The Autism Blog

Ask Dr. Emily – Coping with Change and Understanding Social Norms

Welcome to the March edition of Ask Dr. Emily!

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Rastall, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format. We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Rastall will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to theautismblog@seattlechildrens.org.

 

Q: My 6 year old with ASD has all of a sudden started to ask for the sun to go away, she is saying Autumn is not over and tell the sun to go away. My daughter never had an issue with the sun in fact she loves it and would often sit with the sun on her face. I know it could be an event coming up she relates with Spring or it could be a number of things. They are teaching them the change in Seasons in school at present. Help would be much appreciated with this.

 A: Any way you look at it, change is hard. Change is especially hard for the autism brain, which relishes in structure, the predictable, and the known. The world, however, is in constant motion, so my guess is (and this is only a guess) that your daughter may be reacting to the conflict between what her brain likes (consistency) and the lack of that in the universe.  Your first step may be to simply validate what your child is feeling. You might say something like, “It sounds like you’re feeling ___ about change. Change is hard, isn’t it?” You might then offer your support  by saying, “You know I’m here to help if you need me. I have lots of ideas about how to feel better when things are hard.” Finally, you might offer some ideas about how to cope; deep breaths, distraction, and visualization of a “happy place” are some basic coping strategies you might model and describe (e.g., “I’m going to take a deep breath to feel better.” Or “Sometimes when I feel stressed, I like to do something fun to take my mind off of things.”), in an effort to expand  your daughter’s coping repertoire.

 

 Q: Hi…I went to work at a preschool and it was my first day. A child came up to me and just held my hand and wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know her, but later I found out that she has autism. So, what does it mean if a child with autism holds your hand and they don’t even know you?

 A: One of the diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes challenges making social initiations. Another criterion describes difficulty understanding social norms. My interpretation of this behavior (which could be correct or not) is that this child was attempting to connect with you or attempting to feel grounded in an environment of constant change (or both?). Either way, she’s not fully aware that this behavior is incongruent with the social environment and behavior of her peers. Through coaching (from you and other therapy providers), she will learn how to initiate effectively and will learn other (more socially appropriate) strategies for feeling safe and grounded. All of this aside, she chose you to feel safe with. What a special first day!

 

 

 

Targeted Treatment and Autism

One of the biggest challenges parents face after receiving an autism diagnosis is what their child’s treatment plan should include.

Taking into consideration the time, money, effort, commitment, and hope parents place in any number of therapies and interventions, providers are still unable to reliably predict which treatments will be effective for which children.

This often leads parents to simultaneously employ various treatment options without any assurance that they have a good fit for their child. We’ve reported that there are current studies underway toward this end and want to share one such study with you today.

In this study of twenty young children with autism, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in brain activity before and after receiving sixteen weeks of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), a play-based, evidence-based behavioral treatment focused on development in core deficits associated with autism.

The researchers wanted to know if they could predict which children would show improvement with the PRT treatment by looking for neurobiomarkers – measurable objective characteristics in the brain. They did indeed identify a number of characteristics in brain regions associated with social information processing and social motivation that predicted the success of PRT.

This study is a step towards being able to answer the question: How do we know if a child will respond to treatment?  Having the ability to predict whether a child will respond to a particular treatment will allow for the child to receive the intervention that they will most likely respond to, which will save families resources, time, and frustration.  It also allows for treatments to be analyzed and possibly distilled down into the core features that make them successful for children, increasing a treatment’s effectiveness and usefulness to families.  

A copy of the original study can be found here.

 

Making Friends on the Playground: Social Skills Support in School- This Month’s Autism 200 Class

This month’s Autism 200 Series class  “Making Friends on the Playground: Social Skills Support in School” will be held Thursday, March 16, 2017 at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Wright Auditorium from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

These classes are designed for parents, teachers and caregivers. The topics associated with the majority of classes are applicable to all age ranges and for a wide variety of children diagnosed with autism.

Ever wonder what your child does at recess? Or with whom he/she plays? Social impairment is one of the most challenging core deficits affecting children with autism. Jill Locke Ph.D will discuss how social impairments manifest in schools, their implications with peers, and the steps educators can take to facilitate positive peer engagement. Both caregivers and educators are encouraged to attend this lecture! 

Mindful Monday – How Do You Know if You’re Being Mindful?

People sometimes ask me how to know whether they are being mindful or not. Good question! It might sound as easy as saying “if you are, you’ll know it” or “if you aren’t, you’ll know it” but I don’t think that’s always the case. Here’s my quick checklist to help you decide.

 

Do you often find yourself:

  • Thinking “I wish . . . ”, meaning you wish things were different than they are
  • “I wish I could lose 10 pounds.” or “I wish my life wasn’t so hard.” or “I wish I had a better job.”

 

  • Thinking about the past and what you might’ve done differently
  • “I should have studied something different in college.” or “I shouldn’t have wasted so much time on that project.”

 

  • Thinking about the future, with some degree of anxiety
  • “I have so much I need to do!” or “I’m worried this won’t turn out ok.”

 

  • Thinking judgmental thoughts of yourself and others
  • “Nothing looks good on me!” or “I can’t believe she wore that.”

 

  • On auto-pilot, going through the motions with reduced awareness of your experience
  • “I don’t even remember driving home.” or “I do that with my eyes closed!”

 

  • Characterizing life/your day in an “either-or” way, i.e.: all good or all bad.
  • “I had a horrible day!” or “My life is a hard one.”

 

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re in good company! We live hectic lives in an increasingly complex world where information comes at us from more sources than ever before, all vying for our attention. It’s no surprise we’re not more present, more fully aware.

The Autism Blogcast with Jim and Raphe – March Edition

News Flash: The March edition of The Autism Blogcast, featuring autism experts Raphael Bernier, PhD and James Mancini, MS, CCC-SLP.

In an effort to keep you up to date on the latest news in research and community happenings, we welcome two of our favorite providers best known as Jim and Raphe, the autism news guys.

These two have too much energy to be contained in written format so our plan is to capture them in 2-5 minute videos that we’ll post the first week of each month. We welcome your questions and comments. Tell us what you think of our dynamic duo!

In this edition of the Blogcast, our reporters discuss evidence based treatments for autism and anxiety disorders, as well as helpful tips to manage anxiety in the current political climate.