Facts about Autism Autism is a spectrum disorder. Autism affects 1 in 110 children. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the US. Boys are 4 times more likely than girls to have autism. There is no medical detection or cure for autism. Children do not “outgrow” autism. Most importantly: people with autism are people FIRST with gifts and strengths.
Symptoms Autism affects the way a child perceives the world and makes communication and social interaction difficult. The child may have repetitive behaviors or intense interests. Symptoms and their severity are different from one child to another with the same diagnosis. Symptoms of autism typically last throughout a person’s lifetime.
Social Symptoms Early in life, babies/young toddlers will gaze at people, turn toward voices, grasp a finger, and smile. By contrast, most children with autism have tremendous difficultly learning to engage with others. People with autism often seem uncaring, unfeeling or “robotic”. Smiling, eye contact, touching and simple conversations are often skills that are taught and practiced frequently. It is common for people with autism to have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can often look like immature behavior (crying, screaming, verbal outbursts, and sometimes violence).
Communication Difficulties Some people with autism remain non-verbal for their entire lives. With the less involved cases, speech is delayed but usually can improve. Some children only speak one word at a time while others can use sentences. Some children communicate with repeated phrases with a condition called echolalia. The use of two way conversations is often difficult. Body language, tone of voice, and sarcasm are often misunderstood if understood at all. Facial expressions, movements, and gestures from people with autism are often misunderstood as well.
Repetitive Behaviors Often people with autism have repetitive behaviors (flapping arms, lining up toys, pacing, routines). Some behaviors are extremely noticeable while others are not usually noticed by the general public. These behaviors are sometimes only expressed when upset or excited. In more extreme cases, these behaviors are at the level where the person can hardly function other than to “stim”. These behaviors are often uncontrollable however, with proper instruction, these behaviors can be reduced and hopefully the child can monitor their stimulatory behaviors.
Physical and Medical Issues that MayAccompany Autism Seizure disorders occur in as many as 39% of people with autism. It is more common in children who have shown cognitive deficits than those without. A small number of children with autism may also have Fragile X Syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome, or other chromosomal abnormalities. Many parents report gastrointestinal problems in their children. Children with autism often have sleep problems that often affect the whole family. Sensory processing disorder is very common. This is an unusual response to sensory stimuli (input).
Helpful hints! Due to the impairment they belong. with communication, Using fidget toys, hands pictures and other visual on activities and carpet cues are necessary and squares are helpful to extremely helpful. you as an adult leading Highly structured an activity. activities are a must! Have a “safe” area the Areas that are clearly child can use as marked are soothing and necessary. help children with autism know “where”
Pictures/Visual Cues When planning an activity, keep in mind often children with autism cannot process verbal or written language in the same manner that we typically do. When reading stories, it is important to have picture symbols for comprehension. (“The dog is eating a bone.” = picture of a dog eating) If you have toys or activities for the child to use, have pictures on the boxes to show them what is in each box. Also have pictures to show how to play with the toys. Often children of autism do not understand what is being asked of them and this causes anxiety and fear.
Cont. Have a visual schedule for the children to see during the entire activity. Each activity you plan on doing should be represented vertically in such a way that the child can look at the board and see what is next, what is last and when they get to do a preferred activity. Structuring your story times this way will decrease the child’s anxiety and increase his enjoyment of the time with you. The more you informed the child about his environment or “what’s next” the more success you will have behaviorally.
Vertical ScheduleThis is what a classroomschedule might look like.You can change the layout tobe horizontal as well, butmost people prefer vertical.
Highly Structured Activities Each activity that you plan on doing with the children should be structured in a way that the child is always aware of what is happening. Free time is a big “no no”. If you want the children to have time at a table to play with toys, make sure the toys are labeled and a set time is given for the activity. Everything in the room should have a picture explaining its use and purpose. If you want the children to sit on the floor, have defined areas for the children to sit in, don’t just say “come sit”.
Keeping our hands still…. Often children with autism are unable to keep their hands still or “quiet”. It is difficult for them to sit with quiet hands or feet. Fidget toys can be anything that can fit in the child’s hand or hands and often help the child to stay calm. These often give the children something to do with their hands and keeps the impulsivity to grab things low. These can include: Koosh balls Balloons full of sand Soft balls Legos Textured materials
Safe Area When you have an unfamiliar environment or the child is having a rough day, having a safe area allows the child to sort through things without harming themselves or others. A safe area can be a small corner of the room with bean bags or pillows that the child can curl up in or lay on to ease tension in their bodies. It can also be just away from everyone else. A great way to set up a safe area is to cover a large table with a cloth (sheet) to block out some of the light. The use of these areas are helpful when a child is over stimulated. When a child is over stimulated you often see poking, biting, hitting, wringing hands, loud outbursts, or pacing.
How do I respond when…. a child hits themselves? Ask the parents if the child needs a break, or if the child needs to take a walk. a child walks away from story time? Continue reading to the other children. As their parents are present, they can redirect them as necessary. They may just need a minute to “clear their head”. a child cannot transition? Show them pictures of what is happening next, what they could be missing out on.
As a teacher…. I highly recommend you have another employee in the room during story time to help with behaviors and activities that are taking place. I highly recommend you start each story time with some kind of physical activity ( jumping, walking in a circle around the seating area, dancing to music). I highly recommend you have song time. Introduce each story with a song and close with a song. Children with autism can find music very soothing. I highly recommend you make the stories interactive.
Sensory Processing Disorder Sensory processing (sometimes called "sensory integration" or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or "sensory integration." Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition that exists when sensory signals dont get organized into appropriate responses.
A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.
What does this look like? Sensory Processing Disorder can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or just movement–or in multiple senses. One person with SPD may over-respond to sensation and find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable. Another might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. These are the "floppy babies" who worry new parents and the kids who get called "klutz" and "spaz" on the playground. Still other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive.
Many children with autism experience the world differently than typically-developing people in terms of how their bodies interpret sensory information. Some children with autism do not respond to pain. Some are hypersensitive to touch or sound or light. When a child is not stimulated enough or has too much stimulation, the child can and most often will act out to get the needed stimulation or to get the over stimulation to stop.
How can I make story time moresensory friendly? When planning a story time, plan well ahead so you can make the activities to go with the story. Allow children to sit on cushions or pillows or bean bags rather than the floor or chair. Add physical activity to the beginning of the activity. Provide the “safe area” for children.
Ideas Play doh, Gak, Funny Foam, etc. Children need a variety of textures for interaction. Having these accessible helps the child to have something they can do with their fingers. You can hide object in these substances that are relevant to your story (i.e. Your story is about the beach, you have shells hidden in play-doh or sand that they have to find.)
Sand and Water Play Playing in the sand or water provides essential yet fun ways to experience necessary tactile input. Use your creativity, get plenty of towels, and have fun filling these tables with sand, rice, shaving cream, water, or any textured substance you can think of. Of course, put little toys in as well to encourage exploration.
Vestibular Movement Children need to move!! Dancing, jumping, walking, riding on scooters can help the time during breaks. Swings, rocking toys, scooters, and therapy (exercise) balls are great to have on hand for easy access. Often these objects are used in classrooms in the place of chairs.
Oral Motor Toys Occupational Therapists and Speech Therapists treat hundreds of children every day who have difficulties with oral motor control and difficulty regulating sensory input in the mouth (hypo- or hyper- sensitive). These are the children who have difficulties with speech, eating, are constantly putting things in their mouth, drooling, or never eating anything besides applesauce and yogurt. Whistles, blow toys, straws (ie. playing hockey by blowing cotton balls or splatter painting by blowing on paint using a straw etc.), sweet and sour candies and gum, weird and different foods, making food into toys or animals are examples of how you can use these. Disclaimer: I always Clorox these items or trash them after the activity.
Sensory Toys This is the easiest way to perform sensory integration activities... using toys already made and targeted for sensory input. Examples are: Tactile toys Play mats with textures Vibrating toys Textured puzzles Slimy, squishy toys Toys to sit on (balls, chairs)