Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Loving Kids with Autism

Lessons Learned from Loving Kids with Autism

Editor’s Note: Today is World Autism Awareness Day, so we have a special post to celebrate the wonders that people with this unique perspective bring to the world. Read more about autism in this month’s April ASHA Leader issue devoted to the topic, which includes articles on the importance of helping people with ASD predict what happens next and how to measure clients’ progress in social skills groups.

 

If you’ve had the good fortune of loving kids with autism, you’ve probably encountered a few unexpected lessons in life.  In honor of National Autism Awareness Month and to express my gratitude for what my friends with autism spectrum disorder have taught me, I’d like to share my Top 10:

#10. In a world of too many gadgets and gizmos, a spinning top is pretty cool.

#9. Echolalia keeps my “over 40” brain sharp. I’ve learned to repeat, repeat, repeat.

#8. Parents with patience are the best teachers.

#7. Consistency is so comforting.

#6. Random objects can bring one kid a lot of joy. I’ve learned to appreciate road maps, bathroom signs and every single state’s license plates, to name just a few.

#5. Sometimes, carrying a favorite toy all day long just makes everything go better.

#4. Flapping really does feel good.

#3. The world needs more quirky.

#2. The first spontaneous “hug” is the best one of all.

And the #1 lesson I learned from my clients with autism?

#1. Love is when you take the time to know someone who sees the world differently than you.

 

What lessons have you learned from loving kids with autism? I’d love to know. Let’s start a list here to celebrate and raise awareness of all that the world can learn from these extraordinary, beautiful people.

 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLPtreats children, birth to teens, who have difficulty eating. She is the co-author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook – A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (Oct. 2015), the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids, and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Potock’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs.  Melanie@mymunchbug.com  

 

 

Noise Control: 11 Tips for Helping a Child With Autism

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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of a blog post written by Karen Wang for Friendship Circle. Her full post can be read here

When my son was a toddler, he had a panic attack every time our washing machine clicked loudly to change cycles. He developed a phobia of all types of bells. He covered his ears and cried in crowds. But he became calm, even joyful, every single time we went for a walk in the woods, visited the library or entered any kind of religious environment: his stiff, tight muscles would relax instantly in my arms.

Creating a Plan to Deal With Sounds
All of these observations gave me food for thought as I developed a plan to help him cope with his sensitivity to sound. Over the years his ability to tolerate noise has steadily increased, and barking dogs are his only remaining noise-related phobia.

Here are eleven ways to help a highly sensitive person learn how to cope with and enjoy everyday noisy situations.

1. Know the types of sensitivity
There are several different types of noise sensitivity, and there are different treatments for each type. Consult with an audiologist to pinpoint which type of sensitivity is affecting your quality of life. There are five common types of sensitivities, but keep in mind that a person may be affected by more than one issue. For example, my son has hyperacusis in addition to phobias of specific sounds.

2. Provide relief
Headphones and earplugs offer instant comfort and relief. Noise-canceling headphones are the most effective, because they replace irritating environmental noise by producing calming white noise. However, most audiologists, physicians, therapists and educators recommend against frequent use of headphones and earplugs, because a person can quickly become dependent on them.

3. Identify safe environments
One of the first steps that I took for my son was to make a list of his “safe” places and increase his participation there.

4. Allow control over some types of noise
At its heart, anxiety is a fear of being unable to control reactions and situations. When my son had a phobia of bells, I gave him several different types of bells to handle and experiment with at home. When we saw bells at customer service desks or in other public places, I allowed him to ring the bell. He gradually became comfortable with the sounds, and he even began identifying speaker systems, alarm systems and other sources of sounds everywhere we went.

5. Allow distractions
When my husband and I took a Lamaze childbirth class many years ago, we learned about the power of distraction in pain management. By giving a person something like an iPad to focus on or an unusual privilege such as bringing along a favorite toy from home, it becomes possible to direct attention away from the offending noise.

6. Gradually increase exposure and proximity
The cure for a fear of snakes does not involve throwing a person into a snake pit. Similarly, relief from noise sensitivity requires a gradual desensitization and not a sudden exposure. Start by observing something from afar and take a step closer with each opportunity.

7. Alternate noisy and quiet
I discovered that my son’s tolerance for noise increased the most when I scheduled frequent quiet breaks. After a morning out doing errands, we enjoyed a quiet lunch at home. After a playgroup with 7 other children, we made time to snuggle on the sofa. When we felt brave enough to visit a large theme park, we booked a hotel inside the park so that we could retreat as often as necessary. We always take a break before the noise upsets him, so that he will want to return for more fun after resting.

8. Hyperacusis Retraining Therapy (Tinnitus Retraining Therapy)
Auditory Integration Therapy (AIT) is sometimes suggested to people with noise sensitivity, but there is very little peer-reviewed research published on the topic of AIT, and the existing research has generally not been favorable. However, there is plenty of medical research on Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which involves listening to broadband pink noise to habituate a person to ringing in the ears. Pink noise contains all audible frequencies, but with more power in the lower frequencies than in the higher frequencies. Most people report that pink noise sounds “flat.” Because of this, it helps to rebuild tolerance to sound.

9. Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Physicians widely recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy for phobias and anxiety because it teaches a person to self-manage emotions and coping skills. The goal of the therapy is to reframe a person’s thought processes about the cause for anxiety in order to increase quality of life.

10.Consider supplements
Many people with tinnitus or hyperacusis are deficient in magnesium or other minerals. Consult with a physician to determine if nutritional supplements may be able to help.

11. Avoid food additives
Certain food additives, especially those in the salicylate family, are associated with noise sensitivity. In fact, medical literature refers to salicylate as a “tinnitus inducer.” Special diets, such as the Feingold Diet or a diverse whole foods diet, eliminate those additives and may help reduce sensitivity. Consult with a physician or dietitian before making any major dietary changes.

Karen Wang is a regular blogger for Friendship Circle, a nonprofit organization that supports people with special needs and their families.  Karen is also a contributing author to the anthology “My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities”

CSD Students Use Their Skills in Ethiopia This Month

   

The CSD program at Teachers College Columbia University is in Ethiopia this month visiting schools for students with autism and a center for adults with intellectual disabilities. The TC Team—nine master’s students and three ASHA-certified SLPs: Lisa Edmonds, Jayne Miranda and I—used our experiences in Ghana and Bolivia to prepare for the trip.

At a vocational center for adults with intellectual disabilities the TC Team created “Seller’s Market Cards,” so the adults can independently sell their products. These low-tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication cards, laminated with packing tape, introduce the seller and list products for sale with their prices. We worked with the sellers to create the cards and then immediately tried them out at an impromptu market at the center!

At the Nehemiah Autism School, 20 teachers and our team spent the day collaborating to identify ways to bring more communication opportunities into an otherwise excellent school. We made 70 flash cards for weather, a large calendar, practiced social stories, and talked about ways to introduce literacy and math.

Right now, we’re presenting a five-day cleft palate speech institute at Yekatit 12 Hospital. Smile Train and Transforming Faces supported 14 cleft palate team professionals who attended from East and West Africa.

Please follow our adventures on the blog.  We love to see comments and are just halfway through our trip.

 

Catherine J. Crowley, CCC-SLP, JD, PhD, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in speech-language pathology at Teachers College Columbia University, founded and directs the bilingual/multicultural program focus, the Bilingual Extension Institute, and the Bolivia and Ghana programs. An experienced attorney, Crowley is working with NYCDOE on a multi-year project to improve the accuracy of disability evaluations. 

Tales From Apraxia Boot Camp

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In August of this year, I was selected to be a part of The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America’s 2014 Intensive Training Institute, otherwise known as “Apraxia Boot Camp.” Twenty-four speech-language pathologists, including myself, trained with three mentors–Ruth Stoeckel, Kathy Jakielski, and Dave Hammer–at Duquesne University over four days. In its third year, the goal of the boot camp is to spread a high level of knowledge about Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) assessment and treatment throughout the United States and Canada. This conference accomplished that and so much more.

This experience was different than any other continuing education seminars that I have attended. We did not listen to speakers discuss CAS. Instead, Ruth, Kathy and Dave became our mentors. This was powerful. They moderated discussions on evaluation and treatment approaches. We reviewed research papers and had long debates on the principles of motor learning. We highlighted and critiqued therapy methods for those brave enough to show videos of themselves. We problem solved and brought up more questions than we knew were possible.

In smaller groups, our mentors provided insights and personal perspectives on how they work. In this intimate setting, we felt comfortable asking questions and sharing our experiences. The mentors shared constructive criticism along with thoughtful suggestions. In all, they made me think, reflect and question everything I do. Why do I give that test? Why do I treat that way? What is the research behind it? They encouraged us to become critical thinkers.

As therapists, we often get used to using the same materials and therapy techniques we learned in graduate school or during our early experiences. Those methods are not always effective with every child we treat nor are they all proven effective with evidence based-research. Specifically, children with CAS require different therapy techniques than other children with articulation or phonological delays.

Ruth, Kathy and Dave provided valuable information in a small, engaging setting. Their mentoring and passion for CAS has inspired me and I hope to pass along this valuable information to others through mentoring, improving my competency in treatment and diagnosis of CAS, and, in the end, helping children to communicate.

Based on my experience, I’d recommend asking yourself a few questions when selecting your next continuing education event:

  • What am I passionate about? Is there a child or an area of speech pathology that truly inspires me?
  • How will it improve my skill set?
  • How will it help me better serve my clients?
  • Who is doing the most current, researched-based evaluation or therapy techniques?
  • How will it further our profession?

 

Amanda Zimmerman, MA, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Columbus, OH. She can be reached at azimmerman@columbusspeech.org.

ASHA 2014, Here I Come! It’s GO Time!

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Usually, the word scheduling elicits shivers down my spine. Usually that means scheduling 60 kids into speech therapy slots without interrupting ELA, math, lunch, recess, music, PE, art, intervention, OT or PT. It’s an astronomical feat when SLPs complete schedules every year. In contrast, scheduling for ASHA 2014 in Orlando has been a breeze. I’m scheduling lunch dates, meet ups, pool time, and my favorite CEU opportunities! Scheduling for #ASHA14 in Orlando is very different from scheduling therapy clients.

 

I’ve booked my flight. I’ve texted friends and worked out transportation. I’ve got a place to stay! I’ve joined up with some of my blogging buddies and reserved a booth for the exhibitor hall. Most importantly, I’ve started picking out a schedule for the courses I will take in November. I am so looking forward to downloading the mobile app this year. Since most SLPs don’t have time to wait in line for three days for the new iPhone 6, I’m hoping my dinosaur 4s phone will make it until November. The app should make managing my conference schedule a snap.

 

The Program Planner has been an easy way to browse for courses. It’s more user-friendly than my IEP writing program and my Medicaid billing programs. You can browse through courses by keyword, author, title, etc. So far I’ve searched for topics that apply directly to my caseload. My search terms were “school,” “autism,” “evaluation,” “preschool,” “apraxia” and “AAC.” Here are seven sessions that I’ve chosen so far:

 

  1. I really think research is valuable and there is just so much to choose from. I am trying to pick courses that relate directly to me or courses that really excite and interest me. In my current job I’m doing two preschool evaluations per week. I’m having the ‘articulation, phonology, and apraxia’ conversation with parents every week as I explain characteristics of each and their differences. The presentation “Differential Diagnosis of Severe Phonological Disorder & Childhood Apraxia of Speech” by Matthews and Rvachew sounds like a great refresher. I’m hoping to find some more evaluation-specific courses before November.
  2. I’m thinking the Phillips, Soto, & Sullivan presentation called “Strategies for SLPs Working with Students with AAC Needs in Schools” sounds perfect for a lot of my caseload. I need strategies for AAC students so this should be a big help.
  3. I can’t wait to see “iPad to iPlay 2: Teaching Play to preschoolers through Apps” from Tara Roehl. I love my iPad so I can’t wait to see how she is using it to teach play in preschoolers. This is really a skill I’d love to pass on to my teachers and parents.
  4. On the other hand I’m always careful to limit screen time with my students. There is a presentation called “The Impact of Technology on Play Behaviors in Early Childhood“ from Hagstrom, Smith, Witherspoon. Hopefully once I listen to both presentations I’ll feel good about balance and not leave feeling conflicted!
  5. Michelle Garica Winner is presenting four times. I’m hoping to catch “ASD Treatment: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & Mental Health Problems Associated With Social Learning Challenges” and “Implementation Science & Social Thinking®: Discovering Evidence in Our Own Backyard”. I love her work and just can’t wait to finally see her present in person.
  6. Barbara Fernandez from Smarty Ears is presenting about one of her apps for data collection and caseloads. I can’t wait to talk to her about all the new Smarty Ears apps coming out in the future so I’ll be hitting up the Smarty Ears booth.
  7. Lastly, I decided to search my schools to check out what the faculty at Ohio University and The Ohio State University are presenting. “Skiing, Horseback Riding, & Communication With Individuals With Complex Communication Needs: Experiences From Community Volunteers” sounds really interesting from McCarthy, Benigno, and Hajjar at Ohio University. They are presenting information on recreational activities for individuals with complex communication needs. Interviews were conducted with volunteers in adaptive sport programs in New England.

 

I don’t think we will have any typical celebrities at ASHA. At least not the kind you see on entertainment television every night. There will however be some #SLPcelebrities to be found! I searched two of my favorites to check when they will be presenting. Hopefully you’ll see me posting a #slpselfie with some of my favorites SLPs over the weekend in Orlando.

That initial scheduling took about 30 minutes and I didn’t have to email 20 different teachers. Scheduling for ASHA is way more fun than making a therapy schedule. Now the countdown begins!

 

 

Jenna Rayburn, MA, CCC-SLP, is a school-based speech-language pathologist from Columbus, Ohio. She writes at her blog, Speech Room News. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Jenna is one of four guest bloggers for ASHA’s convention in Orlando.

Autism Diagnosis and Treatment of Today and Tomorrow: Part 2

Patty-Prelock_PodcastPodcast: Episode 30 (Part 2)
Autism is a topic of significant interest to almost all parents given the spike in children diagnosed with the condition over the past decade. ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist Dr. Patricia Prelock offers an in-depth look at treatment options, and explains the new criteria for diagnosing autism. Read the transcript.

Listen to Part 1 of this podcast: Dr. Patricia Prelock discusses some of the reasons behind the increase, as well as the early signs parents should look for, and when and where parents should go for a diagnosis if they suspect autism.

Autism Diagnosis and Treatment of Today and Tomorrow: Part 1

Patty-Prelock_PodcastPodcast: Episode 30 (Part 1)
Autism is a topic of significant interest to almost all parents given the spike in children diagnosed with the condition over the past decade. ASHA-certified SLP Dr. Patricia Prelock discusses some of the reasons behind the increase, as well as the early signs parents should look for, and when and where parents should go for a diagnosis if they suspect autism. Read the transcript.

Listen to Part 2 of this podcast: Dr. Patricia Prelock offers an in-depth look at treatment options, and explains the new criteria for diagnosing autism.

Can Speech-Language Pathologists Diagnose Autism?

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On February, as part of its Posted series, the ASHA Leader asked on Facebook, “Do you, as an SLP, diagnose autism spectrum disorder independently or as a team?” The response we received was varied and indicated there is some confusion in the profession about what is proper, expected, or even legal. The biggest question that appeared over and over was, “How can an SLP diagnose independently?” The answer bears some explanation.

When it comes to assessing and diagnosing ASD, interdisciplinary collaboration is important due to the complexity of the disorder, the varied aspects of functioning affected, and the need to distinguish ASD from other disorders or medical conditions. Ideally, the SLP plays a key role on an interdisciplinary team, whose members possess expertise in diagnosing ASD.  In cases when there is no appropriate team available, however, an SLP who has been trained in the clinical criteria for ASD and who is experienced in the diagnosis of developmental disorders, may be qualified to diagnose these disorders as an independent professional. For more information check out ASHA’s new Practice Portal and/or position statement on autism.

In most cases, a stable diagnosis of ASD is possible before or around a child’s second birthday (Chawarska, Klin, Paul, Macari & Volkmar, 2009). An early, accurate diagnosis can help families access appropriate services, provide a common language across interdisciplinary teams, and establish a framework for families and caregivers within which to understand their child’s difficulties. Any diagnosis of ASD, particularly of young children, should be periodically reviewed, as diagnostic categories and conclusions may change as the child develops. Interdisciplinary collaboration and family involvement is essential in assessing and diagnosing ASD.

Assessment, intervention, and support for individuals receiving speech and language services should be consistent with the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (2001) framework. This framework considers impairments in body structures/functions; the individual’s communication activities and participation; and contextual factors, including environmental barriers/facilitators and personal identity. There are recommended knowledge and skills for SLPs who are planning on working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder:

Knowledge required:

  • Federal and state laws and regulations regarding scope of practice, referral, and placement procedures.
  • Diagnostic criteria for ASD and related conditions (e.g., DSM-5).
  • Prevalence.
  • How to obtain information regarding etiology and related medical conditions.
  • Importance of early diagnosis and the role of the speech-language pathologis.t
  • How to evaluate the validity of diagnostic tools.
  • The necessary information to gather in a diagnostic evaluation about the child’s health, developmental and behavioral history, past intervention and academic history, and medical history of the family.
  • Other related diagnostic categories and when to make appropriate referrals to identify or rule out related conditions
  • How to rule out or confirm hearing loss while working with an audiologist.
  • The types of speech and language impairments that can co-occur with ASD, including features of language disorders, apraxia, and dysarthria.
  • How to share information about diagnosis with parents.
  • The challenges of determining eligibility for services for individuals with ASD, especially high-functioning individuals.
  • The needs of culturally and linguistically diverse populations, including the selection and/or adaptations of diagnostic instruments (ASHA, 2004b).

Skills required:

  • Observation, recognition, and interpretation of diagnostic characteristics of ASD.
  • Selection and correct use of valid diagnostic tools for ASD.
  • Appropriate referrals to other professionals to identify or rule out related conditions.
  • Diagnosis of the types of speech and language impairments that can co-occur with ASD, including features of language disorders, apraxia, and dysarthria.
  • Integration of findings from diagnostic tools for ASD, diagnostic evaluation, and information from other professionals or members of an interdisciplinary team, to determine diagnosis.
  • Documentation and communication of findings about diagnosis to family members, individually or in conjunction with a collaborative team.
  • Effective, delicate, and empathic communication when informing family members that the child has ASD.
  • Decision making about eligibility for services.
  • Appropriate recommendations and referrals for services and assistance to families in navigating the educational and health care systems, as well as promotion of self-advocacy.

Some state laws or regulations may restrict the scope of practice of licensees, however, and prohibit the SLP from providing such diagnoses. SLPs should check with their state licensure board and/or departments of education for specific requirements.

 

Understanding Autism: Restaurant Meltdowns

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I sat in a popular restaurant chain and watched an 8 year old boy have a major meltdown at his table.  His mother cringed as lunch time patrons stared.  An irritated couple at a nearby booth got up and moved, but only after glaring at the mother.  I’ll be honest, the child was disrupting my lunch too, but one thing I suspected was that this child had autism.  He appeared to be just like any other child, but the intensity of his outburst was out of proportion to the issue he was yelling about: The waiter had served him waffle fries and he had expected “skinny fries” just like the french fries served at home.

April is National Autism Awareness Month.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 68 children are reported to have autism (ASD) and most are boys. Chances are, you know someone with autism.

What distinctive characteristics of ASD can affect a child’s ability to adjust to unexpected life events, even something as incidental as waffle fries?  Let’s look very briefly at some of the central features of ASD, while keeping in mind that this a spectrum disorder, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe and this list does not encompass all of the elements of a diagnosis. Just some of the central features that kids with ASD have difficulty with are:

  1. Social interaction, often including social reciprocity or that back and forth communication exchange known as conversation.
  2. Restricted behaviors and the need for “sameness” or the inability to be flexible with change.
  3. Hypersensitive and/or hyposensitive “to sensory aspects of the environment” which can hinder their ability to tolerate different tastes, temperature and/or textures of food and deal with change in general.

As a pediatric therapist,  I assess and treat a child’s ability to allocate specific cognitive resources in the brain to manage day-to-day life.  As adults, we too have to utilize many different parts of our brains throughout the day.  But what happens when we are bombarded with sensory input and suddenly, we have to adjust to unfamiliar stimuli? To understand what it’s like, consider this example:

You are driving the minivan full of kids to soccer practice, radio blaring, kids chattering.  Your brain is operating relatively smoothly, filtering auditory, visual, tactile and other sensations, while remembering to use your turn signal, maintain the speed limit, etc.  Suddenly, the weather changes and it starts to hail.  What’s the first thing you do?  Turn off the radio and tell the kids “Shush…Mommy needs to concentrate on the road.”  Perhaps you even slow down so that you can focus on the sudden change in driving conditions.  You have eliminated as much sensory input as possible so that you can concentrate on the task at hand – driving safely.  Isn’t it interesting that  you were driving perfectly fine until one unpredictable event changed in your environment?

Now consider the child with autism as he attempts to engage in mealtimes.  The reality is that daily life changes as easily as the daily weather report and for him, some days are just like driving through a hailstorm.  This child is already challenged by poor sensory processing; he has limited ability to take in information through all of the senses, process it and filter out the unimportant info, and then act upon only the relevant sensory input.

Now, bring that child to the family dinner table, which is all about social interaction and conversation.  Put a plate of food in front of him which looks and smells completely different from the last meal he was served.   Then, tell him to try that steamed broccoli for the very first time.  He doesn’t get to turn down the sensory input bombarding him at the table and focus just on the broccoli.  Because he has autism, he can’t always filter out which stimuli might be inconsequential and it feels so much safer to follow rigid behavior patterns and never try anything new.  Life for a child with autism is all about sticking to sameness. My role as a therapist is to help the child learn to deal with change.

A 2013 study from the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University indicated that kids with ASD are five times more likely to have feeding problems compared to their peers.  Once feeding difficulties are addressed in the home, restaurants are the next step for their families.  Here, the visual input is completely different and it changes constantly, the inconsistent auditory input can be overwhelming, the fluctuating smells may be interpreted as noxious, etc.   Every input to every sense has changed.   Once again, the child with autism is encountering a hailstorm and has to learn to tune out the distractions and focus on the task at hand – in this case, eating a meal away from home.  In this young man’s case, waffle fries were just too much to handle after managing all of the other sensory stimuli at the restaurant.

Perhaps you are a parent of a child with ASD.  Perhaps you have observed a child whom you suspect may be dealing with the daily challenges  of autism.  Thank you for considering what mealtimes feel like for him and his family.  It does get better, but it is a journey that requires patience from family, friends and the community.

Please share this article with a friend so that we can continue to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder and if you know someone who loves a child with ASD, do something special for them this month in honor of National Autism Awareness Month – thank you!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Collaboration Corner: In Defense of the Whole Child

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I treat children with autism. I’ve been doing it for a while now. As the numbers of children with autism peak a staggering 1:88 (Center for Disease Control, 2014), the demand for trained staff has gone through the roof. Many districts have specialized paraprofessionals whose primary job is to teach and support children with autism. In the Boston area, graduate and certificate programs related to ABA are cropping up everywhere, churning out new and enthusiastic graduates by the boatload.

Before I go on, there are three things you should know about me: 1) I have never been a diehard, one-shoe-fits-all clinician, 2) I embrace whole-heartedly the principals of ABA. It’s as an evidenced-based approach, and it works wonders for all sorts of kids, not just ones with autism, and, 3) If I couldn’t be silly with my students, I would just close up shop.

As an SLP, I know there are mountains of other kinds of research, and that child language and cognitive development that are important too. In this age of ABA, I find myself wanting to shout from the rooftops, “Wait! Stop! There’s more to this kid than just autism!”

Our role as SLPs and educators

Working with so many professionals “trained in autism” made me realize that, as SLPs, we bring to the table our knowledge of childhood language development, learning, motivation and context. Never before has this been more evident to me. We also bring the friendly reminder the importance of a playful approach and rapport building.

I’ve found myself shifting discussions to the whole child, and what we know about children and learning.

Here are some pointers I frequently share with staff:

  1. Appeal to the inner child first (yours and theirs). The individual comes before the label.
  2. Not every behavior can be attributed to one definitive cause. Environments, emotional state/regulation, personality, medical/biological components, all should be up for consideration.
  3. Assessment and intervention is a daily process, which is sometimes messy and dynamic (see #2). We won’t always get it right the first time. Or even the second time.
  4. It’s possible (and OK!)  to be structured and silly at the same time. Sometimes silliness increases engagement.
  5. Watch and learn from your kindergarten teachers (see #4). I’ve learned a lot from them about having fun while being structured, thoughtful and flexible.
  6. Use visuals even if the child is verbal or becoming verbal. We can model language through PECS, topic boards and Aided Language Stimulation techniques, within natural play activities.
  7. Strive to meet every child “where they are” in all aspects of learning: attention, behavior, communication and language development.
  8. We can’t make someone ready to learn or communicate; we simply lay the foundation.
  9. Learning can’t happen in a bubble. Context is just about everything. I know what a zoo is, because I’ve been in one, not because I’ve seen a flashcard of one.
  10. And finally, my favorite: Provide random acts of praise and compliments. Make daily deposits into that relationship bank. It’s a worthwhile investment.

 

Kerry Davis Ed.D., CCC-SLP,is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer speech pathologist and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer.