Weekend Warrior – Keeping Kids with ASD Busy

Keeping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder occupied in meaningful and productive ways on weekends is not always easy.  The ‘automatic babysitters’ (iPADs, Nintendo DS, XBOX, tablets, iPHONE, etc.) become highly over-used and can contribute to missed opportunities for face-to-face interaction and communication.  A common question I hear from parents is: “how do I keep my child busy when I have so many errands to run and tasks to complete before Monday rolls around?”  The unstructured ‘down’ time is the hardest time for our children because they require structure, prompting and coaching to participate in many non-technological activities. So what’s the solution?

Firstly, developing a VISUAL routine for the weekend makes the hours predictable and less anxiety-provoking. A child with ASD will benefit from knowing what is expected for the duration of the weekend.  Now that’s not to say that the weekend must be so rigidly structured that there isn’t a minute of ‘free-time’ but carving out some form of routine with clearly defined blocks of ‘free-time’ will promote organization in your child’s brain.  Our children struggle with thinking into the future.  Executive functioning is our brain’s ability to coordinate a mass of cognitive functions (planning, sequencing, organizing, predicting what tools are necessary for a given job, anticipating problems that may arise in a given task or situation, thinking ahead) and individuals with ASD have difficulty with this skill.  The inability to plan for oneself can lead to immediate boredom, anxiety, random impulsive acts which can get a child into ‘trouble’, increased self-stimulatory behavior to fill the time and possibly an increase in attention-seeking behaviors.  Creating a visual routine using what the child best understands (photographs, symbols or words) will provide a sense of ‘relief’ to the child who struggles to create their own agenda.  It also helps the child to prepare for the sensory bombardment that may occur during specific activities (vacuuming, family gatherings, outings to the store etc.).   Some families report that the more information they provide in advance CREATES anxiety in their child.  In this case, I would encourage the family to become detectives in determining why the activity is so overwhelming for the child (is it the noise, lighting, temperature, presence of a feared object, previous negative responses to a similar situation) or is it related to cognitive rigidity and the child’s natural disposition to dislike change or transitions?

Secondly, create a few bins of activities using plastic totes (being mindful of your child’s age and stage of development for safety reasons).  Fill and label each tote with 2 different activities that may spark your child’s interest. On the visual schedule you can incorporate “Mystery Box Time” and have your child pull a number out of a hat which corresponds to the Tote the child gets access to for a specified period of time.

For example:

TOTE #1:  Drawing, Word-finding, Coloring Box – filled with markers, pencil crayons, your child’s favorite pen, paper, dollar-store coloring books or crossword puzzles, word-finding booklets, sudoku puzzles, blank paper, colored paper, coiled booklets with lined paper, a book on how to draw, etc.

TOTE #2:  Building Box – filled with individually packaged Ziplock bags of lego, containers of plastercine or playdoh, sample pictures of items that can be built with these supplies, construction paper, glue, kid-friendly scissors (if appropriate), Oregami supplies, wooden popsicle sticks, a deck of cards to build a card house, a box of Dominoes to create a path of Dominoes to tip over etc.  Providing instructions for each item will help the child understand how to use the supplies.

TOTE #3:  Bubble Box – filled with bubbles, bubble wands, empty containers and a small container of dishsoap with instructions on how to make homemade bubbles, a few sticks of chewing gum, a towel, a washcloth, a laminated drawing of a talking bubble that can be written on with dry-erase marker, a dry-erase marker or water-based washable marker.

TOTE #5 – Fun Facts & Laugh Box – filled with various children’s encyclopedias of various topics (architecture, dinosaurs, insects, birds, animals, history, geography, weird and funny facts).  This can also be a place to put “knock-knock” jokes, kid-friendly jokes booklets, social stories or books that explain topics of interest to your child.

TOTE #6 – Sensory Toolbox – filled with fidget tools (a paper clip, Mack-Tack, pen lid, dice, small square swatches of various fabrics, a spring from a pen, short piece of string, a short piece of ribbon, a felt pipe-cleaner, a cotton ball, a gel-filled ball, squishy stress balls), noiseless whistles, scented lip balm, chewing gum, a relaxation CD or soothing music downloaded on to an MP3 player or ipod, eye mask, scented bean bags, a Slinky, ear plugs, noise-reduction headphones, a lava lamp, glow-in-the-dark bracelets or sticks, bubbles, a massage roller, a foot pumice stone etc.  There are many things that can be used in a sensory toolbox.

TOTE #7 – Photograpy Box – filled with pictures or photo albums of your child’s infancy and time throughout the years, photographs of family members over time, a sorting system to categorize the pictures such as “ME” vs. “Me and my parents” etc., a camera (if your child is able to use one safely), a list of items to find around the house to take pictures (a scavenger hunt for picture-taking).

Lastly, in addition to creating Mystery Boxes, it will be beneficial to block a certain amount of time in the visual routine where the individual can participate in some physical activity (for sensory regulation) with either the parents or a trusted adult (treadmill, walking outdoors, dancing to music, jumping on a mini-trampoline, stationary bike, lifting weights, raking leaves, shovelling snow, building a snowman, vacuuming, sweeping, Wii Just Dance, bowling, swimming, washing the windows outside).  Whatever you can motivate your child to join you in ! Remember to use a “First… Then…” approach to introducing the schedule of activities with the ‘Then’ activity being the reward.

If your child is developmentally not ready to tackle any amount of unsupervised time, seek further occupational therapy assessment in determining how to best promote your child’s participation and ongoing learning.  Advocate for respite through various organizations (Children’s disABILITY Services, Family Dynamics, CFS etc.).   Being realistic about what goals you can achieve during a weekend while tending to the needs of your child.  Sometimes we place very lofty expectations on ourselves and this can increase our stress levels and feelings of inadequacy.  Be kind to yourself. It takes a village to raise a child.

If you have any further questions about supporting your child with ASD through the weekend, please feel free to call (204) 415-7656. I would be happy to assist you in determining your child’s needs.

Professional Development Days for Manitoba Educators and Support Staff

On The Spectrum Therapy Services will be providing half-day workshops for 2 separate school divisions in Winnipeg, Manitoba in September and October 2016.

If you would like to schedule a workshop on Autism in your school division, please call (204) 415-7656 for more information.

Thank you.

Adults Developing Independence

Many young adults (ages 16-30 years) with Autism Spectrum Disorder require assistance with learning the skills to become independent in daily living.  On The Spectrum Therapy Services provides individualized support in acquiring the skills necessary to achieve maximum independence and improved mental health.

Areas of Intervention for an ADULT with ASD may include addressing the following:

  • Self-management:  Developing schedules, routines, time management, prioritizing, goal setting, determining motivators
  • Self-Care:  Learning the importance of proper grooming, hygiene, sleep hygiene, nutrition, dental care
  • Stress Management:  Developing self-awareness, triggers to stress/anxiety, coping strategies, relaxation practices
  • Meal Preparation:  Meal planning, grocery shopping, budgeting, safe cooking skills, kitchen safety, healthy eating
  • Transportation:  Learning bus routes, accessing public transit, pre-planning routes, safety awareness in the community
  • Social Skills:  Learning the impact of behavior on social perceptions, preparing for job interviews, preparing for dating, body language, gestures, eye contact, figures of speech, nuances in non-verbal communication, navigating family dynamics/relationships with family and friends, initiating/maintaining and ending conversations

Adults with Autism

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Do you have an adult child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? Are you an adult with ASD?

ASD is a lifelong, neurodevelopmental disorder so it would stand to reason that our children with ASD grow up to be adults with ASD.  As adulthood approaches, many hurdles have already been tackled and it is the refinement of skills that is needed.  In some cases, some of the early childhood issues remain problematic or challenging.   As you know, when you meet one person with autism, you meet one person with autism.  There are no two people with ASD that are alike.  Each person has unique strengths, talents, skills and a personality that shines.

Issues of adulthood may be very different from the early days of picky eating, toilet-training difficulties, sleep deprivation and managing morning routines.  However, there are various concerns that may continue to exist for the adult with Autism.  Since some of the daily challenges stem from having difficulties in the domains of social communication, organization (behavior) and managing self-regulation of emotions, some adults with ASD will have these questions:

  • How do I organize myself to get through the day?
  • How do I prepare a meal?
  • How do I shop for groceries?
  • How do I pay my bills?
  • How do I get a job?
  • How do I keep my friendships?
  • How do I ask a person out on a date?
  • How do I manage intimate relationships?
  • How do I interact with people at work to make it a pleasant place to be?

For parents or caregivers of adults with ASD, there may be more significant issues that are of concern in day to day living.  Depending on the person’s cognitive abilities and communication skills, each adult child will function at varying degrees of independence.  Some adults with ASD will require supported living environments.  In this case, how does the caregiver promote the ongoing development of independent living skills in that individual? What are the barriers to that individual living a more fulfilling independent existence?

If you would like more guidance in the area of supporting an adult with ASD, please call 204 415-7656 to book your therapist.  Help is only a phone call away.


What is Occupational Therapy for Autism?

Occupational Therapy is a regulated health profession that specializes in providing a client-centered approach to dealing with the occupations of every day living regardless of impairment or disability. Occupations are tasks or activities that every person does in the span of a day to care for oneself and to participate in work, play and leisure. One of the goals of occupational therapy is to assist an individual in finding and participating in meaningful occupations.

Having autism may mean that the individual has difficulty participating in self-care tasks (for example: toileting, brushing teeth, eating, dressing etc.), play (for example: interacting with peers in appropriate ways, initiating conversation either verbally or through communication device, maintaining friendships etc.), work (for example: finding a job, attending to the tasks of paid or unpaid employment) and leisure (for example: playing a team sport, tolerating the swimming pool, leaving the house etc.).  Occupational therapy can assist the family (and child) in determining the most effective ways to facilitate engagement in these everyday activities or occupations. 

Each stage of life comes with certain developmental milestones, roles and expectations from others to participate and behave in age-specific ways.  When an individual has autism, the variety and discrepancy in skill development can be alarming and confusing to parents and caregivers.  Occupational therapists are skilled in identifying the barriers to an individual’s success in achieving a specific goal and can assist the individual in breaking the task down into manageable chunks.

Occupational therapists are holistic in their approach.  This means that the therapist will take all aspects of each individual (spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically, intellectually) into careful consideration while balancing the role that the physical and social environment play on either facilitating or hindering achievement of that individual’s goals.  Individuals with autism may have difficulties regulating their emotions, may have sensory issues that overwhelm the body, may have a very negative self-esteem and may have cognitive impairments which impact on insight and self-awareness.  Families may or may not understand the needs of a person with autism and may feel overwhelmed in attempting to provide support.

Parents and caregivers may struggle with keeping a positive outlook on life when chaos is occurring in the home.  Occupational therapists have a keen understanding of mental health,  how to manage stress, how to cope with anxiety, how to deal with anger, frustration and how to rally supports.

Finding a therapist that inherently understands autism from real-life experience means that you spend less time trying to explain a conundrum and more time finding appropriate, evidence-based solutions so you can get on with living the way you and your family want to live.

On The Spectrum Therapy Services can provide you with an occupational therapist who will help you understand the reasons behind the challenges you face and provide you and your family with guidance and support in achieving your goals.