan for next time. Getting a good night’s sleep for you (and your child) will make a big difference. It is an excellent idea to be well-rested any time. Stepping away from a problem can give you the clear head you need to think about it again and gain a fresh perspective.

valueYour child’s behavior is not the measure of YOUR worth. You are a valuable person. You have gifts and talents you use every day to make your children, your spouse and your family’s lives better. But you have value not because of what you do, and the effect you have on others, but simply because you are a human person,made in the image of God. Deeply loved and deeply valued by your creator. You will have an influence on your child’s life, but there will probably come a time when your child will make his own choices, and although they reflect on you, they do not make you the person you are. You are a valuable person. Do not ever forget this.

realfriendsTune up your friend “radar”.  Raising a child with autism/Aspergers, you will notice how friends fall away from you (it’s like they don’t want their child to catch what your son has). People from school, work, church, and your neighborhood will overlook you or exclude you. Most people with neuro typical kids will not understand your experience, be critical of your parenting skills and offer unhelpful advice. You must make new friends. Oftentimes parents of special needs children make friends with others who have children with disabilities. Look for compassionate, understanding people to surround yourself with.

celebrateCelebrate small accomplishments. My son struggled to learn how to tie his shoes. Thank God we had shoes with velcro straps for a long time. When he was 10 (in the 4th grade) he finally learned to tie his shoes using a video (Ian’s Knot). This was just a little thing, but I encourage you to think EVERY accomplishment is important and worth celebrating. Make sure you savor those moments! That feeling of joy is often the thing I try to call up at particularly stressful times in parenting my son.

thinkposMaintain a positive attitude. This one is near and dear to my heart. I see those parents who are so wonderfully positive with their kids, that even when they say no, it’s in such a pleasant and understanding way that being around them, and their children, is a delight! OK, well I am not one of those parents. Looking for the good and positive in situations has always been a little hard for me. I have to put some effort into it. But I can tell you this is one skill you will want to develop. As much as you can, try to maintain a positive attitude. And do this right away. If you can smile about things later, it’s possible you might be able to smile about them now.

havefunHave fun! Life has plenty of stress, and life with a child who has autism or other learning disabilities is more stressful than most. It very important to make sure you are taking time to have fun with your child, to laugh and feel joy. Be sure to find out the kinds of things he enjoys and make it a priority to have fun together. Our children remember the big (and little) things we do with them, and the attitude we have as we go through our daily lives. Give him happy times to remember.

Change Words That Don’t Work

social skills pragmaticsStudents need speech therapy for different reasons. Some more obvious reasons are articulation or stuttering. But sometimes a student is referred to therapy for social language. We call this “pragmatic language”.

Social language problems include not knowing and following social rules (which are often not taught explicitly) like:

  • take turns
  • use a voice that is the right pitch and loudness for the situation
  • read the social cues (like facial expression and body posture of your listener)
  • make guesses when you don’ have enough information
  • gauge your listeners understanding and provide more (or less) information when needed

Students with autism and other non-verbal learning disabilities often have trouble using language in a practical and effective way.  They can get stuck on certain things. I had a student get stuck on the word “guess”. Eddie (not his real name) came to see me for speech therapy because he had difficulty with pragmatic language. One of his goals was to solve hypothetical problems.

I asked “What would you do if your TV wasn’t working?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess” I said.

“I don’t guess. DON’T make me guess.  No Guessing!” He was very clear in communicating this. He knew he could not guess. (Not if you called it guessing, anyway.)

I changed the word. “Ok, no guessing. . . . let’s think of a way to solve that problem.”

He began to come up with ideas for solving the problem. I never again called it guessing. That’s just semantics! Or the meaning of a word. If you need to get around a semantics problem, try another word. It just might help.

 

Speech-Language-What’s the Difference?

speech language communicationA warm welcome to you! This is the first post on my new blog – Almaden Valley Speech Therapy Blog.

So let’s start with a common question – What the difference between “speech” and “language”? I hear this question a lot, so let’s talk about it. As an SLP (speech language pathologist) I teach people ways to improve their communication. Usually it involves verbal speech and language, sometimes sign language, or pictures or words.  I even teach non-verbal language. I am a communication expert.

Now getting back to speech and language. Speech is the words (the sounds) we use, or what the speaker says. Speech is what the listener hears. So if a student or adult client cannot use his voice to make sounds or cannot use his mouth (teeth, lips and tongue) correctly to make sounds others understand, then we say that individual has a “speech” problem. Speech problems are things like articulation, stuttering, having a lisp, or having a hoarse voice from incorrect use of the speech mechanism.

Language has to do with understanding and using language (words, sentences, grammar etc.) Children who have trouble learning correct vocabulary, spelling or grammar have language problems. Adults who have had strokes, or head injuries from a car accident, can have language problems, and need help to learn language again after injury. Children and adults with autism will have problems with using language in a functional way. They may not talk at all. Or they may talk often about a single subject (maybe trains or computer games), and they not be aware that the listener does not want to hear any more. They may not be able to understand “nonverbal” language, like facial expressions, tone of voice or body language. When we work with children or adults with autism we help them improve social language and behavior, by having them practice the way others are expecting them to communicate.

Now let me say a word about accents. Every person has an accent. When people speak other languages you can usually hear an accent. That’s because the person uses the speech patterns from his first language when he tries to speak his second or third language. When someone has an accent, that is not considered a “speech problem”. It is a speech difference, and it is only a problem if an accent makes it difficult to understand. In this case a person may want to learn how to make his accent less noticeable. A speech language pathologist can help you with that!

Again WELCOME! I hope you enjoy reading here. Stop back often! Paula