Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Will You Be My Friend?

As all kids on the autism spectrum, Tristan has a difficult time with social skills. Often Tristan’s words fail him or he has a hard time retrieving the words fast enough to react to his classmates. When there is break down in communication Tristan sometimes (not always) gets frustrated and puts his hands on the other kids face. Quickly, he is able to regain himself and apologize and move on (often without teacher redirection).

Last year this scenario happened daily or even several times a day until we (home and school) used video modeling. We used video modeling to instruct Tristan how to stand in line without touching the other kids. First, Tristan was video taped in line touching the other children (not the desired behavior). Then the other kids lined-up slowly, one at a time, placing their arms down, and hands by their sides (desired behavior).

Tristan watched the video at home and within weeks the behavior switched from undesired to desired behavior. Since, we have used video modeling to help Tristan understand social situations like how to negotiate when he wants a toy that another child has. We have even used video modeling to teach Tristan the ABCs. Letters held no importance to Tristan until we placed them with a person or object that had meaning for him, like M for mommy (picture of me).

I think it is time to revive video modeling to teach Tristan some complex social situations like creating friendships. Often Tristan will suggest a play scenario like let’s build with Legos and his friend says no let’s play soccer and Tristan says “no, I don’t like soccer”, then he walks away. Instead of Tristan saying:
“How about playing Star Wars?”
“Ok, soccer now, Legos later.”

Tristan’s IEP goals and our parenting goals reflect social development; however sometimes they can become overshadowed by academic objectives like learning to read. I find myself reminding his school team that Tristan will be a successful read and writer, but right now, his peers are willing to practice social skills with him and as they grow older they will probably lose interest.

Tristan will need more time decode and navigate the social scene, so giving him as much time now when he and his peers are young to practice will help not only Tristan, but probably the entire class.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What is Your Plan?

As parents our number one job is to grow our children into adults and kids on the spectrum need more time and practice to master the life skills needed to have a productive, meaningful life. So, what is your plan on teaching your child… do have one? Parents with children with ASD spend hours pouring over IEP goals and services, but how much time do you devote to your parenting plan?

In my workbook and workshops, I teach parents how to develop a parenting plan based on your family values and what is important to you. Your parenting plan can be as basic or elaborate as your need it. Depending on the age of your child and their needs your parenting plan might be focusing on bathing, and identifying clean and dirty clothes, or grocery shopping and practicing making dinner.

Last year Peter and I decided that we wanted to establish a daily bathing schedule along with identifying a pattern for clean and dirty clothes. We taught Tristan that everyday he needed to shower which included instructing him how to wash his body and hair. To go along with bathing we taught Tristan that everyday he needed a clean shirt, underwear, and socks, and every second day he needed to change his pants.

First, we used picture boards to explain the steps and slowly we took away the supports. We have picture boards on the dressing sequence (1. underwear, 2. pants, 3. shirt, and 4. socks), showering (1. wash face, 2. arms, 3. legs, 4. bottom, 5. penis, 6. mid-section, and 7. hair), and the morning routine (1. undress, 2. shower, 3. dry-off, 4. get dressed, 5. floss teeth, 6. brush teeth, and 7. go down stairs).

Tristan took about a year to master his morning routine; some sections took less time to teach than others. Now, Tristan does his entire morning by himself… he even gets his backpack ready for school!

Our plan for this spring and summer is to teach Tristan to walk up our street by himself to a neighbor’s house. We have been practicing since the snow has melted from our street— the other mom stands at the end of her driveway and I pace at the end of mine and Tristan walks to the other house.

We review street safety with Tristan including walking on the side of the road (no sidewalk) and keeping your head-up so you can see cars approaching. I use direct language, like “head up, look for cars, and stay on the side of the road”. I make the language and instructions as simple as possible. Peter and I figure that by next spring Tristan could be able to walk the street without us supervising.

One of our overall parenting goals for Tristan (and Dylan and Liam) is to give them all the skills they need to be independent adults. What we have realized is that Tristan needs more supports and more time to practice the life skills we are responsible for teaching and developing, so we decided to begin earlier than later.

When Tristan was in my womb I never imagined the depth of parenting we would take on and sometimes it does seem overwhelming and frustrating, but we made a choice to be parents and you can never predict how your life will unfold.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Autism Awareness Month-- Parenting Autism Workshops

Today marks the first day of National Autism Awareness Month and the people here, behind-the-scenes at Parenting Autism decided we wanted to give back to the Autism Community by offering a FREE parenting workshop on every Saturday in April. Parents from all over Vermont and one family from Quebec have been calling and emailing to register.

As we get closer to our first workshop in Burlington, VT this Saturday the buzz of excitement grows because we know families are not getting enough support which results in splintered families, families that don’t work, and relationships that don’t flourish. We want to help you create a meaningful family while preparing your child(ren) for adulthood. Sign-up today at

Burlington, Vermont Workshop
Saturday, April 4th, 2009
8:30am-12:30pm (light fare provided)
The Great Room
Corner of Lake & College Streets
Sixty Lake Street
Burlington, Vermont 05401

Rutland, Vermont Workshop
Saturday, April 11th, 2009
9:30am-1:30pm (lunch provided)
The Fox Room
10 Court Street
at the intersection of Court and Center Streets
Rutland, VT

St. Albans, Vermont Workshop
Saturday, April18th, 2009
9:00am-1:00pm (lunch provided)
130 Fisher Pond Road, St. Albans, VT
(the new building)

Norwich, Vermont Workshop
April 25th, 2009
10:00am-2:00pm (light fare provided)
Route 5 SouthNorwich VT

Here are some highlights from our workshop, Build Your Family:

  • After Diagnosis: Grief, depression, anxiety, sadness is a host of emotions that a family must continue to face throughout the lifespan, not just after diagnosis — we help with dealing with emotions and how to make plans to move forward. Including connecting to your community to gain a support network and find “your people”.
  • Build An Inclusive School Team: Through strong team building skills and meeting planning we teach you how to have a working team at school and at home.
  • Create Your Family: What are your family values? How does your life support the family values? Learn how to create a weekly family meeting, family dinners, and family outings for everyone.
  • Your Child: Learn how to prepare your child for a meaningful and productive happy adulthood now at whatever age they are. Teaching life skills in way your child can understand.
  • Medical Issues: Learn how talk to doctors so they will understand. How does pain affect children with autism and what you can do to help?