February 7, 2017
by Margaret
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Growing a Foodie, Part 3

Last time I shared some dinner table techniques I use to get my son to try new foods. Check them out here and here. But I want to move beyond the dinner table and share some of the things I learned while teaching my son to expand beyond a food jag or to let go of some of his pickiness. Over all, I found I had to adjust my ways with food just like him. As with everything, we are in this together!

1) Patience and empathy

Trying to get your child to eat a variety of foods can take a long, long time. This is a process and focusing on that instead of on the result will help you take the presssure off – yourself and your child.

When taking the first steps on this road, try to put yourself in your child’s place. I am somewhat adventurous with food, but I also have some issues. It’s those issues, that have allowed me to relate to my son’s. I have food jags too. I eat my Rice Chex every morning, without fail. I have a major sensory issue as well- crunching an onion in my mouth freaks me out. And if I’m stressed, I don’t reach for a carrot, I look for chocolate. When I keep all this in mind, I am much more patient with my son’s eating habits. And that patience and understanding allows me to invite change rather than force it.

2)  Go Slow

The best thing I learned from the gluten free/casein free diet had nothing to do with that diet. When my son was a toddler, his go-to foods were grapes and Cheerios. We started the gf/cf diet, so the Cheerios had to go. However, we weren’t one of those families who were able to go cold turkey onto the diet. I envied those who could pull that off.

We could eliminate foods only as we found a substitute that our son liked to eat. It took almost a year before we found alternatives that worked. It worked for our family to take it slow because it set a pattern of actively looking for foods that our son would try, no matter how long it took to find an acceptable food. The gf/cf diet may not be for your child, but you can still try a slow and steady approach to finding new, acceptable foods.

3)  Status quo is OK sometimes

Once we found foods our son liked that met his basic nutritional needs, he stuck with those for years. Sometimes it was literally five to 10 food that he would eat. I wasn’t always actively addressing this issue of limited foods, because I noticed that if he had the same food at mealtimes, he was able to focus on meeting expectations at the table. He didn’t have anxiety over the food, so we can work on other, more social, goals. Like how to use his utensils, or to clean up afterwards, or to converse with us at the table. It was too hard for him to try to master those skills while also trying new foods. On the plus side, his limited diet also cut down on unhealthy food choices. Although there wasn’t variety, it was all relatively healthy food. I felt comforted by this, which increased my patience with the process.

4)  Don’t you love schedules?

One thing that helped my son’s anxiety, when I started introducing some variety into the lunch he brought to school, was making a schedule so he would know what food he would be eating that day. Eventually, we fell back on consistent favorites for lunch and saved the variety for meals at home. And the only reason he was able to try some different foods when he went away to camp is because they provided a meal schedule beforehand that I could go over with him before he went to camp. He knew what to expect so it was okay.

I hope these first four strategies will help you navigate this food journey with your child. Taking a step back, reminding yourself of the process and applying what you know works for your child in other settings will keep you on track and happily pursuing the next food adventure.

Next, I will continue with these top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Discover the final four here!

Learn even more strategies for growing a foodie at our upcoming class on February 28!

Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4 of “Growing a Foodie.”

January 31, 2017
by Margaret
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Growing a Foodie, Part 2

Last week I started us off on my journey through expanding my son’s food choices. Here are the next four tips in my top seven Eating Adventures strategies. Refresh yourself on the first three here!

4)  Try again . . . and again . . . and again . . . 

Keep this in mind – it takes 10 tries before our brains decide whether we truly like a food or not. So even if your child refuses the food, it is worth trying again. If our son is skeptical about trying something new, we just have him eat one or two pieces and wait until the next meal to try again. However, if the first piece makes him gag, then we know he’s not ready for it to be introduced over and over. We put it on our “try again in six months” list.

5)  The first step is just one bite

So this is great advice, but how do you even get your child to take that first bite? Not always easily, I’ll admit. Putting one piece on his small plate reduces his anxiety since he can literally see it will be just one bite. When we try again, I might try two pieces. Or I might up it to six pieces on the plate, depending on his reaction to that first bite.

When he protests, I will tell him he only has to eat three pieces. In this moment, he thinks he has ‘won.’ Or I remind him to close his eyes since that seems to help him take a bite. Sometimes the way a food looks – so new, so strange – is the barrier he needs to move beyond. We have made it a routine to put new foods in front of him, so that it’s an everyday thing.  If you can make the unknown, predictable, that is half the battle.

6)  Exposure can be a first step

There are some preferred foods that our son absolutely will not try in another form. One is his adored rice pasta. I would love it if he could try plain old rice, but I guess all those little grains are just too weird for him. In this case it is helping him to see us eat rice. I offer it to him each time we eat it. He says “no” and that’s okay; sometimes he needs to feel like he has some control over the situation. I just say, “maybe next time,” which he actually processes as a possibility over time. The fact that rice is present on the table at least exposes him to it as a real food that he may eat someday. Offering a bite each time we eat it lets him know, concretely, that it is also for him, not just for us.

7)  Dessert is not a weapon, it is our friend

When I was a kid, without fail, along with my sandwich and a piece of fruit, I always had cookies in my brown bag lunch at school. We also always had dessert after dinner, whether it was fruit or Hostess Ho Ho’s. I learned that because dessert was always a part of the meal, at some point I would get something fun like chocolate or cake. I also learned that it’s okay to have sweet treats at certain times, not all the time. My husband’s mom was a great baker so he has a certain expectation of sweet treats on a regular basis as well. Consequently, dessert is always an option in our house.

We never offer, or take away, dessert (or any other favorite food) depending on whether our son tries the new food or not because we also know this would ratchet up his anxiety, not reduce it. Since my son responds so well to verbal praise (heck, I respond well to verbal praise), we just give appropriate praise when he does try a new food, even if it’s just one bite. If he is not able to take a bite, we always say, “maybe next time” and nonchalantly go on with the meal. The meal stays calm, and dessert is just dessert then, not a big deal.

These are all the dinner-table specific techniques we learned on our Eating Adventures with our son. But the journey doesn’t stop there. We’ve learned a few more things that have also helped the eating process in our home. I will go beyond the dinner table in my next posts.

Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. more >>

Missed it? Read Growing a Foodie, Part 1

Go beyond the dinner table in Part 3 and Part 4

January 24, 2017
by Margaret
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Growing a Foodie

My son loves grapes. He discovered grapes quite young, and they quickly became his favorite food. At first I was happy we found a healthy choice for his snacks that he liked so much. But then the “grape emergencies” started. Intense reactions spilled over when he discovered there were no grapes in the house. That’s when I realized that eating, too, wasn’t going to be simple for my son with autism.

My son is a very picky eater but through our consistent attempts to get him to eat the unknown, he is slowly adding to his diet. He isn’t a foodie, yet, but he steadily tries a variety of food and adds to his repertoire. Here are three things we learned on his Eating Adventures journey. Check in next week for four more!

1) Same thing, different form

The tricky part is actually getting our son to try a new food. We used some methods I learned from a seminar given by Kay Toomey, PhD, a pediatric psychologist who works with kids who don’t eat. If they won’t try a different food, she said, try a favorite food in a different form. So we started just by switching from green grapes to red grapes and back again. Although my son was upset and anxious about the switch, he was motivated because he loved grapes. We then took turns buying each color, in order to not get into the “green” pattern again. In fact, these days he prefers red. Once he mastered this, we built on this fruit preference and began to introduce different types of fruit.

2) Modifications and accommodations apply to food too

Toomey also talked about making it easy for our kids to try new foods. When our son was little, he was literally unable to bite into a whole apple. Also, he really disliked the apple’s skin. So we peeled it and cut it up into small pieces. This way he was able to happily eat an entire apple. After a while, we introduced variety by leaving the skin on. When he was older, we cut the apple into wedges, since by then we knew he would just take a bite of the wedge instead of trying to put the whole thing in his mouth.

For pears, my son wouldn’t touch the cut up fruit because it was “wetter” than an apple. So we gave him a fork, and he ate the whole thing. We look for the modifications that will make it easier for him to at least try the new food. As you accommodate your child’s deficits in other areas of life, the same ideas can be applied at the dinner table.

3) The small plate as the island of safe food

We’ve been having some great success lately with another tip I learned from Toomey’s seminar, which is to put the new food you want your child to try on a separate small plate on the table. We also always make sure he has a preferred food to eat at each meal, which is on his main plate.

We’ve mostly tried to introduce vegetables using the small plate technique. I first tried things that made sense with his preferences – cut up cucumber was cold like a grape, and he could crunch it like an apple. So that worked great. He was very skeptical of the pieces of lettuce we put out, but I kept the dressing off, and let him eat the pieces with his fingers. After a few times, we had him use a fork. Then the next time, we gave him some lettuce with dressing on it, which was a big deal because in his mind, food should not have anything extra on it. But he was used to the routine of trying the food on his small plate, so he ate it. It’s not a preferred food, but he will regularly eat lettuce now.

These three techniques are a great starting point for expanding the foods your child will eat. Starting small, establishing comfort with the routine and then making small changes can slowly grow your child’s food intake. Our dinner table is power struggle free, and my worry over his nutritional health is gone. Because, well, we’re working on it.

Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. More info here >>

Continue with Part 2!

Read Part 3 and Part 4 to go beyond the dinner table.

katie loves

January 23, 2017
by JeanneLovesBooks
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Emerging Readers – January

Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman is about a rambunctious little dog, Katie, who loves her family’s new kittens so enthusiastically she scares them away. Katie is full of emotions. She loves the kittens, she leaps and howls with excitement when she sees them, and she is sad when she is told she has stay away until they get used to to her. She might even be a bit jealous when she sees her Sara Ann playing with the kittens. All these emotions come to life through the illustrations.

Katie tries hard to do what she is told and control her excitement. There are wonderful and very funny pictures of Katie literally shaking she is trying so hard. And, of course it doesn’t work – Katie howls her loud AROOOOO! AROOOOO! howl of excitement, runs and leaps and scares the kittens again. Eventually, Katie has a break through moment and learns to play gently with the kittens.  She learns how to be a friend and is really happy.

There are many children’s books where the main character is trying to control emotions. This one is different because the emotions that need to be moderated are positive: love, excitement and a desire to be friends. Another real strength of this book is the way Katie’s emotions are shown in the illustrations. Everyone can tell what Katie is feeling.

This is a good book to use for a child who is learning how to make friends, or who is trying to moderate emotions or behaviors.  It could also be a good book in a new baby situation.  Parents can refer back to Katie and say, “Are you feeling like Katie (so enthusiastic, sad or …)”  “Do you remember how Katie was trying to control her excitement?” “Is it hard to control your excitement (substitute appropriate emotion) like it was hard for Katie?”

My HeartMy Heart Fills with Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith is a very special little board book. It focuses on joy and happiness and noticing those things and moments in life that “fill your heart with happiness.” This is a book that was written “to support the wellness of indigenous children and families,” so some of the examples, such as bannock baking and drumming, have that specific cultural reference. But other examples, and the idea are universal – that we all benefit if we, and the children in our lives, take time to focus on the things in our life that give us joy. The last page asks, “What fills YOUR heart with happiness?” It is a good question for both adult and child.

Share Reading Tips

  • Talking about emotions is hard in the heat of the moment. Use these books to explore emotions in a safe space.
  • Pay attention to the ways in which we know how someone is feeling. Ask follow up questions like, “What do you see that makes you say that.”
  • Tie what’s happening in these pictures to your child’s everyday life. “When did you feel like Katie?” “Tell me about a time that you were happy.”
sensitive storytime

January 7, 2017
by Editorial Team
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Sensitive Family Time in Plymouth

For families living with autism or other special needs. Explore the library at your own pace during this time set aside just for your family. You also may build with Legos or take a break with a therapy animal. Literacy resources and family resources will be shared. Each child may choose a gift book to keep.

Because the Plymouth Library does not open to the general public until noon, please enter through the south patio doors, which will be marked.

Be prepared for all the fun by reading this social story with your child!

Presented in collaboration with Center for Engaging Autism and Doggone Good Coaching. Gift books sponsored by the Friends of the Plymouth Library.

  • When: Sunday, February 12, 11:00 to noon
  • Where: Plymouth Library, 15700 36th Avenue North

November 17, 2016
by Margaret
0 comments

Autism Therapies at Home

When my son was little, it seemed like we had to teach him everything about life. Taking the time to break it all down into “teachable moments.” He wasn’t like a typical kid who imitates what others do or explores possibilities themselves to figure out how things work. His autism dictated how he interacted with the world, from pulling my hand to the fridge when he wanted a glass of milk to his inability to simply put on socks.

But once he got a diagnoses, I started learning techniques to help him. Early Childhood Special Education teachers, occupational and speech therapists, and other parents of children with autism became my teachers too. Both my son and I had to figure things out, and figure them out we did.

Different therapies were constantly brought up – mainly Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Floortime. We couldn’t afford to hire a professional for either of these therapies, but my autism “teachers” started to show me the things they knew. And it all slowly started to help.

I have a very vivid memory of being taught about “backward chaining” – a term for an ABA technique where you teach the child how to do something from the last step to the first. After seeing a demonstration of putting a sock on my child’s foot, and pulling it all the way over the foot and then letting him pull it up the rest of the way up his leg, a lightbulb went off in my head.  All we did with that action was break down the steps to make it easy for him. Once he got used to that step, we put the sock on halfway up his foot and let him pull it over his heel. When he mastered that step, we just put the sock on his toes, and he learned how to pull it over his whole foot. And so it continued until the day he put the sock on all by himself!

I never imagined that I would have a “sock celebration” in my life. But that day was a celebration. That simple act of putting on a sock gave me such pride in him. It meant a whole lot more than mastering a simple daily task. Somewhere inside I knew he would learn. It would be his own way, but he would do it.

From the other end of the therapy spectrum, I knew a few parents who were very excited about Floortime therapy. I didn’t really understand it. I thought “All they are doing is playing with them.”  And what is play in the face of autism?

I have to admit, I’m not a natural “player” myself. My husband is, but I always chose a structured activity over spontaneous play with my son. It was through structure that I had learned how to enter his world.

Then a teacher loaned us a Floortime video so that we could see the ideas in action. And another light bulb flipped on. I realized that play is the vehicle for interaction and connection, that the simple act of riding a car on his arm engaged him in me and the world around him. I don’t think I became an expert player, but I found ways to extend our interactions and strengthen our relationship.

Using this technique changed things for my son. He started to become more interactive and even silly. I learned that silliness is progress too. My son had a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) who was an expert player. She used his new ability to be silly and had him running around in homemade teenage mutant ninja turtle masks. Adding some unexpected actions to his playtime led to that delight. Delight in him and delight in imaginative play.

I found that the more I learned about different therapies, the more I could put little touches into my son’s daily life. Each addition meant he had more opportunities to learn. “Doing” a therapy doesn’t always have to be a formal process; sometimes it literally is how we live our life, day to day, with our child.

Discover how you can infuse your daily life with Autism Therapies at Home on December 6!

November 17, 2016
by Editorial Team
0 comments

ABC Toyzone for Autism

Finish up your holiday shopping, or just get it all done in one day, at ABC Toyzone on December 9th, 10th or 11th. Show this post on your phone or just mention Engaging Autism and 10% of your purchase will be donated to us! Support a local resource where education and play come together while supporting Engaging Autism and the work we do.

Locations

  • Burnsville: 14003 Grand Avenue South, 55337
  • Chanhassen: 860 West 78th Street, 55317
  • Rochester: 122 17th Avenue NW, 55901

Play is so important for kids living with autism. Often it is difficult to find toys that will help you engage with your child. That’s why we are excited about this event. Focusing on play can transform your relationship with your child and having a local resource that provides great educational options makes doing that a lot easier.

i spy

November 7, 2016
by JeanneLovesBooks
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Jeanne Loves Books November 16

Jeanne Love Books column is back! Enjoy these terrific books and shared reading activities.

I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs is a fun, interactive guessing game in a book! It is also a book about colors. The colorful illustrations are of big, welcoming animals that take up most of a two-page spread.

The format is built on these two page spreads. On the left page there is a big circle with an eye in the middle and  “I spy with my little eye…” written above it.

On the right page is a cut-out circle revealing the color of a creature on the next page. Written above is the refrain, “something that is_____”(the color shown in the circle).  At the bottom is a clue to help you guess what kind of animal it is.

One example is, “I spy with my little eye…” “something that is white.  “I live in the Arctic.” Turn the page, and you find a big, white polar bear who tells you, I’m a Polar Bear!” A gray elephant, a yellow lion and a red fox also appear. The text is large and repeats these refrains.

Children love the guessing game which can become a memory exercise as they reread the book. They find it empowering to know the answers and to say them. They also love the repeating refrain of I spy with my little eye.  “Something that is_____”

The last page turns the game around and invites you to say what you see “with your little eye!” There are other titles in the series including, I Spy in the Sea, I Spy in the Sky, I Spy on the Farm.

There are other “I Spy” books out there that take a different approach. This second group usually shows a page full of items and asks you to find a list of specific items. It might be a page filled with small colorful plastic animals and other small plastic items. Below or to the side is a list of specific items to look for. They can be progressively difficult for increasing ages. These versions are fun too, and they can encourage concentration in emerging readers. But they have a lot of visual stimuli, and the Gibbs books are great for younger children or children who do better with less visual clutter on the page.

Shared Reading Activities:

  • Encourage your child to say the repeating refrain after you’ve read it several times
  • Guess the wrong animal and give them a chance to “correct” you after you have read it together a couple of times
  • Act out the clues (together) if possible:  Roar where the clue is, I roar.” Imitate a long elephant trunk where the clue is, “I have a very long trunk.
  • Play the game, “I spy with my little eye something that is_____” in your house, car, store
bullying

October 28, 2016
by Shannon
1 Comment

Bullying: Resources for Parents Living with Autism

Given the statistics around bullying and autism, it is important for parents to know what they can do proactively to protect their child living with autism. Often the tools given to parents and the approach taken by educators and professionals is good. But they rarely meet the unique needs of children with autism who are at increased risk (three to four times) for bullying. Most anti-bullying programs put the responsibility on the target to report the bullying. This doesn’t work with kids with autism, who struggle to understand what bullying is, who to report it to, and even how to talk about it.

Our children are more vulnerable to bullying due to their struggles with social communication. They are targets for bullies, but they often resort to bullying others due to a lack of understanding in how to deal with intense social situations. It is complicated, but the following resources can help you teach your child about bullying, how to respond to bullying, and create communities that support your family.

Social Stories

Tools

Safe and Supportive

Books

therapy animals

October 24, 2016
by Editorial Team
0 comments

Therapy Animals and Autism

Learning the difference between the different types of support animals and the research about the benefits animals bring to our lives helped all the attendees of our Lecture Series – Therapy Animals and Autism: Finding the right fit for your family. Many also discovered how therapy animals help children learn in academic settings.

Patti Anderson shared research on how animals reduce cortisol, the “stress hormone,” in humans. But also how animals benefit from the therapeutic relationship. There are distinct categories of support animals: service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. It is important to find the right fit for your family. Not all families need a service animal, and not all animals are able to become a support animal.

Attendees got to interact with Patti’s guinea pigs, who are trained therapy animals. Through that interaction we discovered ways in which to engage individuals with autism with animals and the impact that engagement can have. Practice with social skills and stress reduction are some of the benefits, but there are many others: reduced depression, anxiety, fear and loneliness, decrease in behavior problems, increase in positive social interactions and support and motivation to participate. Overall the research shows that animal assisted therapy has a calming effect on people.

Before committing to having an animal in your family, be sure to look into the different types of support available, how an animal will fit into your family, and what specific types of support you need.

Resources shared:

There are opportunities to introduce your family to therapy animals. Visit these local events and discover the impact therapy animals have on your loved one. You can also contact North Star Therapy Animals or Patti Anderson to invite therapy animals to your school, group or event.

  • Hoppy Hour at the Humane Society in Golden Valley every other Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Sensitive Family Time at Maple Grove and Plymouth Libraries

Join us at our next Lecture Series class, Autism Therapies at Home on November 5!