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The Challenges of Special Needs Parenting

The Challenges of Special Needs Parenting

For any parent, there is a difficult learning curve. One day it was just you and your spouse and then the next day you were suddenly in charge of a baby! It can be exciting and scary all at the same time, and you can experience those two emotions at the exact same moment. 

There are many challenges of being a parent, many of which you learn the hard way. As the parent of a special needs child, there are many additional challenges you will encounter. But, the great thing is, you don’t have to do it alone. There are therapists, doctors, friends, family, and other special needs parents on the journey with you. In this blog post, we will go over just a few of these challenges you may experience as a parent of a special needs child.

Lack of Support at School

When your child is of age to attend school, it will be important to receive support from their teachers and administrators. But, unfortunately, not every teacher will have the capacity to support your child in the right way. And the school administrators may or may not be any help. There are a few things you can do in this situation.

The first thing you should do is educate yourself on the law and your child’s rights. When you know what the school is legally obligated to do, you will be able to make the best decisions moving forward. If the school is being difficult to work with, never feel shy about citing specific sections of the law in your communication with them.

It is best to work with the school rather than against them, so we recommend putting your child’s therapists and/or doctors in communication with the teachers and administrators. This is an important step as it will allow both sides to be prepared for a productive discussion during a parent-teacher conference or during an IEP meeting.

Pro Tip: You can invite members of your child’s care plan such as a therapist to the IEP meeting. 

Feeling Constant Pressure

Are you familiar with the pressure that comes along with feeling like you must control everything, so nothing bad happens to your child or because of your child? It doesn’t feel good, right?! You can’t control everything, which is why that pressure feels so terrible. You are not responsible for how every single thing will turn out, and there is not much you can do in certain situations. When those situations arise, you’ll be forced to let them play out and then choose to make the best of the situation.

You do not have to make sure your child is always happy. That is not something you can ever guarantee with any child, whether or not they have a special need. As parents, your instinct will be to want to protect and shield your child from struggles. But, maybe the best thing you can do is to be there to support them as they experience the struggle since you likely won’t be able to take it away.

Physical Accommodations

Before you had your child, you probably didn’t think too much about how the foods you ate affected your mood and behavior. But, now that you have a child with special needs, you probably think about it often. While there is still a lot of research to be done about this topic, you can’t help but notice that certain foods affect your child, some in positive, and some in negative ways.

Before you had your child, your den was probably a man cave or filled with your crafting and sewing supplies. But now, that room is filled with sensory friendly toys and therapy equipment. By nature of how many therapy appointments you attend and how often your child receives habilitation in your home, you’ve essentially learned how to be an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a speech and language pathologist, a vision therapist, a psychologist, and the list can go on and on. 

As your child gets older, you will experience different challenges such as potty training, bullying at school, your child’s first job, etc. But, with every challenge, comes an opportunity for learning and growth. We truly believe that. Even though you may experience really difficult days where you aren’t sure what more you can do, we want to remind you that you are never alone. There is always someone willing to support you in your efforts to be the best parent to your very special child. If you would like to speak with someone about these challenges and see what help is available, we encourage you to call us, 121 Learning Works, at (973) 500-6767.


3 Ways to Celebrate an Autism-Friendly Christmas

3 Ways to Celebrate an Autism-Friendly Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! From Christmas lights to fresh-baked cookies to visiting family members in town for the holidays. There is Christmas spirit all around! Wouldn’t it be fun if we could keep that great spirit all year round? But, I bet some of you are thinking, ‘wait, I don’t want the stress all year round!’.

Christmas time can indeed be a difficult time for families with special needs. There are just a lot of things going on that don’t make for a very autism-friendly Christmas. When you consider all of the lights, smells, crowds of people, and decorations, it can be overwhelming for someone who struggles with sensory input. In today’s blog, we are going to cover 3 ways you can celebrate an autism-friendly Christmas.

1. Santa Claus Visits

One traditional Christmas activity for young kids is to make a visit to see Santa Claus. When you think about taking your child with autism to see Santa, you might be just as overwhelmed as the experience might make them.

But, we have good news! There are places that offer visits with Santa specifically for children with special needs. There are several organizations throughout the country, so the very best way to locate them is by doing a quick internet search to see what events are available in your region.

Before your visit to Santa, there are things you can do to help you and your child be prepared for the added sensory input. Here is a list of our suggestions: 

? Discuss with your child what you will be doing, where you will be going, and what they can expect. In addition, if your child would benefit from it, you can also explain what you expect from them so they know how to behave in this new setting. For many children with autism, it can be difficult to go to new places, so communicating with your child so they know what to expect can set up good expectations.

? Do a practice run before your actual visit with Santa. If you decide to take your child to see Santa at your local mall (or another place with a lot of people), you can practice by going a few days in advance. While you are there, you can explain to your child what you will be doing and how it works. This will give them an opportunity to see the crowd, the lights, and Santa himself. 

? Plan to schedule your visit on a less popular day and time. In addition, it would be helpful to be there early to accommodate any breaks your child might need in preparation for the visit. Of course, don’t plan to go over nap time!

? Communicate with those around you in line and the staff running the event. Feel confident that communication is key. By communicating your situation and/or your needs, you are giving others the opportunity to show compassion or provide any assistance needed.

? Do not force your child to sit on Santa’s lap. You can ask the staff member taking the photo, to take a photo of your child standing next to or near Santa. If you try to force something, you will end up feeling more stress, which is what we want to avoid! 

2. Christmas Themed Sensory Activities

There are so many fun Christmas themed sensory activities! We will share 3 activities below, but you can find many more by searching on Pinterest!

? Candy Cane Rice - All you need is white rice, food coloring, and peppermint essential oil (or even extract). With one half of the rice, add a few drops of food coloring and peppermint oil. Once mixed, place the rice on a cookie sheet or a tray and allow it a few hours to dry. Then, combine both the white and red rice into a bin or bowl and encourage your child to play!

? Fake Snow - This is especially fun if you live somewhere that doesn’t get snow in winter! You can do this activity inside or outside. You can purchase a fake snow kit online, which will require only water. Or, we have an easy homemade recipe to share. All you need is 3 cups of baking soda (or cornstarch as a substitute) and ½ cup of white conditioner (or lotion as a substitute). Mix everything together and have fun! You can add in other winter elements like toy polar bears or pinecones to create a fun sensory bin.

? Christmas Books - Many children love cozying up and reading a book with their mom or dad. There are so many fun Christmas books this time of year! You can order many online or even find several options at your local library. A way to make it extra cozy is by making a blanket fort! You can read by the light of a flashlight or even add in warm Christmas lights.

3. General Tips:

This time of year there are so many different activities going on. Depending on where you live, there may even be sensory-friendly options including Santa visits, holiday movie showings, and special shopping hours. These special activities would allow for modified lighting, reduced sound, and even more to allow your family to enjoy the experience. You can find out specifics by searching online or by even asking stores if this is something they could accommodate.

Even with all of these activities, it is important to try and maintain as much a regular schedule as you can. Many children with autism thrive with a routine where they can predict what is going to happen. When possible, try to limit surprises and new experiences without first being able to prepare your child. 

When you are ready to introduce a new experience such as decorating the house or the family Christmas tree, try as best you can to involve your child. This will allow your child to reduce some of the visual overwhelm by helping you choose what decorations to use and where to put them. 

In the end, we want you to remember that you don’t have to do it all! You can still feel the spirit of Christmas without attending parties and visiting Santa Claus. We hope you found this blog post to be helpful and gave you some great ideas! If you did, please consider sharing it with your friends and family and on social media.


Insider Tips to Help You Survive the Holidays

121 learning works December pins

With everything going on during the holiday season, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. We can relate, so in today’s blog, we are going to cover some tips and tricks to help you survive the holidays with a child with autism. These are practical things that can be implemented year-round but will be especially helpful during the holiday season.

Holiday Themed Activities

It’s not uncommon for a child with autism to become overwhelmed with sensory overload. A lot of holiday events have loud music, crowds, and flashing lights. We have suggested a few activities below that will allow your child to experience the holiday spirit without having to leave the house!

1)    Play with a sensory bin - A sensory bin is typically a storage bin or any other large container. It should be filled with materials and objects that will stimulate the senses. Some ideas are kinetic sand, water beads, pom poms, fake snow, and any other items your child might enjoy playing with. The goal is to stimulate some or all of the 5 senses. For the holiday season, consider creating a Christmas scene using kinetic sand and small toys. This is a great activity for your child if they need to take a moment to themselves.

2)    Enjoy a holiday-themed scavenger hunt - You can search Pinterest for already prepared holiday scavenger hunts or come up with a fun one of your own. You can hide different holiday decorations, small gifts, or books around the house and give clues for how to locate each item. Once you have located each item, it’s time to play!

3)    Play with your child’s favorite games - Your family may not have any holiday-themed games, but playing your favorite game is always a fun activity! To help it feel a little more like the holidays, wear your favorite Christmas pajamas or ugly sweater and make a delicious cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

4)    Watch your favorite Christmas movie - There are so many fun and family-friendly Christmas movies. They can easily be found on streaming services like Amazon Prime or Netflix. If you have one, turn on your fireplace to help set the holiday mood!

5)    Play a holiday-themed version of I Spy - This is something that you can do often and spontaneously. If you are planning to go to a holiday party or activity, you can use this game as a way to introduce and tell them things they may see or do.

Create A Holiday Survival Calming Kit

At some point during the holiday season, it’s likely you will attend a party or have to go somewhere where the lights and sounds will be unavoidable. In this case, we suggest taking a calming kit with you. You don’t have to include much, but base the contents on your child’s specific needs and what typically helps them when they get overwhelmed. Remember, you know them best!

We want to give you a few suggestions to help you brainstorm what might go into your holiday calming kit. Here are some ideas:

  • Sensory calm down bottle
  • Headphones
  • Coloring or activity books
  • Favorite books to read
  • Chewing gum
  • Weighted blanket, pillow, vest
  • Chew bracelet or necklace
  • A fidget toy

Social Stories

If you are not familiar with social stories, we are glad you are reading this blog. Social stories can be very helpful in explaining events and new experiences to your child. A social story is basically an illustrated step-by-step guide describing the events and expectations. There are many that can be found online, but it is also fairly simple to create your own using pictures of your child supplemented by images found online.

A few ideas of social stories you can create are:

  • Visiting Santa Claus
  • Unwrapping presents
  • Visiting family during the holidays
  • Attending a school holiday party


We hope you will find some of these ideas to be helpful! We want to leave you with a few last-minute encouraging reminders to help you survive the holiday season:

  1. You do not need to attend every party you are invited to 
  2. You can still celebrate the holidays even without all of the traditional activities and events 
  3. Your child doesn’t have to sit on Santa’s lap
  4. Keep things simple

 We would love to hear if you plan to try out one of these ideas. Leave a message in the comments and tell us what you are planning!

Top Gifts for Children with Autism

Top Gifts for Children with Autism

December is upon us! For many, December is the busiest month of the year. You are tasked with finding the perfect tree, attending family dinners, and are on the lookout for gift ideas for that special child in your life. Buying gifts for a child with autism doesn’t have to be as hard as you might think. When purchasing a gift for your child, consider what type of things they are currently interested in. Most kids tend to have preferences when it comes to their toys! Another consideration is what might support their educational and therapeutic goals.

In this blog post, we will cover some suggested gifts! And nope, you don’t have to worry about spending too much or going to a specialty therapy shop. These are all very practical gifts that can be found online or in stores found in your local area.

What To Consider When Shopping

The special child in your life may not express much interest in the new popular toys out this season. And that’s actually great news for you. No waiting in line in hopes you will get one of the few left after Black Friday! When you are ready to shop, think about any special interests they’ve had recently. Have they recently been excited about Disney, cars, horses, etc? Even if the toy will not support their educational or therapeutic goals, you can still feel confident in purchasing something that will bring them joy.

Another thing to consider when shopping, is your child’s specific needs. If your child is non-verbal, you may want to consider a speech therapy tool. If your child craves sensory, you may need to look for items that will provide a lot of sensory input. If your child experiences anxiety, they may benefit from fidget toys and calming tools.

You may get to a point where you are Googling ideas, which is perfectly okay! Here are some categories you will find helpful when searching online for ideas: developmental toys, vestibular toys, speech therapy tools, fidget toys, calming gifts, oral sensory gifts, and sensory toys.

Suggested Gifts with Links

We are going one step further and suggesting specific gifts and toys your child may enjoy. Remember, you know your child best and what they will like!

Developmental Toys


Vestibular Toys


Speech Therapy


Fidget Toys


Calming Gifts


Oral Sensory Gifts


Sensory Gifts


Giving the Perfect Gift

Not all children need the newest toy in the store. And in particular, your child may benefit from a tried and true classic! We want you to keep two important things in mind as you are shopping this season. The first is that you know your child best. Trust yourself that you know what they will like and what will benefit them. The second thing to keep in mind is your child’s developmental and sensory needs. Meeting one of their needs is a great goal when picking out the perfect gift.

If you are purchasing a gift for a friend’s child or a relative and you don’t know the particular needs, fidget toys and sensory toys will almost always be the right fit! As with all gift-giving, it’s really the thought that counts.

Do you have any favorite places to shop? Or any specific gifts you’d like to recommend for other parents shopping for their children on the spectrum? Let us know in the comments!


The Unexpected Gifts of Autism

The Unexpected Gifts of Autism

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel a new kind of love once they have a child. Now imagine that your child struggles to speak, is easily overwhelmed, or doesn’t play well with their classmates. It’ll take you time to figure out the best strategies and methods to incorporate these challenges into your home life. But it’ll take far longer for your community and extended network to accept and understand how they can help and support.

Autism is often described by its deficits, but today on the blog, we are going to describe autism in terms of blessings and positive opportunities that we are given through an autism diagnosis. Having a family member with autism provides opportunities for us all to learn and teach traits such as acceptance, understanding, and compassion.

Acceptance

Acceptance is a big step when receiving an autism diagnosis. It can be difficult for your child, but also for yourself and your other children. Acceptance is possible and once you’ve accepted the diagnosis, you will be a powerful source for helping others. You may be able to help other families accept an autism diagnosis. Or, you may be able to educate fellow members of your community on ways to include and treat people who may be different than themselves.

So, what are some ways you can help others accept autism? One of the easiest things you can do is talk about it. You can address questions such as ‘What is autism?’ and ‘What are some of the characteristics of someone with autism?’. The more it comes up in conversation, the more comfortable you will be discussing it.

In addition, the more you speak about it, the more educated you will personally become on the topic. Personal education is another way you can help others accept autism. The more you know, the more likely you are to share. Speaking with your friends and family members is a great start.

Understanding

As the world learns more about autism spectrum disorders, there will naturally be greater understanding. You can help expedite this understanding by doing what you can in your community. Your community can include the town or city you live in and the friends you have around the world and connect with via social media, email, and phone.

Depending on where you live and your availability, you may also have opportunities to host an informational meeting at your local library or put on a small fair with booths sponsored by local organizations providing autism resources and services. This type of event is a great way to get factual information out there. As people learn the facts about autism, they will more likely be able to understand someone with autism and understand what the families may be experiencing.

As you speak to the network of people in your life, we encourage you to teach them specific things they can do to support you and interact with your child. Some may hesitate to be involved in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, but through your specific invitations, you have the power to help them learn and grow. In turn, this will provide great opportunities for your child to interact with more and more people.

Compassion

It can take time for you to adjust to the unique challenges an autism diagnosis can bring to you and your family’s life. It’ll take even longer for extended family members, friends, teachers, and community members to adjust and learn how to interact with your child. Through thoughtful communication and opportunity, it’ll happen.

As these people spend time with your child, they will undoubtedly learn many things from them including compassion and love. Many people with autism are extremely accepting of others and non-judgemental when it comes to things like social status, worldly accomplishments and career success. We could all use a bit more of this in our lives! Your child will be a great example of loving others and not passing judgment.

As we address and remember the positive aspects of autism, we can influence the opinions of many. We can help employers seek more diversity in their office. We can help open doors to new opportunities for children and adults with learning and physical disabilities. We can influence our community to help it be more inclusive. We can also influence change in how support is provided to families with autism.

There is a saying we love that says, “autism is proof that love needs no words”. Whether or not your child speaks, does not inhibit your ability to love them. As you spend time with your family this November during the month of gratitude, we hope you will find new ways to express love to each other. For additional resources on this subject, please visit us at www.121learningworks.com.


Autism All-Stars

Autism All-Stars!

It’s November! What a great time to consider the things we are thankful for. Children who have special needs are often blessed with unique and extraordinary gifts and talents. These gifts and talents can be a true blessing to your family and the world in teaching acceptance and understanding. In today’s blog, we are going to tell you about 3 famous individuals who have autism and how they are using their gifts and talents to educate and inspire others about the autism spectrum.

Kerry Magro

Kerry Magro was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) a form of autism, at age 4. He was non-verbal, but through therapy, the support of his family, and the gifts and talents he was blessed with, he has become a professional speaker and best-selling author. He has also had opportunities to consult on movie sets, start a non-profit, and host a TV talk show. You can view his website here.

Kerry is a role model and an inspiration to many and continues to work towards furthering education about autism. In his blog, he shares stories of individuals that have been diagnosed with autism. He showcases many of their accomplishments, including sharing some of their inspirational quotes. We wanted to share a few of those quotes that felt fitting during this month of Thanksgiving.

“At the end of the day, we don’t dream our lives…WE LIVE THEM!”
-Anthony Ianni

“Everyone has a mountain to climb and autism has not been my mountain, it has been my opportunity for victory.”
-Rachel Barcellona

“Anything is possible! If I can do it, so can you!”
-Dani Bowman

“I might hit developmental and societal milestones in a different order than my peers, but I am able to accomplish these small victories on my own time.”
-Haley Moss

“Autism doesn’t come with an instruction guide. It comes with a family who will never give up.”
-Kerry Magro

Tony DeBlois

Tony DeBlois was born premature, weighing just under 2 pounds. Then as a youth, he was diagnosed with blindness, autism, and savant syndrome. He had to overcome many obstacles, but he didn’t let those obstacles slow him down! He is said to have a ‘let me do it independently’ attitude.

Tony is now a successful pianist having toured around the world. He began playing the piano at age 2. He also learned how to play the organ, harmonica, guitar, harpsichord, English handbells, violin, banjo, drums, saxophone, clarinet, ukulele, mandolin flute, and trumpet. In addition to playing music, he has been the inspiration for a made for TV movie and several books. He has received recognition and awards from several foundations.

Quoting from his website: “For Tony, there are no ‘roadblocks’ but mere obstacles to be cast aside or skirted. His favorite phrase seems to be, ‘I haven’t learned that yet.’ ”

You can learn more about Tony on his website here.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is currently a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and is an author and speaker on animal behavior and autism. She’s also been featured in major magazines and national television shows. She is well-known for breaking down some of the stigmas and barriers commonly associated with autism.

She authored a book titled, Emergence: Labeled Autistic. An excerpt from the foreword written by Dr. Rimland, a father of a son with autism and fellow author, says “Temple's ability to convey to the reader her innermost feelings and fears, coupled with her capacity for explaining mental processes will give the reader an insight into autism that very few have been able to achieve.”

As quoted from her website: “When she was young, she was considered weird and teased and bullied in high school. The only place she had friends was activities where there was a shared interest such as horses, electronics, or model rockets. Mr. Carlock, her science teacher, was an important mentor who encouraged her interest in science. When she had a new goal of becoming a scientist, she had a reason for studying. Today half the cattle in the United States are handled in facilities she has designed.”

As the world becomes more aware that autism exists, it gives us all a great opportunity to share inspiration, understanding, and education on the subject. You and your child included! If you have questions about how you can help your child identify and develop their unique gifts and talents, 121 LearningWorks is available to help. You can schedule a consultation by visiting us at www.121learningworks.com.


5 Simple Steps to an Autism-Friendly Thanksgiving

5 Simple Steps to an Autism-Friendly Thanksgiving

Navigating the holidays can be difficult for anyone, but especially for children and families affected by autism. With Thanksgiving comes family gatherings, loud football games, a lot of food choices, and just a general change in schedule. Any or all of these things can disrupt the regular routine of a child with autism. But, it’s possible to make Thanksgiving an enjoyable holiday for your child. Below we will share 5 simple steps to hosting an autism-friendly Thanksgiving.

1 - Discuss What to Expect

In preparation for Thanksgiving, it would be helpful to have a written schedule or picture schedule of events. Typically, holidays bring a change of routine, which can be unnerving or alarming for your child. Creating a schedule will allow you an opportunity to discuss the day with your child and prepare them that things will be different. This is something you can repetitiously discuss in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Depending on your child, they may want to keep a copy of the schedule.

In the schedule, you can be specific and include things like where you will be celebrating, who will be attending, and what new things they will be experiencing, such as new sounds and smells.

2 - Plan for Sensory Breaks

With all of the added noise and the addition of family members, it might be an overwhelming experience for your child. Because of this, you can plan (and try to anticipate) when your child might benefit from a break. These breaks will probably also happen spontaneously, but having a plan of where to go and what to do will be beneficial.

These breaks can include rest, playing with a favorite toy or game, reading, etc. Whatever activities your child enjoys doing at home, they no doubt will enjoy doing at your relative’s home as a break. You might find it to be the case that your child would rather spend more time away from the activities of Thanksgiving.

3 - Create a Safe Space

During these planned or spontaneous breaks, your child will benefit from a space where they can feel safe and tune out all of the new sights, sounds, and smells. If you are at your own home for Thanksgiving, it would be helpful to create a sign in the space or on the door to alert guests in your home that the area is off-limits. If you are at a relatives’ home, it may require a little bit of extra work, but it will be well worth it!

4 - Communicate with Family Members

Many of your family members may not be sure how to communicate with your child. Some may be fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. Depending on your child’s age, speaking ability, sensory sensitivity, etc., it might be helpful to send a text or email to family members letting them know the best ways to interact and communicate with your child. This is something you can do to help educate your family members and giving them an opportunity to better understand.

When communicating with family members, you can include whether or not your child likes to be touched or hugged, whether or not your child will show or acknowledge affection, topics your child likes to discuss, any rooms in your house that may be off-limits, and reassurance that you appreciate their efforts.

5 - Include 1-2 Favorite Foods

There will be many new sights and smells on Thanksgiving. This typically includes what is being served for dinner. If your child is a picky eater or has difficulty eating new foods, you can prepare to have one or two of their favorite and familiar foods served in addition to the traditional foods.

All 5 of these simple steps include the theme of preparation. When planning for large family gatherings such as Thanksgiving dinner, being prepared with a plan, prepping your child, and communicating with family members will allow for the greatest chance of success. But, allow yourself the ability to be flexible and adaptable to spontaneous needs that arise. These tips are general in nature, and we encourage you to adapt as necessary to fit the needs of your child, family, and Thanksgiving plans. If you would like to discuss additional steps for an autism-friendly Thanksgiving, you can reach us at www.121learningworks.com.


3 Inclusive Classroom Ideas to Implement This Fall

Young Student

It is safe to assume that no classroom is one-size-fits-all. Not all students will learn the same, and not all teachers will teach the same. Some students are advanced, and some are a little behind.  In today’s blog, we are going to cover three ideas on how you can create an inclusive classroom this fall season. These ideas can be adapted according to your specific class, the abilities of your students, and your teaching style.

Two Student

Idea 1 - Create a Flexible Learning Space

The first idea is to create a flexible learning space. You may find that your students are distracted by the things in their backpacks or on their desks. This, in turn, causes them to be less focused on you or your lesson. When you set up your classroom at the start of the school year (or change it part way through), keep these ideas in mind. Depending on the grade and the size of your classroom, you will need to adapt accordingly.

  • If your students tend to be distracted by the things they bring to school, try switching from desks to shared tables.
  • Create a designated space for backpacks in the back of the classroom. You can hang hooks on the wall or find a shelving unit with individual spaces.
  • Move the students to the floor during lessons so they can focus on you. Arrange desks or tables in such a way to allow ample space.
  • Keep paperwork and books organized. Clutter can be overwhelming and distracting for students trying to learn.
  • Create a ‘safe space’ in the classroom. This can be a special chair in the room with books to read, coloring pages, etc. If you have a student who is overwhelmed and needs a few moments to themselves, they can visit the ‘safe space’ until they are ready to join the class again.

Lunchtime

Idea 2 - Incorporate Small Group Learning

It won’t take you long to recognize which students are struggling and who are excelling. One strategy you can implement in your classroom is small group learning. If you are teaching a new math principle, it will be hard for some students to pick it up if they are still struggling to learn the last math principle. In this example, you can teach the lesson and then pair students up and allow them to help and teach each other. 

Another way to use small groups is for you as the teacher to visit each group and teach a short lesson. While you are with one group, the others can be working on something you’ve previously arranged for them, such as educational games or homework. In this example, it will be up to you to decide how best to arrange the small groups based on needs and the lesson.

Student

Idea 3 - Adapt Adapt Adapt

Creating a different and inclusive approach in your classroom will take time, dedication, and trial-and-error. You may find something that works for a month and then suddenly stops working. If you are doing something that you feel is no longer working, make a change. Change does not always have to be major. Small and subtle changes may work just as well as something big.

You are not alone in the effort to create an inclusive classroom. Collaborate with fellow teachers. Share ideas of what currently works, what did work but no longer does, and what your goals are. As you collaborate with other teachers, you can encourage and uplift each other to continue your efforts.

Talk to your student’s parents. If you are struggling to reach specific students, reach out to their parents. They may be able to give you new ideas or tell you what works for them. Parents want their children to succeed in school and can offer you support as you are getting to know their child. The insight you can receive from the parents will be invaluable to you as you work to include each child in your classroom.


Fun Fall Activities for Children with Autism

Child Standing On Log

This month on the blog, we are discussing how to make the fall season fun for children with autism. Fall is a season many people look forward to because of the changing leaves and the delicious food. In today’s blog, we will cover several activities you can easily put together to experience the joys of the fall season together. These activities are focused on simplicity and using things around your house.

Fall Activities Paper

Fall Themed Crafts

There are a lot of fall-themed crafts you can create together and use to decorate around the house. We will share two fun ideas 

Our first craft idea is painting a tree with fall leaves. For this craft, you will need a piece of paper (thicker paper is best), a handful of cotton swabs, and fall paint colors. To start, it would be helpful to have an adult or older sibling paint the trunk of the tree with branches on the piece of paper. Then, your child can use their imagination to paint the leaves using the end of the cotton swab. They can dip the cotton swab in different paint colors and create their own fall tree!

Our next craft suggestion is making a pumpkin out of a paper plate. There are a few ways to decorate this pumpkin, so you can decide what to use based on what you have around your house. To make the pumpkin, you will need a round paper plate, a little bit of green or brown paper to make a stem, and some orange colored supplies. Some ideas for the orange supplies are: paint, orange buttons, cut up pieces of orange paper or tissue paper, or fabric scraps. Your child can paint or glue the orange supply of choice to the paper plate. Then an adult or older sibling can cut the stem and glue or staple it to the top of the plate. Your child can add a face or any other decorations to make the pumpkin exactly how they want it to look!


Fall Treats And Halloween Cookies

Baking Fall Treats

One of the most popular fall activities is baking delicious treats. We recommend choosing your child’s favorite fall flavor and deciding on a treat together. A few suggestions of fall-themed treats we found on Pinterest are apple muffins with a maple glaze, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon apple cake with a cinnamon vanilla glaze, pumpkin pancakes, and jack-o-lantern and bat-shaped sugar cookies with orange or black frosting. There are SO many ideas out there, so once you decide the flavor and the treat, a simple online search should yield several different recipe options. If your child is comfortable with the tasks, you can give them responsibilities such as adding the sugar, mixing the ingredients, or using the cookie cutter to make the cookie shapes.

Sensory Bin

Making a Sensory Bin

A sensory bin is a fun way for your child to experience the colors, textures, smells, and shapes of fall. It should be easy to put together using items found in and around your home, a nearby park, or a dollar store. To start, find an empty bin or a large kitchen bowl. Next, add the chosen items. You can add anything you want to the bin, but focus on the items that will be of interest to your child. Some suggestions of fall specific items are yellow, red, or orange leaves (find leaves that are still soft as crunchy ones will crumble easily), branches, small pumpkins, gourds, corn kernels, acorns, and mums. Corn kernels make for a good base item, so we recommend using several cups.

 Another fun activity you can do with your child is a scavenger hunt. You can use a scavenger hunt as a fun way to locate fall-themed items for the sensory bin. If your child enjoys marking things off a list, you can create a simple checklist with the items listed in the paragraph above. Or, if your child likes to color, you can create a list using coloring page images of the items.

 Fall is a great season for new beginnings and spending time with those we love. We hope these ideas will help inspire some fun family time and an opportunity to experience the joys of fall. If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our therapists to discuss ways to incorporate any of these fall activities, please visit us at www.121learningworks.com. Our therapists are here to guide you and answer your questions.


Halloween Tips for Children with Autism

Children with Halloween Decorations

Halloween can be a fun and exciting time for many children. For parents, Halloween often means a lot of work! You're busy finding the right costume, preparing snacks for the school Halloween party, and buying candy that is both healthy and delicious. For the parents of a child with autism, Halloween can be even more difficult.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help make the holiday less stressful and more fun. In today’s blog, we will cover helpful tips to prepare your child for Halloween, how to choose the right costume and alternative options to traditional trick-or-treating.

Children with Halloween Candy

Ways to Prepare for Halloween

As Halloween approaches, you will start to notice things like crowds, loud noises, bright lights, and changes to routine. Some children may love activities such as dressing up and attending their classroom party. Others may struggle and fall back into negative behaviors. There are things parents and family members can do; however, to help their child be prepared.

The first thing is to decide if Halloween activities are the right choice for your child. You know them best and know how they will react to different situations. Will they enjoy the activity? Will they be able to cope with the noises and costumes? If you choose to go to the Halloween activities, be prepared with a plan to leave when necessary or with your child’s favorite sensory activity, such as their tablet or blanket.

You may find the anticipation leading up to Halloween to be more exciting to your child than the holiday itself. During the weeks leading up to Halloween, there are many fun things you can do to prepare and inform your child about what to expect. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Create a paper chain countdown - You or your child can remove one link every day, allowing you to teach something related to Halloween. Repetition will be key.
  • Decorate a pumpkin - Some children may be okay with carving the pumpkin and touching the seeds. But, for those who are not, there are still fun ways to decorate a pumpkin! You can glue on beads and felt to make a face. Or you can paint different designs or freehand and cover the whole pumpkin. There is no right or wrong way!
  • Make the costume - Depending on your child’s interests and abilities. You may be able to create a costume or accessories together. You can easily make a superhero cape out of an old extra large t-shirt or create a custom mask using felt and fabric paint.

Children in Halloween Costumes

How to Choose the Right Costume

Before choosing the right costume, it would be important to find out if your child wants to dress up. If so, do they already have an idea of what they want to be? You may have an easier time getting your child to dress up as something they want to be. But, you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions about what you come up with. Is it too tight or restrictive? Will the fabric irritate their skin? Does it require face paint or makeup?

To prepare your child to wear the costume out of the house for several hours, you can start small by wearing the costume around the house. Your child can start by wearing the costume for a short period of time and work up to a few hours. This allows you as the parent to teach more about Halloween, and also discover if your child would be able to tolerate wearing face paint, a mask, or clothes that fit tighter than usual. It will give you time to make modifications if needed.

If your child wants to dress up, but they don’t want to wear a costume, there are fun ‘outside the box’ options using regular clothes. A few ideas are a superhero, athlete, cowboy or cowgirl, or a cat or dog.

Children Walking in Halloween Costumes

Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating

Some neighborhoods stay very busy and can be overcrowded. If you feel like this may be the case, you may consider trick-or-treating at locations other than your own neighborhood. A few ideas to consider are your workplace, close family and friend’s houses, local businesses, a church trunk-or-treat event, or another community nearby that isn’t crowded. To prepare, you can practice trick-or-treating at your own home or even your neighbor’s house several times before Halloween.

Due to food allergies or other reactions to candy, gluten, or sugar, you may need to consider alternatives to candy. Some fun alternatives are glow-in-the-dark options like glow sticks or stickers or sensory activities that your child enjoys.

If your child doesn’t seem to understand the concept of Halloween or a costume, that is okay! Remember, you know your child better than anyone.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our therapists to discuss the ideas mentioned in this blog post, you can call us today at (973) 500-6767 or visit www.121learningworks.com.


ABA: What Every Parent Should Know

Teacher with Child

This month, we learned about the challenges of autism, how it affects families, and some healthy coping mechanisms. As we’ve learned, the initial days and weeks of an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming. A quick google search will lead you down an endless road of opinions, therapies, and diets. To help demystify the process of appropriate treatment, we have put together a beginner's guide to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In it, we will discuss what behavior analysis is, how it can help your child, and where you can find local resources.

Child with Teacher

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

ABA is therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. Developed in 1970 by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, ABA is the most studied and empirically proven treatment for children with autism. In fact, studies have shown that 47% of children may achieve normal intellectual functioning, compared to 2% with other therapies (Lovaas, 1987).

Typically, children begin a program between the ages of two and eight years old. As your child progresses and builds on acquired skills, their needs will vary. Although all skills therapy will be based on ABA, implementation will vary depending on your child’s needs, allowing for a highly individualized approach. Because it is a flexible treatment, it can be adapted to fit the needs of every child.

Most therapies are at least 30 hours per week, and often involve parental participation at home. Therapies can also take place at school or in the community. ABA specifically focuses on improving social and communication skills, attentiveness, focus, and memory. ABA also focuses on reducing challenging behaviors and rewarding positive behaviors. The ultimate goal is to transition your child into a more typical learning environment.

Child in Therapy

How ABA Can Help

There are many ways ABA can help both the child and the family. ABA therapists will conduct an initial assessment to learn more about how the child’s environment is affecting their behavior and a better understanding of how the child learns. Therapists will then present and discuss these factors and their therapy plans to family members. Understanding both of these important factors will help guide families as they care for and make important decisions for their children now and in the future.

ABA therapists will set goals personalized to the needs of each child based on their age, ability level, and goals of the family. During therapy, children will have opportunities to learn life skills such as grooming and communicating with family or friends. Each goal is taught step-by-step by using repetition. As the child improves and achieves their goals, new goals will be set.

Every child learns differently, but one common strategy used by ABA therapists is positive reinforcement. As they are teaching, a reward will be given to help the child identify what behaviors they should repeat. Repetition of rewarding the positive behavior by therapists and family is necessary and will result in positive behavior habits.

ABA therapy will allow each child the opportunity to improve both socially and academically. To continue the repetition outside of formal therapy appointments, family members and caregivers are encouraged to receive specialized training to support their child’s learning and new skills.

Computer

How to Find Your Local Resources

The first step in finding local ABA resources is to visit your child’s pediatrician. You can discuss if ABA therapy is the right fit for your child. The pediatrician can also provide a list of recommendations for local resources.

Another way to locate resources close to you is by asking your child’s teacher. Schools often have a list of local businesses providing different therapies they can recommend. They may also have a suggested website to visit with a list of all available resources in your area. You can also visit Autism Speaks for a directory of resources near you.

Our Expert Behavior Analysts at 121 Learning Works provide assessments and counseling for children under the age of 13. Our experts specialize in Applied Behavior Analysis and can help you address both the academic and non-academic behaviors that may be challenging your child.

Join us on the blog next month for tips to make Halloween fun and safe for children with autism.


Coping With Autism

Mother With Children

In our last blog, we explored how autism affects the family. Raising a child with autism is hard. It requires a lot of time, money, and dedication to therapies, not to mention working through the emotional ups and downs that are associated with it. It will feel as though every area of your life will now be viewed through the lens of autism. This includes upheaval in emotions, marital and familial relationships, and financial stress.

From the moment that your child is born, you’re programmed to love and take care of them in all ways. An autism diagnosis does not change that. Once you accept the diagnosis, you can begin your path to happiness and fulfillment. Many parents report that raising a child with autism is a uniquely rewarding experience. So, how did they get there?

Do Not Neglect Your Emotional Needs

Taking care of yourself and putting your needs first does not make you a bad or selfish parent. You know that old saying, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’? Well, that is true for all areas of your life- even in autism. When dealing with an autism diagnosis, it’s easy for parents to overlook their own emotional needs. You become so focused on your child that everything else takes a backseat. And, while you may have significant momentum to pull you through the first few weeks of diagnosis, you will eventually need to start implementing some strategies to help yourself. Running on empty is not only bad for yourself but your family. There is no secret recipe for coping. Each person and family are unique, but by trying some of these methods, you may find solutions that will work for you:

• Take time to process and feel your emotions. Cry if you need to. The sooner you allow yourself to feel, the sooner you can turn your sadness and grief into solutions and actions. Journaling may also help. Writing out your emotions enables you to release them healthily, and one day you can look back and see how far you have come.

• Ask for help. You don’t have to do everything alone. Often the people around you want to help you but are unsure how. Allow them to assist you in everyday things like bringing the kids to and from school, laundry, light housekeeping, or even prepping meals. Taking some of the load off your plate can open up more opportunities for you to learn more about autism and the available therapies.

• Talk to someone. There is no shame in needing therapy. Or consider joining a support group where you can relate to people who are going through similar situations. Getting involved in the community of autism can bring you a sense of empowerment and enlightenment. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can be a very therapeutic and rewarding experience.

• Take a break. Schedule time for yourself during the day or week. Take walks, go to a movie, grab coffee with a friend. You need to remind yourself that you, are still you, and are on a journey to an even better you. Make “me-time” a priority so that you can reset and refocus. Do not allow autism to take over every waking moment of your life.

Make Time For Your Spouse And Family Members

Maintaining your relationships is important, and autism should not be all-consuming. For parents, it will be a day-to-day reality, but it does not need to be a part of every moment in your family’s life.

• Spend quality time with your neurotypical children and spouse. Try not to allow autism to be involved in every conversation or activity. Everyone in your family will need support and happiness, regardless of circumstances.

• Commit to open communication within the family. Your children may have questions or may be dealing with their struggles. They must have the opportunity to talk about their concerns or feelings.

• Schedule special time or activities with your other children. Take them out for an activity that might help them get their minds off all the changes that are happening at home.

• Make one-on-one time with your spouse. Go to dinner, see a movie, or grab drinks. It’s essential to stay connected as not only parents but as a couple.

• Find an activity that everyone can enjoy. Creating memories together as a family will help strengthen bonds, understanding, and compassion.

Take Action

The act of doing can make you feel empowered and productive.

• Advocate for your child. Start becoming familiar with available therapies. Talk to their school, counselors, teachers, and principal. Learn their process for special needs children. Communication is vital, especially among a team.

• Get your child in treatment. Having an evaluation will let you know exactly where you stand and what will be necessary for the days, weeks, and years to come. Once you know your commitment, you will be better to plan for them financially. Having your child enrolled in a program will also free up time that you can use to research and educate further.

• Research financial assistance that may be available to you. Many families incur varied expenses depending on their needs and often find themselves in need of financial aid. There are nonprofit organizations that offer relief and help. There are also financial planning tool kits available that will help you organize, track, and prepare for expenses. Sadly, developmental disorders are often not covered, and if they are, it will likely include a limited amount of “sessions.”

• Consider setting up donations through church or online to help offset costs. As mentioned before, many of the people around you want to help!

Through self-care, research, and action, you can overcome many of the challenges that families face with autism. As you work through your experiences, you will find the blessings of raising a child with autism. You may even be surprised or be in awe when you witness the inner workings of your child’s mind. Life as you knew it will change, but not all transformations make you worse for it. Often, our greatest strengths are found in adversity.

If you need more information about the available treatment options, please visit www.121learningworks.com for more information. Or, stay up to date by joining our email list.


Challenges For Families With Autism

Family Walking Together

An autism diagnosis affects family members in profoundly different ways. Life as you have known it will drastically change. Your dreams of the future for your family will dramatically shift. Priorities are rearranged. Schedules become more hectic. Focus shifts from your typical children to the one who is in most immediate need. Where you once had laser focus on your profession, or personal responsibilities, may now take a back seat. Finances, if they hadn’t been already, will become stretched or seemingly impossible.

All of these stressors and the emotions that come with it are very normal. And, you should take comfort in knowing that coping with stress, with proper support, can ultimately strengthen marriages and family relationships. The first step to empowerment is understanding how autism affects the family unit. From that understanding, you will be better able to recognize how to address issues as they come up in healthy, manageable, and active ways.

Woman In Despair

There are many emotional ups and downs in autism. Studies have shown that parents of ASD children have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and overall stress. In fact, studies have shown parents often report feelings of grief, confusion, loss, sadness, denial, isolation, guilt, and even clinical depression ( Altiere & von Kluge, 2009b; Kuhn & Carter, 2006). These feelings are closely tied to the realization that they have to abandon previous dreams and expectations for their child. Often it is described as the most stressful life event that they have had to endure. Compounding these feelings is the lack of knowledge or access to resources to help their child and their family. Additionally, parents may also experience:

• Feeling overwhelmed
• Embarrassed by their child’s behavior in social settings
• Frustration due to decreased opportunities for fun such as vacations, social gatherings, going out to dinner, or lack of appropriate childcare
• Resentment and then guilt for that resentment
• Anger towards doctors, spouse, and family
• Feelings of inadequacy due to increasing family needs that are often difficult to balance professionally
• Despair due to prognosis or best outcome
• Frustrations with a new parenting style than what they had imagined
• Feelings of social isolation and loneliness
• Anxiety about the future
• Emotional burnout

Man & Woman Sleeping

As stress and emotions continue to rise, marriages often become strained. However, unlike previous studies, there is no indication that divorce rates are higher. Strain and marital stress can often be linked to differences in response to an autism diagnosis, such as:

• Differences of opinion in how family funds should be delegated to treatment
• Differences in acceptance of an autism diagnosis
• Lack of ability to spend quality time together due to the demands of autism
• Differences in approach to autism (i.e., one parent becomes the expert while the other may avoid the subject)
• One parent carrying too much daily responsibility

Little Girl On Swing

Siblings are a considerable part of each other’s lives. They are built-in-playmates and best friends, and their relationship has a profound effect on their life experience, personality, and identity. It is no surprise that an autism diagnosis can significantly affect their neurotypical sibling. Siblings will undoubtedly feel many of the stressors that are experienced by other family members. Adding to that, they may often feel jealous, resentful, or ignored due to mom and dad’s extra attention being diverted elsewhere. They may also experience difficulty adjusting to their brother or sister’s behavior, especially in social settings that could lead to embarrassment.

Furthermore, they may feel stressed and overwhelmed with feelings of being the “protector,” even if they are the younger sibling. All of these emotions can understandably lead to shame or feelings of guilt. It’s important to encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Establishing clear and open communication with your children about ASD will help them to understand better the condition and how it affects the family structure.

Financial Burden

Adding insult to injury is the question of finances. Autism is a huge financial burden for families. Money is never unimportant, and it’s quite understandable how finances are stressful without the added demands of autism. Unfortunately, treatment and therapies for autism are often not covered by insurance and are extremely expensive. Caring for a child with ASD can require substantial time and finances, and parents often make personal and professional sacrifices to pursue quality resources (Knapp et al., 2009). Astoundingly, according to Ganz, the lifetime societal cost of autism is 3.2 million (Ganz, 2007). If that number is adjusted for inflation, that number increases to 4.2 million. Families that are faced with financial uncertainty are often overwhelmed and feel the weight of financial barriers to treatment, resources, and support.

As you can see, the impact of autism is significant and unique to each family and family member. Autism is multifaceted with its own set of challenges that often push parents and their families to the point of exhaustion. However, there is hope. There are empirically proven treatments that not only improve the life of your child with autism but that of the family. Finding the proper resources, support, and treatment will unequivocally lead to success, happiness, and fulfillment for the ones you love.

If you or someone you love is struggling to navigate the world of autism, please visit www.121learningworks.com. We offer real solutions for real people- every day. Tune in next time when we discuss how to cope with autism.


5 Simple ASD Tips For Back To School Success

Back To School Success

“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


As summer draws to an end, a new experience is about to begin for your child. The back to school rush can be overwhelming to many children but can present its own set of unique challenges for those with ASD. For many children with autism, back to school transitions are often the most challenging part of their education.

Change in routines is challenging for those with autism, especially coming off the care-free days of summer. Children with autism generally thrive with routine, but habits are often interrupted or inconsistent due to school breaks, inclement weather, teacher conferences, and standardized testing. Interruptions are further compounded by leaving the classroom to receive extra help/therapies during the day to help them handle the very skills and experiences they are missing out on. Different teachers also add to their experience of change. Each teacher has their own personality and style within a classroom, and what may have been acceptable for Teacher A is not tolerated by Teacher B.

A typical school setting is ripe with bright lights, loud students, ringing bells, and other stimuli that are bound to cause sensory issues. Even children who have mild reactions will struggle at some point during the school year.

Social communication is also challenging, even with good language skills. Appropriate behavior fluctuates within the diverse settings during the school day. What may be appropriate in gym class is not suitable in the classroom, hallways, or in the library.

But don’t fret! By implementing these 5 autism transition strategies, you can help start the school year off right!

Talk about the upcoming school year frequently. This will help them understand that a new experience is on the horizon. Talk about how far they have come as a student and all the success that is to come. Consider a countdown calendar that they can interact with every day.

Arrange a tour of a new school or new classrooms. Expectations and familiarity are essential. By doing so, you allow your child to familiarize his or her self to a new environment. Even if it's not a new building for them, there is still value in introducing them to new classrooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms, etc.

Begin an earlier routine about 2-4 weeks before the school session. Set an earlier bedtime. Wake up at the time they need to for school. Get dressed. Eat breakfast and leave the house with a purpose. This will help your child become accustomed to waking up earlier and acclimate to a new schedule.

Meet with their teachers and principal. Establishing a good rapport is beneficial to not only your child but to you as well. Keep them apprised of their progression and challenges with ASD, including their most recent IEP. Discuss their process of handling special needs children. Communication and understanding are essential among a team, and that's what you are! It takes a tribe, and communication is the key to successful relationships.

Set up a safe place. Talk to your child’s teacher and discuss options for where your child can go if they feel overwhelmed. This would also be an excellent time to discuss seating arrangements, classroom set-up, and therapeutic sensory options.


“If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.”

-Dr. Lovaas


Surprises and changes can be stressful for them, but with prior planning, a lot of it can be managed. It’s important to keep in mind that typical learning environments are set up for typical learners. Children with autism and other behavioral issues will have some difficulty fitting into the “mold” from which most schools are based.

The good news is that schools are becoming better adept at identifying and handling children with special needs and are willing to work with parents and other professionals to create the best environment for your child. If you feel that more needs to be done, please know there are resources and help available to you and your child.

Organizations like 121 Learning Works, are instrumental and at the heart of change and progress. We work directly with you, your child and school to find strategies to ensure your child reaches their full potential. Whether your child needs one on one instruction, shadowing, or specialized training, we provide the tools to succeed. Contact us today!


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