Welcome to the September 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 [email protected].

Q: How can I deal with a child who is hyper sensitive to sounds when we are in a mall or supermarket? My child has tantrums when they are overstimulated.

A: Settings that have a lot going on can definitely be overwhelming to the senses for children with sensory sensitivities. One way to reduce sensory input would be to provide headphones (either with music or not). Another suggestion might be distraction; offering a preferred object (like iPad, book, or musical toy) may help distract children from the things going on around them. Also, offering frequent rewards (like stickers, small food items [like goldfish, raisins, or M&M’s], or tokens) for calm behavior in these settings might help. Finally, working to reduce exposure to these settings (when possible, of course) may also take the pressure off of everyone (parent and child alike); for example, using online shopping services or phone apps or leaving kids at home with a sitter (again, when/if possible), might help to ease everyone’s pain.

Q: I’m a parent of two wonderful girls (9 and 3-years old). I am also recently (last 6-2 months) a step-parent to a beautiful young 3-year-old boy with autism; he fills my heart with joy. We only have him every two weeks, but already we have a connection. He reaches for me, and he likes it when I sing him nursery rhymes. Some of the things he does (like spinning objects) are confusing to me. What can I do as a step-parent to learn more and to help him as he grows?

A: Well, already you are doing it…by that I mean reaching out and working to gather as much information as you can. Subscribing to blogs, attending seminars (like Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Autism 101 and Autism 200 series), joining list serves, and talking to other parents will broaden your understanding and introduce you to parents who may have similar experiences. Additionally, websites like Autism Speaks and FEAT Washington are excellent resources. In addition, it will be important to be involved in your step-child’s treatment; attending treatment sessions, doctor’s visits, and engaging the “homework” assignments that your child’s treatment providers assign will help you learn about your step-child and will give you opportunities to ask the professionals questions that come up. Finally, collaborating, observing, asking questions in a non-judgmental manner, and joining forces with your spouse, who has been at this longer, will strengthen your bond with your spouse and will help you learn about your step-child and what strategies work best for him.