North Lawrence
Community Schools
Load Mobile Menu
  • Newsletter

OLJMG Joint Services Newsletter

Making the Most of the Holidays for Your Family and Your Son/Daughter on the Autism Spectrum

Contributed by Cathy Pratt, Ph.D., BCBA
Director, Indiana Resource Center for Autism

While many happily anticipate the coming holiday season, families of sons/daughters on the autism spectrum also understand the special challenges that may occur when schedules are disrupted and routines broken. Our hope is that by following these few helpful tips, families may lessen the stress of the holiday season and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. The following tips were developed with input from the Autism Society of America, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Easter Seals Crossroads, Sonya Ansari Center for Autism at Logan, and the Indiana Autism Leadership Network.

Preparation is crucial for many individuals. At the same time, it is important to determine how much preparation a specific person may need. For example, if your son or daughter has a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her. Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the date of various holiday events, or by creating a Social Story that highlights what will happen at a given event.

Having decorations around the house may be disruptive for some. It may be helpful to revisit pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house. If such a book does not exist, use this holiday season to create a picture book. For some it may also be helpful to take them shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are engaged in the process. Or involve them in the process of decorating the house. And once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about those that can be touched and those that cannot be touched. Be direct, specific and consistent.

If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to gradually decorate the house. For example, on the first day put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day decorate the tree and so on. And again, engage them as much as possible in this process. It may be helpful to develop a visual schedule or calendar that shows what will be done on each day.

If your child begins to obsess about a particular gift or toy they want, it may be helpful to be specific and direct about the number of times a child can mention the toy. One suggestion is to give your child 5 chips. They are allowed to exchange one chip for 5 minutes of talking about the desired gift. Also, if you have no intention of purchasing a specific toy, it serves no purpose to tell the child that maybe they will get the gift. This will only lead to problems in the future. Always choose to be direct and specific about your intentions.

Teach your child how to leave a situation and/or how to access support when an event becomes overwhelming. For example, if you are having visitors, have a space set aside for the child as his/her safe/calm space. The individual should be taught ahead of time that they should go to their space when feeling overwhelmed. This self-management tool will serve the individual into adulthood. For children who are not at that level of self-management, develop a signal or cue for them to show when they are getting anxious and prompt them to use the space. For children with more significant challenges, practice using this space in a calm manner at various times prior to your guest’s arrival. Take the child into the room and engage them in calming activities (e.g., play soft music, rub his/her back, turn down the lights, etc.). Then when you notice the child becoming anxious, calmly remove him/her from the anxiety-provoking setting immediately and take him/her into the calming environment.

If you are traveling for the holidays, make sure you have the child’s favorite foods, books or toys available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations. Also prepare them via social stories or other communication systems, for any unexpected delays in travel. If your son/daughter is flying for the first time, it may be helpful to bring your child to the airport in advance and help them to become accustomed to airports and planes. Use social stories and pictures to rehearse what will happen when boarding and flying.

Know your child and how much noise and activity they can tolerate. If you detect that a situation may be becoming overwhelming, help your child find a quiet area in which to regroup. And there may be some situations that you simply avoid (e.g., crowded shopping malls the day after Thanksgiving).

Prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Allow the child access to these photos at all times and also go through the photo album with your child while talking briefly about each family member.

In preparation for the holiday season, you might want to practice opening gifts, taking turns and waiting for others, or giving gifts to others. Role play scenarios with your child in preparation for them getting a gift they do not want. Talk through this process to avoid embarrassing moments with family members. You might also choose to practice certain religious rituals. Work with a speech language pathologists to construct pages of vocabulary or topic boards that relate to the holidays and family traditions.

It may also be helpful to prepare family members for strategies to use to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents, and to enhance participation. Help them to understand if your son/daughter prefers to be hugged or not, needs calm discussions, or provide other suggestions that will facilitate a smoother holiday season.

If your child is on special diet, make sure there is food available that they can eat. And even if they are not on a special diet, be cautious of the amount of sugar consumed. And while we are talking about health, try to maintain a sleep and meal routine.

Above all, know your child. Know how much noise and other sensory input they can take. Know their level of anxiety and the amount of preparation it may take. Know their fears, and know those things that will make the season more enjoyable for them.

Don’t stress. Plan in advance. And most of all have a wonderful holiday season!

Physical Therapy
A Physical Therapist (PT) will spend at least 4 years in college, sometimes more, to attain a BS degree in Physical Therapy.  Many accredited programs are now Master Degree programs.  PT's work in many areas, from infant neonatal units, an athlete with an injury, a student with a need in a school setting, or an elderly person whom has had a stroke.  The diverse clientele requires much schooling and then the PT must pass a State Board exam to become licensed in each State they wish to work.  In Indiana a PT requires a physician referral in order to practice PT.

PT assistants work under the supervision of a PT and also require a two year associate's degree and passing of a State Board exam to work in the State of Indiana.

PT in the school setting address student's needs as identified from their IEP's.  Many times this will address a student's physical mobility around the classroom and educational environment.  We work directly with the student and/or "indirectly" with the student by giving the teacher and aides instruction on how to meet the IEP goals.

Occupational Therapy
Occupational Therapists (OT) are skilled professional whom require at least a BS degree in Occupational Therapy and passing of State Board exam to enter the field.  OT's work with all ages from infants to adults to give their clientele the skills that are needed for independent living.

Certified Occupational Therapist Assistants (COTA) must complete an associate's degree or certificate program.  COTA's work under the direction of occupational therapists to provide rehabilitative services to persons with mental, physical, emotional, sensory or developmental impairments.  The ultimate goal is to improve clients' quality of life by helping them compensate for limitations.  COTA's will help clients with rehabilitative activities and exercises outlined in a treatment plan developed in collaboration with an occupational therapist and a Case Conference Committee.

OT's and COTA's work in the school setting to help students achieve maximum function and independence within their school environment.  OT's and COTA's will work directly with the student and/or "indirectly" with the student by giving the teacher and aides instruction on how to meet the IEP goals.

Joint Services maintains a library of books, videos, educational toys and periodicals which are available for circulation to teachers and parents.  We have information relating to Autism, teen problems, curriculum, preschool readiness, plus many more important topics.

We have a special series of books and tapes by March Media relating to values which we would like all our children to develop.  The book and video develops a value, such as honesty or kindness, with a story set in a different area of the world.  For example, a pig learns problem solving in Ireland or a bee in France's countryside learns the importance of rules.  There are also are supplement pages with guidance for parents and teachers.

Please call or come to the building, to "check out" this material.  For more information, call Sally Alesia 279-6651.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is designed to improve student achievement and the culture of America's schools. This law represents an overhaul of federal efforts to support elementary and secondary education in the United States. It is built on four pillars: accountability for results; an emphasis on doing what is right based on scientific research, expanded parental options, and expanded local control and flexibility.

No Child Left Behind requires that by the 2005-06 school year, each state must measure every child's progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8, and at least once during grades 10 through 12. By school year 2007-08, states must also have in place science assessments to be administered at least once during grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12. Further, states must ensure that districts administer tests of English proficiency to all limited English proficient students as of the 2002-03 school year. Students may still undergo state assessments in other subject areas (i.e. history, writing skills), if and when the state requires it. No Child Left Behind requires assessments in only the areas of reading/language arts, math, and science.

No Child Left Behind requires that all children be assessed. In order to show adequate yearly progress, schools must test at least 95 percent of the various subgroups of children, including their students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency. States must provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities or limited English proficiency.

State assessments are expected to measure how well students meet the state's academic standards, which define what students should know and be able to do in different subject areas at different grade levels. Curriculum based on the state standards should be taught in the classroom. If teachers cover subject matter required by the standards, then students will have the opportunity to learn the material on which they will be tested.

Annual tests to measure children's progress provide teachers with independent information about each child's strengths and weaknesses. With this knowledge, teachers can craft lessons to make sure each student is exposed to the material covered by the standards. In addition, principals can use the data to assess exactly how much progress each teacher's students have made and to better inform decisions about how to run their schools. The information can be used to guide decisions about program selection, curriculum, and professional development for teachers.

Annual state assessments required under No Child Left Behind produce data on student performance at individual schools; and this information is used to gauge whether each school is meeting the state's standard of "adequate yearly progress". Parents can check progress made in improving student performance at their child's school by checking the annual district report card, which is usually reported in the local paper and on the state website. If a school is not making adequate yearly progress and has been identified as needing improvement, corrective action or restructuring, No Child Left Behind requires that districts notify parents and offer options.

No Child Left Behind Website

U.S. Department of Education website

Indiana Department of Education website

Sensory Motor Activities for the young child

The proprioceptive system is comprised of receptors found in muscles and joints.  This system allows us to know where our bodies are in space without using the sense of sight.  Is your elbow bent or straight, knee crossed or straight, head tilted or bent forward?  The sense  of proprioception also helps us use the right amount of strength required for a task.  How much strength do you need to pick up a pile of books versus a folder?  Dysfunctions related to the sense of proprioception include the inability to know where the body is in relation to objects or other people.  Other difficulties include the appearance of not being grounded (i.e., walking on tip toes or being unable to maintain a position for a length of time such as sitting upright in a chair) and/or having difficulty controlling force exerted by the muscles (using either too much or too little when trying to accomplish a task).

The following activities can be used with children who are developing typically in the proprioceptive system and those who are not.  These activities are reproducible.  Copyright © 2001 Imaginart International, Inc.  Sensory Activities for the Young Child - Hurley

Walking the Walls
Activity Works On: Proprioceptive input in the feet, ankles, and knees.

Materials Needed: A wall

How to Prepare: Clear space on the wall and the floor in front of it.

Let's Do It:
  1. Have the child remove his shoes and lie down on the floor in front of a wall.
  2. Position him so his feet are flat against the wall and knees are bent to 90°.
  3. Instruct him to walk his feet down the wall, then up the wall.  He will need to readjust his position on the floor to do this.

More Ideas:
  • Start in the same position, and ask the child to use his feet to attempt to push the wall down, taking breaks between pushing.
  • Place a flexible object under the child's feet, such as a foam ball or roll, and have him push it into the wall.

Freeze Dance

Activity Works On: Body awareness through movement.

Materials Needed:
  • Radio, tape or CD player
  • Cassette tapes or CD's with a variety of music such as rock and roll, classical, rap, etc.
  • Open space for the children to move about

How to Prepare:
  • Set up the music in the room.  Have the cassettes or CD's ready to play.
  • Give the following instructions to the children, "When the music plays, dance or move around.  When the music stops, freeze in the position you are in until the music starts again."

Let's Do It:
  1. Have the children stand in the middle of the room.
  2. Turn the music on and encourage the children to move their arms, legs and trunks freely.
  3. After a short time, turn the music off and tell the children to freeze in that position.
  4. Allow the children to remain "frozen" for a few seconds, then resume the game by turning the music back on.

More Ideas:
  • Play the same game, but have the children's starting position be either on their hands and knees or sitting in chairs instead of standing.
  • Play the same game except have the children make silly faces instead of moving their bodies around.

Obstacle Course

Activity Works On: Motor learning skills by thinking about and moving through, around, under and over obstacles.

Materials Needed:
  • Table
  • Chairs
  • Pillows
  • Large box (with both ends open)
  • Toy
How to Prepare:
Create an obstacle course in the room by arranging the furniture so that the children will need to crawl under a table, around a toy, over a pillow and through a large box.

Let's Do It:
  1. Sit the children on a side of the obstacle course so they can see it.
  2. Demonstrate to the children how to go through the obstacle course.
  3. Have the children go through the course one at a time.
More Ideas:
  • Use a variety of obstacles so that the children will need to crawl, hop and roll through the course (chairs, wedges, mats, balance beams).
  • Jazz up common items to make the course special.  Tape long pieces of crepe paper to the top of a hula hoop so that the strands fall into the center of the hoop.  Either hold the hula hoop or suspend it from the ceiling with a rope and have the children crawl through the crepe paper.  Or, you can place a blanket over two chairs to create a tunnel to crawl through.

Choo Choo Train

Activity Works On: Proprioceptive input to the hands and arms by pushing heavy objects.

Materials Needed: Containers large enough for a child to sit in--boxes, laundry baskets, etc.

How to Prepare:
  • Clear out space in the room for the children to push the containers around.
  • Teach the children a start and stop signal.  Start may be blowing a whistle or saying, "Choo choo; let's go."  Stop may be blowing the whistle twice or saying, "Choo choo; let's stop."   
Let's Do It:
  1. Line up the container in a row.
  2. Have on child sit in a container and another child stand in back of her with his hands on the sitting child's shoulders or the back of the container.
  3. Give the start signal.  The children should push the containers forward at a slow pace.
  4. Give the stop signal.  The children should stop pushing the containers.

More Ideas:
  • Tie a rope to a side of the container.  Have one child sit in the container and another child pull her around by pulling the rope.
  • Decorate a box like a truck.  Have the child fill the truck with toys and push it around the room.
  • Location