November 17, 2016
by Margaret
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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
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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
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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!

IEP Meeting

October 17, 2016
by Ann
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Your Child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Public schools are required to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for every child receiving special education services from age three through high school graduation or until age 22. The IEP addresses each child’s unique learning issues and includes specific educational goals. Creating this plan is a team process, and you, as parent, are a crucial member of that team. The IEP is legally binding, and the school must provide everything in the IEP.

Since this is such an important process and can often be confusing to parents, following is a list of the different parts of an IEP. Each part is important and has a specific purpose.

The following parts of the IEP are required:

  • Present Level of Performance – Strengths and weaknesses should be identified addressing the core deficit areas related to autism – communication, social interactions and restricted interests. It should include a full description of your child, including a statement of how the disability impacts his/her ability to participate in general education. Each IEP goal and objective should have statements summarizing your child’s progress. Academic goals should include data related to the Minnesota Standards for their grade level. It is critical that you have this information on present levels on the current IEP before embarking on the new annual IEP.
  • Need Area – This area refers to specific skills and outcomes. It should flow directly from the Present Level of Performance. It should identify the skills that need improvement. This area will not include specific services, interventions, or teaching methodologies or strategies.
  • Goals and Objectives – Each need must have a goal, and each goal should have at least two objectives. The goal should be measurable and observable and attainable by the next annual IEP. The objectives should also be observable and measurable with specific criteria for mastering them. The objectives should be part of a logical skill sequence with the next skill building on the previous skill. Standard-based IEP objectives are based on benchmarks under the Minnesota Standard which addresses the goal.
  • Accommodations, Modifications, and Supports – Adaptations and modifications to the general education curriculum should address the underlying characteristics of autism. Any supports your child needs to help him/her learn in the classroom should be spelled out here.
    • Any communication support that your child needs should be described.
    • Assistive Technology should have been evaluated and addressed.
    • The Discipline Policy, if modified, needs to be described. Exempt should NOT be used.
    • A Positive Behavior Intervention Plan should be described. If your child does not have one, work with your team to create one.
    • If your child needs curb to curb transportation, a description of need should be here.
    • If your child needs additional adult support – a Special Education Assistant (SEA) – a description of how the SEA will support your child should be included.
    • Grading also needs to be addressed.
  • Testing – If your child is unable to take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), a rationale for why he/she needs to take the Minnesota Testing of Academic Skills (MTAS) in place of the MCAs is required.
  • Services and Service Minutes – Service Minutes need to be aligned to the Goals and Objectives, including any related services such as Speech Therapy. Every IEP goal should have corresponding service minutes. The number of minutes in special education services should correspond to your child’s federal setting (FS). FS I=less than 21% in special education setting/locations, FS 2= between 21- 60% in special education settings/location, FS 3 = more than 60% in special education settings/location, and FS 4= full day in special educational setting with zero opportunities with general education students.
  • Least Restrictive Environment – The Least Restrictive Environment statement should describe your child’s educational placement, including a description of general education participation and special education. There should be a rationale if your child is not participating  in general education.
  • Extended School Year – The team determines whether or not your child qualifies for extended school year services. Any decisio needs to be supported by objective data that shows regression of specific goals and objectives after breaks in the school year.
  • Progress Reports – One or two progress reports are provided each school year. The reports should include specific data related to goals/objectives to justify the goal status statement.

The school can’t provide special education services until you give your permission in writing. Make sure you check every section before signing it. If you have questions or specific items you disagree with sign the “do not agree” part and ask for another meeting to discuss your concerns. You have the legal right to call an IEP team meeting at any time.

library

September 30, 2016
by Editorial Team
0 comments

Sensitive Family Time at the Plymouth Library

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 LEGO bricks 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.

Sensitive Family Time at Plymouth Library

15700 36th Ave. N., Plymouth • 612.543.5825

Sunday, October 16, 10:00 am to noon

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

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

Any questions? Please contact:

Linnea Fonnest
Youth Services Librarian
Hennepin County Library – Plymouth
612-543-5831
lfonnest@hclib.org

animal friends and autism

September 29, 2016
by Jen
1 Comment

Furry Animal Friends and Autism

Friends? Will she have friends? In the whirlwind of thoughts that raced through my mind in the days and weeks after my daughter’s autism diagnosis it was that one that was the loudest.  It was that one that kept me up at night.

Every time she struggled at a birthday party or playdate this thought reared its ugly head. I wanted someone to see her loving heart, her caring ways and accept her quirks without judgement. The world was quick to label her as less. I just wanted one friend she could depend on and have fun with, because I knew that would help her thrive. 

Last year the friend I had been hoping for showed up in furry form. This wiggly, love-filled puppy was a reminder that the experiences we needed to help our kiddo navigate the world do not always come in expected forms.

Buster, as our daughter named her, was about to change our world in so many surprising ways. 

First was the fact that our daughter named the dog. Dolls and stuffed animals had always been called “Doll,” “Doll with red hair,” “Bear,” “Pig,” and, well, you get the picture.

Then came her first “Why” question. “Why is Buster eating my shoe?” and then a flurry of other “Why” questions followed. “Why is she eating that?” “Why is she barking?” We were amazed at the expanded language Buster inspired. In her eight years we had never even come close to getting her to ask questions about anything else.

She would cover Buster with blankets, try to get Buster to swing with her in the yard, shower her with kisses, hug her and tell her, “Oh Buster! I LOVE YOU so much!” She had found her very first best friend. A friend that didn’t bombard her with questions, didn’t mind that she sang more than talked, and that liked to share popcorn with her while they watched movies together. The connection they created is magic and transformed our daughter before our eyes.

She became braver, interested in trying new things like the play equipment at our local park, eating new foods, and volunteering to unload the dishwasher. The confidence from having a friend made her more interested in her peers. Thanks to Buster she understood better how to be a friend.

A few nights before the new school year, she completely melted down. In a flash Buster ran to her and snuggled on top of her. Snuggling in closer and closer with each sob until within fifteen minutes later, she was calm. That was a new record.

On the first day of school and every school day since, she holds firmly to Buster’s leash, and they walk to the bus. No tears, no meltdowns only giggles as the dog chews on her backpack straps. It is extremely hard to be anxious about going to school when your furry bestie is showering you in love and fun.   

The loving nature of animals can be a powerful medicine for our kiddos on the spectrum, and that medicine has given our daughter a friend beyond our wildest dreams.

Discover how to bring animals into your child’s life at our next Lecture Series – Therapy Animals: Finding the right fit for your family on October 4!

new school year

August 24, 2016
by Ann
1 Comment

Be Prepared for the New School Year

The new school year means increased anxiety for many children, especially those with autism.  The unknowns – who is going to be my teacher, will I know some of the students in my classroom, will I be able to find my classroom, what time does the bus come – are just some of the worries that all children have. There are things parents can do that will help relieve anxiety and increase the chances that your child with autism will have a smooth transition and a good start to the school year.

Have a calendar hanging in an accessible place. With your child, identify the number of days left before school begins. At the end of each day, have your child cross off the day and count the number of days left.

Begin to establish bedtime and early morning routines that will be in place during the school year. Ideally, these routines should begin a week before school starts. Routines are extremely beneficial for all children, but even more so for children with autism. Established routines mean less stress for your child because they know what to expect.

If the school is new to your child, visit the school without them and take pictures of the school building and all the environments inside that your child will be using. This could include the special education classroom, the general education classroom, the lunchroom, the gymnasium, the nurse’s office, and the main office.

Take pictures of your son or daughter’s special education teachers, general education teacher, paraprofessionals, principal, and any of the staff that serves your child. Using these pictures, you can compile a Social Story Book that can be read to you son/daughter daily. If they are able, have your child compile and write the book along with you. Include only one or two items per page. As an integral part of the book, include the morning and night time routines. Make sure to contact the transportation company and find out the time the bus will come each morning so this can be included as well.

Be sure to visit the school and staff before school begins.

Put together important information regarding your child for teachers and staff. They can reference this throughout the year. Information that would be most helpful to teachers:

  • your child’s strengths
  • things your child like, special interests
  • what motivates them
  • challenges
  • any medical issues
  • communication skills
  • sensory issues

Teachers should phone parents and introduce themselves. If you are unable to get your child to school before it begins, make sure you connect with the teacher and share this information.

If the school is brand new to your child, it is more important to visit the school even if there is no opportunity to meet his/her teachers ahead of time. Invite your child’s teacher to your home. Having your child’s teacher come to your home can be an invaluable opportunity for them as well as you and your child. All children and especially children with autism respond differently in new environments. This is an excellent way for the teacher to get to know your child and see them in a relaxed mood.

Lastly, find out how the teachers will communicate with you. Many parents like to have weekly written updates either by email or through a home/school notebook. Many children with autism have a difficult time telling their parents what they did throughout their school day. Knowing what happens during the day helps parents talk with their child.

You should also be provided your child’s daily schedule within the first week or two of school. Don’t hesitate to ask for it if you don’t receive one.

I hope these few suggestions help your family and increase the likelihood of a great beginning to a new school year!

Read more of our Back to School Tips here!

autism housing

August 10, 2016
by Tanya
4 Comments

Let It Go… Let It Be: A journey toward autism housing

Finding the right fit for your child with autism can go beyond school and therapy. It can mean redefining where home and community meet, intertwine and create spaces in which families can flourish. This decision is never easy, and is rarely talked about, but for many it is part of parenting.

My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three-and-a-half. From that moment on there wasn’t a day in which I didn’t think about his adulthood and independence and what it might look like. As my toddler turned into a young boy whose autism didn’t seem to reverse or get less severe, those thoughts of the future began to consume me.

Sometimes my child’s type of autism seems to be forgotten in the challenge of daily activities, how his world becomes my world, and the entire household is dedicated to his needs. As my little boy started to become a young man with typical hormonal challenges, a toddler mind and severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, my life became increasingly difficult, frightening and lonely. This young man, who I now look up to and weigh 60 pounds less than, was an emotional mess and his safety, along with those around him, was compromised daily.

After four years of struggling with my son and two serious hospital stays for his mental health, I finally took off my “SuperMom” cape and threw out an SOS. I found myself a few years ahead of my plan to find a place for my child outside our home. It took me awhile to admit where we were. It’s an extremely helpless and vulnerable feeling to truly allow others to understand what is taking place in your family. For me, admitting that I had run out of gas to do this on my own was very hard.

The decision to move my child into a supportive home designed to meet his needs for emotional stability and independence was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Tidal waves of emotion hit me every day, all day. At times I feel like a failure. Other times I feel like a warrior for going to battle, tirelessly day after day. Then I feel guilty for enjoying the time I now have to just be me. It’s complicated and never ending, this emotional cycle. There’s nothing linear about it, and too often, I feel them all at once.

The one thing I do know for sure is that the most important thing to me in the world is seeing my son happy. Now that he is in a setting that provides the constant structure and independence he deserves, I can support him positively and devote more time to being his number one advocate. And in that way, I am a better mom.

As the saying goes, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” I have found some inner peace knowing he is making his way toward his version of happiness in whatever capacity is true for him.