Tips for Getting a Haircut for a Child with Autism

One of my clients is getting ready for a big day…getting a haircut! This has not been an easy task for her or her family- lately, it has ended with her becoming very upset and reenacting the entire haircut. I am currently working with her family to make this a more positive experience as she gets ready for her next haircut. As I was getting ready, I ran across these tips from Autism Speaks.

Here are a few things I am doing to help this be a more positive experience:

  • Using Toca Boca’s Hair Salon Apps- Hair Salon, Hair Salon 2, Hair Xmas, and Hair Salon Me. We take turns in the “hair salon” fixing up the person’s hair, whether it be a girl, boy, Santa, Xmas tree, or a photo we take. This helps her become familiar with the steps taken when getting your hair cut and allows her to be in charge of what happens and when it happens.
  • Writing out a social story about what will happen at the salon. This is based off our pretend play with the Hair Salon apps.
  • Making a video social story. This will allow her to practice and process the haircut before it happens. We will video in a manner that looks as if we did cut hair so when she watches the video, she sees herself being successful getting her hair cut.
  • If needed, she will visit the salon prior to the haircut. This will allow her to meet the hairdresser and share any specific requests she may have. One of these requests may be to only get a “trim.”
  • A list of what will happen and in what order may help to decrease anxiety about the haircut.
  • Becoming familiar with the items that will be used in the salon and the smells in the salon can both be useful tools to creating a good visit. Hair salons have many smells and may not be pleasing to an individual with autism.

20140430-012435.jpg These are just a few tips to ease the stress of haircut day.

Five Toilet Training Tips for Parents of Children With Autism

Toilet training for a child with autism can be challenging! Here are a few tips to help this be a smooth transition.

#5 Allow your child to stay naked while focusing on toilet training at home. This makes it easier to get to the toilet and eliminate in it. As your child becomes more proficient, begin adding clothes back. Staying near the toilet is also a good idea in case an accident starts to happen, you can quickly move to the toilet.

#4 Have the child help change clothes. Part of learning to use the toilet is undressing and dressing oneself. When a child has an accident, it is a natural consequence to have to take off wet clothes, use a washcloth or baby wipe to clean up, and put fresh, dry clothes on. While some children may be in different places of learning how to dress or undress themselves, you as the parent or teacher can always choose one clothes item at a time to focus on the child putting on and taking off. Once they are more comfortable with that item, add another item.

#3 Have the child help clean up accidents. This is important because it helps the child become more independent and also take responsibility for making a mess. This doesn’t mean that you have to fuss at the child about the accident- it just means letting the child know they are wet/dirty and need to help clean up.

#2 Ditch the pull-up! Pull-ups do not teach anything about the sensation of being wet or wetting yourself. I think it sends a very confusing message to kids- why would you want to stop what you are doing to go to the bathroom if you don’t have to. Having an accident and feeling all wet and yucky may help a child make that connection and not want to feel that way again.

#1 You don’t have to wait until your child can acknowledge the need to use the bathroom…in that case, some of us may be waiting a very long time. Acknowledging the need to use the bathroom is important, but it shouldn’t stop a parent and/or teacher from beginning the toilet training process. For some, it may take a very long time to request going to the bathroom and for others, they might not ever request. Is it always necessary to request to use the bathroom? I don’t think so- when we are at work, we don’t have to ask permission to use the bathroom. At home, we don’t ask permission to go; we just go to the bathroom. For some individuals, they may just GO to the bathroom when they need to go. If a child learns to go into a bathroom to use it, we can always work on requesting permission as they become more fluent in going when they need to or we can accommodate the child in the fact that they may not ask when they go to the bathroom.

If you are getting frustrated or not having much luck on your own, it may be time to receive some help. Jackson Autism Center works with children on toilet training in small groups and privately. Complete a contact form to find out about the next toilet training classes.

Sensory Diets at School and Home

Recently, I worked with a colleague of mine and occupational therapist, Dr. Lorraine Street, to form a sensory diet for one of my clients. As you may be aware, lots of children with autism and other disabilities have sensory issues that require frequent assistance from adults to stabilize their sensory state. It is always a goal to work towards self-awareness and allowing individuals to identify their sensory needs and independently take care of those needs. However, along the way, the use of a sensory diet can help kids, teenagers, and adults form a schedule and routine for including sensory items in their day while helping calm and/or alert them for daily activities. The use of sensory equipment may also decrease a child’s sensitivity to texture/touch or it may increase appropriate responsiveness to sensory experiences. Over the years, I have seen great success using sensory equipment in the classroom to help my students. By incorporating sensory activities throughout my students’ day, I was able to help them regulate their sensory state and try new sensory experiences they may not have tried. It is easy to add sensory activities into your typical day. Here are some of the things I did in the classroom: use special sensory songs at circle time (my favorite is “The Brushing Song” from Genevieve Jereb), use theraputty prior to one on one or small group work (pulling the putty and working to strengthen finger grasp), sitting on a therapy ball to complete work, and gardening activities (pulling weeds, packing dirt around flowers, digging).

Activities that can easily be incorporated at home include swinging, jumping on a trampoline, sitting or bouncing on an exercise ball, and using playdoh. Some children enjoy being covered in heavy blankets for bedtime. Starting a sensory diet for your child can help him/her stay relaxed or stop/reduce overwhelming or overloading sensations. For children who are under-responsive to sensory feedback, a sensory diet can help him/her be more alert.

The following is a sample sensory diet that is in place to be followed approximately every two hours throughout the day. I would recommend the advisement or assistance of an occupational therapist to help you best meet the needs of your child or student.

Sample Sensory Diet_Page_1 Sample Sensory Diet_Page_2

Find My Friends App Assists Children with Autism

APWow. I came across this article this morning about my sweet friend Addison. The Find My Friends app was developed after a very scary night for Addy and her family when she was able to escape her bedroom and go for a neighborhood walk alone with her ipod. Her parents wrote Steve Jobs to share their story and believe Addy was part of the reason the app was created. I remember that night like it was yesterday as Addy’s mom called me in horror to share what had happened to her baby. We were very thankful for her safe return home and hope this app will help others return home safely too.

For people unfamiliar with autism, elopement is when a person wanders or runs off without permission. The Interactive Autism Network conducted a study that said elopement occurs with about half of the children with ASD. Elopement is a major issue that parents and professionals deal with. There have been a variety of tools marketed to assist with eloping, such as the big red safety box, Project Lifesaver, and  items like the “Mommy, I’m Here”  child locator. The Find My Friends app  is an application that helps locate friends with a street address so that situations like Addy’s can hopefully be avoided.

Elopement can happen anywhere. I have had students elope from the playground, classroom, and any other place at school. It is a horrible feeling the moment that you realize he/she has escaped yet again. There is nothing that explains the fear that you feel when you don’t know where he/she has gone. Understanding why the behavior is occurring can assist in trying to prevent further elopements, but does not always fix everything. It is important to do everything we can to prevent reoccurrances, but to also be prepared in case it happens again.

It is important for not only parents and professionals working with autism to understand about elopement, but  community members and safety professionals as well. Too many times, parents are receiving blame for elopement when they are doing all they can to stop their child from running away. Educating others about elopement and letting neighbors know about children that pose a risk of elopement are great starts to further protecting our children.

The following item was helpful to me within a school setting when the child is going to be fairly closeby:

Five great summer activities for children with autism

July is here and by this time of the summer, a lot of parents are saying “Now what? How can I keep my child interested and engaged for the rest of the summer?” If you are one of those parents, I hope this list helps you find something fun to do!

5. Stay cool indoors! Try going bowling- it’s a great activity that not only allows you to interact with your child plus many of the newer bowling alleys have a computer screen that shows silly scenes after you bowl which may catch your child’s attention and even motivate them to bowl again! It usually isn’t too crowded during the day and you might even save a few bucks. Put the bumpers up and if your child doesn’t have great fine motor skills, teach them to granny bowl (put between their legs and roll). The fan by the bowling balls that cools your hands may also be a sensory bonus.
Take turns bowling and move as quickly or slowly as your child prefers! I have even had kids who wanted to take my turn and their turn. We turned it into a great game and cheered each other on. It’s not about who wins or loses- it’s how you play the game…

4. Buy sidewalk chalk with the 3-D glasses. This is a great opportunity to draw pictures, write letters or words, make a hopscotch board, etc. The 3-D glasses just add more fun. Some ways to engage your child: take turns, ask questions about what color they want, get them to tell you what to draw or what color to use, and even “erase” the scene with water and watch it dry in the sun.

3. Another great summer activity is going to the movies. In the Jackson area, Tinseltown and Malco (maybe United Artists too) have weekday showings in the morning at a special summer price. It may be busy, but this is a good time to try going to a movie and not feeling self-conscious about your child being too loud or not sitting still. There are all ages at these showings and everyone is typically friendly. AND, if you have to leave early, it’s much cheaper than usual admissions, so you can always build up a child’s tolerance of the movie theatre while you are not paying full price.

2. A way to incorporate reading with fun in the summer is to set up a tent in the house or in the backyard and get cozy with books. Camping items are great for kids with autism- and add a lot of sensory fun too. You can use flashlights, glow bracelets, and sleeping bags. Step it up a notch and include a little fishing game with the magnet poles and circular moving pond, fishing hats, books about wildlife and camping, and stuffed animals that live in the forest. These toys allow you to interact with your child in ways that may not have occurred on your usual summer schedule. Of course, no camping trip is complete without a special snack like s’mores- and they can be made gluten-free as well. Happy camping!

1. One of the programs that I think is widely overlooked in the summer is the local library reading program. The Jackson Hinds Library System has an awesome summer reading program that not only gets your child reading or you reading with your child, but also plans lots of activities for the kids- almost daily! Activities are free to anyone and with lots of libraries, there are lots of special things going on usually including “The Snake Man,” a real helicopter, plus lots more! This is a great way for your child to not only be included, but be exposed to new and interesting things.

These are just a few things that stick out in my mind from the many summers that I have taken children with autism into the community. I hope you will try some of these activities and find them as enjoyable as I have. If you try any of the above activities or have any topics you would like discussed in news and updates, please let me know what you think by completing the contact form. Happy summer!