Archive for July 2016

Monthly Archive

Planning A Trip To An Amusement Park With Children On The Autism Spectrum

summer-road-tripGuest author Sean Morris became a stay-at-home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get to spend more time with his kids. He enjoys sharing his experiences via and hopes writing for the site will help him provide other parents with tips and advice on juggling life, career, and family.

Planning a family trip can be stressful for any family, and for parents of children on the autism spectrum, there are many other things to take into consideration when it comes to packing and preparations. When it’s time to plan a vacation or a trip to a theme park, there are several things you can do to make things easier on everyone if you know where to look and how to start.

Before you leave

If your child has comfort items, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, either refrain from washing it just before the trip or wash it weeks ahead of time. That way, they can bring something from home that smells familiar.

Hit the dollar store for books, coloring books and crayons, puzzles, and other small activities that your child can bring on the trip. If they get lost or broken during your vacation, it won’t be such a big deal.

If your child is a visual learner, buy some stickers and use them to mark the days on the calendar to show them how much time you have before the trip. It’s also a good idea to show your child photos of your destination, or colorful maps that will help them see how far you have to drive or fly. Talk about the trip with them so they’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Stock up on favorite snacks and drinks for the trip, especially if you’ll be in the car, so your child will have something familiar to eat. This will help incorporate something from the usual daily routine into the trip

Do some research on the park(s) you’ll be attending to find out if they offer special discounts or amenities for children with special needs. Some larger parks allow families to move ahead in line with a special pass so they don’t have to make their child stand for hours in a big crowd. If your child is young enough to use a stroller, make sure the park doesn’t have rules about which days you can bring one. If they’re older, you might consider renting a wheelchair so they’ll have a place to sit and rest.

Plan for what your child will need

No matter how many family members are going on the trip, it’s best to plan as much as possible for your child’s specific needs and communicate them with everyone. If your child is at ease and comfortable, it will make for a much easier trip for the entire family.

If using public restrooms is an issue for your child, consider taking them to places close to home–such as the library or a children’s museum–and asking them to “practice” using the potty there. This will make using the bathroom while on vacation much simpler.

Have an ID made for your child to keep in his or her backpack in case you get separated.

If sleeping away from home might be an issue, consider bringing your child’s pillow and blankets from home and stock up on foods that will help them calm down after a long day of excitement.

Be prepared for frustration

Every parent experiences at least a little frustration while on vacation. It’s inevitable, so don’t feel guilty. Heat, exhaustion, and dealing with crowds can make anyone cranky, and when you have children to worry about and keep safe it’s hard to remember to just have fun. Allow for some extra time each day to get things done and don’t feel bad if you don’t get to everything. Your child will look to you to learn how to react to every situation, so try to stay calm and ask for help from family members if possible.



Free Autism 101 class this Thursday

Please join us this Thursday, July 28, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Seattle Children’s Hospital for our free quarterly lecture, Autism 101. Autism 101 is intended for parents and families of children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this free lecture, participants will learn about:

  • Up-to-date, evidence-based information regarding the core deficits of ASD
  • Variability and presentation of behaviors associated with autism
  • Prevalence and etiology (study of the cause of the disorder)
  • Treatments available
  • Resources for families

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Ask Dr. Emily- Ritualized Patterns of Non-Verbal Behavior and Sensory Seeking

Welcome to the July edition of Ask Dr. Emily! This month we celebrate the one year anniversary of our Ask Dr. Emily series! Thanks to Dr. Emily for her helpful advice and to our readers for sending questions we can all learn from. Here’s to another great year! 

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 son always turns his stuffed animals to face the wall when he’s playing. I’m curious about whether other kids do this and, if so, why?

A: One of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder is something called “ritualized patterns of non-verbal behavior.” Often, children with autism dislike when these rituals are disrupted. Your son’s insistence on turning his toys a certain way may be one of these rituals. We don’t know why children with autism choose the rituals they do. It might also be difficult for us adults to understand what purpose these rituals may serve. We might guess that these behaviors bring order to an otherwise chaotic world, and thus, may serve to soothe an underlying unsettledness.

Q: My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in August of 2015. He is almost four years old. He rubs his head across the floor when he is upset or even just randomly sometimes. Why does he do that? Is there a term for that? Also, he can be aggressive when upset. Are there ways to slow his aggression?

A: Often, repetitive behaviors (like the rubbing you described) can be the result of what is called “sensory seeking.” Sensory seeking is one of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Children who are under-sensitive to tactile (skin) sensations, may seek it out for the purpose of calming, or simply for pleasure. It’s a little like the pleasure we might get from a back scratch or a foot rub; but their bodies want more of it more of the time.

With regard to your question about aggression, it is not uncommon for children, autism or not, to hit, kick, throw, and/or push, when upset. First, the reasoning part of the brain (frontal lobe) that helps us humans think through consequences and resist the urge to lash out (and we all feel it sometimes, right?) is very under-developed in young children. In fact, the frontal lobe is not fully developed in typically developing individuals until they reach 25 years old! In addition, when upset, stress hormones in the brain cause the frontal lobe to stop working as well. Children with autism spectrum disorder commonly have frontal lobes that are even less developed than their same-age peers. They also tend to feel things (like emotions) more intensely than their typically developing peers (or feel things equally, but understand them less, making the experience overwhelming and confusing). Time for brain development to occur, in addition to behavioral interventions (like applied behavioral analysis) can promote the development of self control in children with autism.

Join QFC in Helping Kids at Seattle Children’s Autism Center

Join QFC in Helping Kids at Seattle Children’s Autism Center

QFC 1QFC stores in Washington will be raising funds for Seattle Children’s Autism Center during a check stand promotion from July 17-August 13 this summer.  Funds raised will go directly to uncompensated care services at the Autism Center including Family Resources, Nursing, & support classes.


Transition to Adulthood-Connecting to Vocational, Educational, Social and Wellness Resources- This Month’s Autism 200 Class


This month’s Autism 200 Series class “Transition to Adulthood-Connecting to Vocational, Educational, Social and Wellness Resources” will be held Thursday, July 21, 2016, 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. This class will be led by Ben Wahl, MSW, Aspiring Youth & Therese Vafaeezadeh, ARNP.