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Why ABA reinforcement at home makes a huge difference

As a parent, you have the power to encourage your child’s growth … so why not use it for good? Why not decide to engage in “a small daily task” to support your child’s development? Well, one reason why you might not choose to undertake an at-home ABA program is because you’re not convinced that it can effect change.

Practice at home keeps new material current and prior learning fresh.

Engaging in ABA sessions at home helps to ensure that your child doesn’t lose ground or forget lessons learned. Regular practice is essential for skill-set maintenance. After all, we don’t use every life skill we know every single day. Seasons change, routines shift, and once-familiar tasks fall by the wayside Read more


Autism and Food-Related Issues: Help for Picky Eaters

Some families may take peaceful, stress-free meals together for granted, but we’re guessing that yours isn’t one of them. If your child has autism, then it’s likely you’ve dealt with drama surrounding food and mealtimes. We understand how challenging it can be to accommodate your child’s food preferences while still providing a balanced, nutritious diet. To help your favorite picky eater expand his or her horizons, we suggest the following steps:

First, investigate possible medical issues.

Since a significant percentage of individuals with autism have food intolerances and allergies, they can feel physically ill when they eat certain foods. Yet since autism also involves communication difficulties, these individuals may not give voice to their felt experiences.

As such, completing medical check-ups and relevant tests is important. If your child is a very picky eater, make an appointment to get him or her tested for gastrointestinal issues or common allergies.

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How to Interact with Someone Who Has Autism: Basic Dos & Don’ts

The Cheat Sheet You Wished Others Had

Oftentimes friends or extended family members feel unsure of how to interact and don’t want to do or say anything offensive by accident. In fact, plenty of people feel uncertain about the “right” way to be around someone with an intellectual or developmental disability. Autism prevalence has reached record highs – 1 in 45 children in America todayreceive a diagnosis – but autism awareness is a relatively new cultural phenomenon. That’s why we’ve put together this list of basic do’s and don’ts for interacting with individuals with autism.

Parents, consider this the cheat sheet you’ve always wished you had to share with the world.


Always show respect

First, speak to any person you meet – child or adult – with respect. Use common courtesy; never talk down to people or discuss them as though they’re not present when they are right there.

It’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about an individual’s mental capacity, so let your default setting be one of positive regard. Always assume that the other person can understand everything that you’re saying, and speak accordingly.

After all, just because a person’s mannerisms are different than yours doesn’t meant that they have limited cognitive or relational ability. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have unique sets of strengths and weaknesses, just like the rest of us.

Use person-first language

Person-first language means that you refer to the individual first, and the condition last. So instead of saying, “My autistic friend”, you’d say, “My friend who has autism” or, “My friend with autism.” Of course, it goes without saying that you should avoid outdated and offensive terms such as “retarded”.

Recognize the common characteristics of autism

If you don’t know much about autism, it’s understandable that you might feel uncertain when interacting with people on the spectrum. As such, it’s helpful to learn the basics about autism’s diagnostic criteria.

As Autism Speaks’ What Is Autism page notes, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that results in:

  • Social-interaction difficulties
  • Communication challenges
  • A tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors

That said, there’s a tremendous degree of diversity within the autism community. Individuals with Aspergers Syndrome have milder challenges in these three core areas and thus typically have a higher level of independence, while individuals with more severe autism need additional supports.

Individuals with autism often find it difficult to make eye contact, communicate emotions, and interact socially. However, with guidance they can learn these skills and step into their social potential.

Learn about behaviors and don’t take them personally

It’s normal to feel confused or taken aback by unusual behaviors such as intermittent eye contact or hand-flapping. But familiarizing yourself with behavioral characteristics of autism will help you to take these actions in stride.

As blogger and avid autism awareness advocate Caroline McGraw wrote in her A Wish Come Clear blog post, It’s Taboo, So Let’s Talk About It: Interacting with People with Special Needs:

 “If someone doesn’t seem to understand you when you speak, don’t take it personally or feel like you’ve failed; the fact that you’re trying to communicate respectfully speaks volumes. Ideally, engage with the person along with someone who knows them well; having a ‘translator’ for another person’s words and actions can be invaluable.

Be humble, open, and receptive

There’s a saying in the autism community: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” This means that there is no one so-called “typical” person with autism; instead, there’s a great diversity of ability, temperament, and character.

For example, while you may have a niece on the spectrum, spending time with her may not prepare you to befriend your co-worker with Aspergers. Approach your interactions from a place of humility. Be willing to learn about each individual person: what they like and dislike, what helps and hurts them, what they need to function best.

Don’t forget about parents of children with autism

One of the best gifts that you can give the parents of a child with autism is to be kind to their child. That said, parents need your care and compassion as well. Go the extra mile to reach out to them. Be a good friend: Invite them to go places, listen well, and include them in your community.

As Alexis Villaries notes in her Parent Herald article, 7 Things Parents With An Autistic Child Wish You Knew:

“Parents … need love and acceptance just like their kids … They have worked so hard to fit in the typical world and including them [in] your plans will make them feel accepted.”

Refrain from giving advice on autism

Unless you’re a trained professional or you’ve specifically been asked for your input, resist the temptation to give advice on autism. Sure, you can share helpful resources with your friends and family, but use restraint and good judgment. (No one wants to be inundated by email forwards every day, however well intentioned they may be.)

Plus, many autism parents are already avid researchers themselves–love drives them to learn about the latest scientific developments, treatments, and protocols.

If you’re not sure what constitutes a trustworthy source or reputable research, The Association for Science in Autism Treatment is a good place to start.

If you’re looking for a research-proven, evidence-based treatment for autism, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy is in a class by itself. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Surgeon General, and most major psychological and psychiatric associations as well.

Looking for an additional, hands-on resource that can help you, your child, and your community become better educated about children with autism? Discover the importance of ABA Therapy, and gain access to a full video library of professional ABA therapy, by simply signing up for a free trial of FirstPath Autism today.

3 Common Misconceptions About Autism

As an autism parent, do you cringe when you hear sweeping, inaccurate statements such as, “Oh, all kids with autism want to be alone all of the time,” “Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of this autism phase and be totally normal,” or, “You can’t expect your son to ever want to have friends” … ?

If so, we understand. Despite the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses within the last decade, there’s still a great deal of misinformation out there. Some myths are more damaging than others, but all autism myths contribute to feelings of isolation, frustration, and misunderstanding.

In this post, we’ll clear up several common misconceptions about autism spectrum disorders and give you a place to refer friends and family when they have questions.

Misconception #1: Autism is a new condition that didn’t exist prior to this century.

Reality: As the PBS article Autism Myths and Misconceptions notes, “Autism was first described by scientist Dr. Leo Kranner in 1943, but the earliest description of a child now known to have had autism was written in 1799.”

It’s true that from a clinical standpoint, the first formal psychiatric diagnosis of autism happened when Dr. Kanner diagnosed Donald Triplett of Mississippi in 1943. However, it’s also true that autism existed long before that. There’s considerable evidence to suggest that famous figures such as Einstein, Tesla, and Mozart were on the spectrum.

So while Donald Triplett was the first to be diagnosed, there were other children in other families who exhibited similar behaviors. Triplett is famous for being the first individual to receive an autism diagnosis, but he certainly wasn’t the only individual Kanner studied.

In their article Autism’s First Child, John Donvan and Caren Zucker write that Kanner arrived at the diagnosis of autism by “… Pulling together the distinctive symptoms exhibited by Donald and the eight other children—their lack of interest in people, their fascination with objects, their need for sameness, their keenness to be left alone … ”

On one hand, the first group of individuals diagnosed with autism had several key traits in common. Yet on the other hand, the behaviors of a single individual did form the foundation for the diagnostic criteria still in use today.

As Donvan and Zucker note, “It is not too much to say that the agreed-upon diagnosis of autism—the one being applied today to define an epidemic—was modeled, at least in part, on Donald’s symptoms as described by his father.”

In short, there has always been a tension between individual uniqueness and collective commonalities within the history of autism. Which brings us to our next popular misconception …

Misconception #2: Everyone with autism behaves in the same way as {Insert Famous Example Here: Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man, Temple Grandin, Max Braverman from the TV show Parenthood, etc.}.

Reality: While it’s true that individuals with autism do share common diagnostic traits, these traits express themselves differently from person to person.

Generally speaking, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that results in:

  • Social-interaction difficulties
  • Communication challenges
  • A tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors

However, since autism is a spectrum disorder, how these traits manifest varies widely between people. Social-interaction and communication challenges come in many shapes and sizes. For example, an individual can have tremendous linguistic ability and still have difficulty labeling and identifying emotions.

Likewise, repetitive behaviors can look very different from one person to the next. One individual may flap his hands repeatedly, while another may want to line up her favorite textbooks again and again.

As the saying goes, “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” In other words, when you meet one person with autism, you haven’t met them all, not by a long shot.

It’s also worth noting that savant syndrome (as popularized by Rain Man) is not the same as autism, though there is overlap between the two diagnoses. Savant syndrome is a much rarer condition in which individuals with some form of mental disability have certain areas of exceptional talent.

Misconception #3: Individuals with autism lack empathy.

Reality: Individuals with autism have as much or more empathetic ability as the next person. However, people with autism sometimes struggle to understand the emotional dynamics of common situations.

For example, they may see someone getting angry and start to laugh. The laughter may arise because they’re nervous, they don’t understand what’s happening, and the contorted expression on the other person’s face seems funny.

Often a seemingly inappropriate response indicates a lack of understanding rather than a lack of empathy. Once an individual with autism understands another person’s emotional reality, they will often respond in a kind, compassionate manner.

As we wrote in our post Autism Resource: What Is Theory of Mind?:

“One common misconception often associated with people with autism is that if they struggle with mind blindness, they also lack empathy. However, dealing with Theory of Mind issues [the ability to recognize and understand the thoughts and feelings of others] does not mean that an individual lacks empathy. In fact, just the opposite is true. 

Theory of Mind (ToM) deficits help explain why people with autism sometimes find it difficult to respond appropriately in social situations. What appears as uncaring behavior at first glance may be a simple lack of understanding.”

Help raise awareness by sharing the realities of autism

As we near the end of Autism Awareness Month, continue to engage and help promote inclusion and acceptance within the broader community.