Archive for 2016

Announcing the Autism 200 Series Schedule for 2017

We are pleased to announce a brand new line up of the Autism 200 Series lectures for 2017.

Autism 200 is a series of 90-minute classes for parents and caregivers of children with autism as well as teachers and community providers who wish to better understand autism spectrum disorder. Faculty from Seattle Children’s, the University of Washington and community providers teach the classes. Each class includes time for questions.


Classes are held on most third Thursdays of the month at Seattle Children’s Hospital from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Wright Auditorium. Parking in visitor lots. Lectures are available through Seattle Children’s video and teleconferencing outreach program and can be viewed at various locations throughout the region. View Seattle Children’s video teleconferencing site information (PDF).

Lectures are also recorded and can be viewed on our website following the lecture. For a list of teleconferencing sites or to view past lectures, please visit our website.


Class details:

Autism 201: The State of Autism in 2017 with Jim & Raphe

January 19, 2017; Instructors: Raphael Bernier, Ph.D. & Jim Mancini MS, CCC-SLP

Considerable advances have occurred in both science and on the community, state and national levels in 2016. Seattle Children’s Autism Center’s Dr. Raphael Bernier, clinical director and Jim Mancini, coordinator of training, education and outreach, will review the most newsworthy and influential scientific and community advances in the world of autism spectrum disorder from the past year.  We will also discuss what we can expect in the changing educational and political landscape of 2017.   

Autism 202: Autism Genetics: What Parents Should Know

February 16, 2017; Instructors: Heather Mefford MD & Jennifer Gerdts Ph.D.

Over the past decade, there have been major advances in our understanding of autism genetics, and genetic testing is often offered to patients and families. The tests (and sometimes the results) can be overwhelming and confusing. We will review what is known about autism genetics and what kinds of genetic tests are available to families. In addition, we will discuss the pros and cons of genetic testing and what types of results you might expect to receive. Finally, we will highlight research opportunities and exciting advances in genetic testing that are expected to become available in the near future.

Autism 203: Making Friends on the Playground: Social Skills Support in School

March 16, 2017; Instructor: Jill Locke Ph.D.

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. Dr. Jill Locke 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!

Autism 204: Parent Training to Address Problem Behaviors of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder

April 20, 2017; Instructor: Karen Bearss Ph.D.

As many as 50% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit behavioral problems such as tantrums, noncompliance, and aggression. These behaviors interfere with the performance of daily living skills and may also amplify caregiver stress. The challenges parents face in raising a child with ASD has sparked interest in the use of parent training in this population, as it empowers parents to be the agent of change for their child. This presentation will review the prevalence and impact of disruptive behaviors in ASD and how parent training is a promising line of treatment for these challenging behaviors and provide specific tips and strategies to dealing with disruptive behaviors.

Autism 205: Autism and Police: Staying Safe Together

May 18, 2017; Facilitator: Robin Tatsuda, MSW

With mounting tension across the country, creating a safe community requires collaboration.  For individuals with autism spectrum disorder, learning to interact with police and first responders is critical. On the other hand, it is just as essential for police to understand autism and be prepared to respond effectively and safely to situations that arise involving individuals on the spectrum. The autism community must work together with law enforcement and the general public to ensure we are all safe together.  This panel presentation of law enforcement officials, individuals with autism, families, and community members will discuss local efforts within police departments as well as strategies for individuals and families to promote safety for everyone involved.  

Autism 206: Transition to Adulthood: Finding a Job

July 20, 2017; Instructors: Richard Wilson MPA & Maureen Roberts M.Ed., C.R.C.

Transition from school to the adult world and successfully finding a job can be complicated and confusing.  Navigating resources can be a formidable and overwhelming challenge for most students and their families.  Being prepared requires early planning, appropriate expectations, and opportunities. Understanding what resources are available and how to obtain them is critical for decision making and taking action.  This session seeks to help participants better understand support systems, resources, and how to access vital services.  It will also cover the importance of starting early, breaking down steps that lead to employment, and the importance of advocacy and collaboration.

Autism 207: Transition to Adulthood: Keeping a Job

August 17, 2017; Instructors: Gina Solberg CESP & Abbey Lawrence M.Ed., BCBA

Landing a new job can be very exciting!  It’s a new world of possibilities.  It can also be where the real work begins.  We will discuss strategies and ideas to have a success on-boarding experience and the keys to making the job into a career.  Good tenure and successful employment often depends on soft skills, support networks, visual supports/ancillary aides, clear expectations, effective lines of communication and more.  

Autism 208: Screening for ASD: A Preventative Intervention Approach

September 21, 2017; Instructor: Lisa Ibanez Ph.D.

The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been rising steadily, with rates now estimated to be as high as 1 in 68 children. Although parents often become concerned about their child by 17-19 months of age, children do not typically receive an ASD diagnosis until they are 4 years old. It is now well documented that early participation in ASD-specialized intervention can lead to significant improvements in skills and behavior for toddlers with ASD. However, despite the availability of publicly funded early intervention (EI) services, delayed detection of ASD risk and long waits for a formal ASD diagnosis can prevent children from receiving appropriately specialized intervention during the critical birth-to-three years. In addition, parents concerned about ASD experience high levels of uncertainty and stress during this waiting period. This provider-focused lecture will discuss how a preventive intervention approach may improve outcomes for both children and parents by increasing rates of ASD screening, promoting earlier referral to EI programs, initiating early ASD-specialized intervention, and reducing the time between ASD concerns and diagnosis.

 Autism 209: Early Intervention in Autism: An Overview of the Seattle Children’s Autism Center Model

October 19, 2017; Instructor: Mendy Minjarez Ph.D.

 Early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes for children with autism. Interventions based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) have strong empirical support for improving a range of skills, including communication, social, play and adaptive skills. Other interventions, such as speech therapy and parent training, are also considered important in the treatment of young children with autism. This presentation will provide an overview of the current early intervention research and also describe the multi-disciplinary program at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, which includes ABA therapy, speech therapy, and parent training/support. The model being used at Seattle Children’s is also being replicated state-wide and efforts to expand ABA therapy services in WA State will be discussed.

 Autism 210: Autism from a Sibling’s Perspective: A Panel Discussion

November 16, 2017; Facilitator: Tammy Mitchel, Sister and Program Manager, Alyssa Burnett Center

What about the siblings?  Join us for an insightful evening featuring the unique perspectives of brothers and sisters of individuals living with autism.  In this dynamic and candid panel, siblings will share their personal stories and insights, and provide a platform for parents, siblings and other community members to ask questions about their journey of growing up with a sibling on the autism spectrum. 

Sharing their thoughts and experiences around both the positive, and the challenging aspects siblings experience, this panel will provide honest feedback and touching stories around hope and unconditional love.   Facilitated by Tammy Mitchel, sister to 22 year old Mikey, and hosting a dynamic panel of siblings, this Autism 200 will be one to remember.



The Gift of Autism

starI just spent the evening watching the “Marauding Swordfish” theatrical production. This production highlighted different groups of teens with special needs, specifically in navigating the social world.  The night was spent doing comedy improvisation.  The unveiled honesty was so refreshing in a world where Photoshop makes women look perfect and the media feeds us what we want to hear. 

This was a night for them to shine. It was their night to be themselves-quirky, funny, and totally honest.  I laughed and laughed at their quick wit and ability to speak what was on their mind without worrying what others thought. 

 As parents, we could not forget the long road behind us that brought us to this night.  There was the boy who wouldn’t be alive without modern medicine, the endless years of speech therapy, and the constant advocating to allow our kids to be a part of society in their own way.  To us, we knew that this night was nothing less than a miracle and savored each moment. 

For me it was a reminder of the need in all of us to be part of the human race. As we strive to be more and more of what we think we need to be, may we never lose sight of ourselves-the part of us that is truly ‘us’.  Autism has reminded me to live honestly and authentically, to value the uniqueness of each individual, and to daily celebrate the miracles in our lives. 

Thank you “Marauding Swordfish”! You were the best show in town. 

Happy Holidays from The Autism Blog

Warm wishes for a happy holiday season, and our best to you all in the New Year.  

The Autism Blog

Ask Dr. Emily – Suggestions for Pica Treatment

Welcome to the December 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

Q: My child engages in Pica and I had him tested for iron & other deficiencies which came back clear. He does it when he is stressed, over excited and has even done it whilst he appears relaxed. Unsure where to go from here as have tried chewing gum, sensory chew items and scented play doh? Unsure where to go from here.  Any suggestions?

A: “Pica” (pronounced “pie-cuh”) is described as an individual “eating non-food items,” such as dirt, hair, paint/glue, rocks, lint, or paperclips. Pica is not uncommon in children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, but the precise prevalence is not known. The function of pica varies from individual to individual; the literature tells us that the most common explanation for pica is that it serves a sensory purpose—simply put, it feels and/or tastes good. Pica can also be a self-soothing strategy (like when stressed) or can be driven by social reinforcers (like attention from parents/teachers/peers). 

Regarding treatment, the literature tells us that interventions using applied behavioral analysis (ABA) techniques are most effective for treating pica. However, before you start behavioral treatment, it’s important to consult with your pediatrician to rule out any nutritional deficiencies as the root cause. The next step (and the first step in creating an effective behavioral treatment plan) will be to determine the reason the pica behavior is occurring; the behavioral treatment will vary based on the purpose of the behavior for your child. Thus, a functional analysis (FA) needs to be conducted by a trained behavioral expert (such as a BCBA). 

Subsequent treatment plans may include things like behavioral replacement (like chewing gum or “chewies”) which it sounds like you’ve tried, environmental enrichment (offering the child other items or activities and reducing the availability of non-food items in the environment), and/or reinforcement (rewarding the child when they engage in OTHER, more appropriate behaviors). Something to note: If a child or individual has received medical attention (e.g., trip the emergency room) or has health issues potentially due to pica, more immediate assessment and treatment will be called for.

If you’re waiting to see an ABA provider, there are some preventative strategies you can use to minimize harm. For example, you can remove preferred non-food items from the home. Educate all of the people your child interacts with (teachers, child care providers, extended family members) so that they can help supervise and prevent items from being ingested that might cause harm. Finally, minimize your emotional reaction (but do attend to it) to your child’s pica to decrease the chance that pica is reinforced by your attention. The Pica Toolkit for Parents and Professionals (brought to you by Autism Speaks) is also a nice resource.



Mindful Monday – More Being and Less Doing For The Holidays

If you found your Thanksgiving holiday to be more doing (shopping, cleaning, prepping, cooking, serving, hosting, cleaning again) than being (listening, breathing, walking, seeing things and people in a simpler light, enjoying special moments), there’s still hope for you!

The next round of holidays is just around the corner and now is the time to set an intention to s-l-o-w down! Many people have come to realize how stressful this time of year can be and with a child with ASD, even more so.  While some things are not within your control to change, some are. Here are some tips:

  • Think about your traditions and appraise them in the here and now. For example, if you have always sent out holiday cards, ask if this is still meaningful for you and the recipients. Can you update your list of recipients and shorten it? If this year is particularly stressful, consider not sending cards this year and revisiting the issue next year. If you are nagged by “I should” and “I always”, ask yourself what the worst- case scenario would be if you skip this year. Will anyone disown you?
  • Decide more is not better. Too often we spend extra time and money on “filler” such as what goes into a child’s stocking. I realized one year that I spent almost as much on the little stuff as I did on the “main present”. My answer was to stuff the lower half of the stocking with new socks and then add a few items on top. If you have many people on your list for gifts, just give one. Radical idea for the kids, I know! But as kids get older, the things they want are smaller and more expensive. There’s no need to buy more just so they have a lot to open. Last year I bombed on a number of items I bought for my family – things they didn’t really need or want. I vowed to recall this next time. It was one gift that made their day.
  • Call to mind the small yet meaningful aspects of the holiday. We tend to get caught up in the gift-giving part and breeze past the moments that truly count. It could be the smell of fresh pine or a song that brings back childhood memories. This year decide to pay attention, to notice the small things. Make a mental note of them.
  • Set your own pace. Television and the internet will convince you that time and gifts are running out and that you better hurry or else you’ll miss out. Turn it off. Tune it out. Recognize that the purpose of this is to sell something. Slow down and think through your list.
  • Refrain from comparing. Expectations tend to be our downfall when it comes to the holidays. We compare ourselves with our own parents, other families, fictitious families on TV, Face Book families (they seem fictitious sometimes too!) and storybook families of holidays long, long ago. Instead of comparisons, think of possibilities. Leave some room for being adaptable to whatever may come your way.

Wishing you love, peace, and quiet this holiday season!