Is it a A Spongy Rock from Outer Space?

When is an orange an orange? When is an orange a piece of fruit? How do I know it is not a piece of meat or a rock from a strange spongy planet?

An orange has its own unique characteristics, it is round, smooth with pocked indentations, it is the color orange. An orange inside out is juicy, wet, drippy sticky, pulpy, stringy and sweet. An orange smells like an orange and nothing else that I know.

I can throw it, eat it, squeeze it, peel it, smell it. I know an orange through all of my senses.

Cue selectivity is attending and perceiving the relevant characteristics of objects, people or events within the environment. Not all at once, at one time together, although sometimes altogether…then I miss something. Too much incoming stimulus – information to process all at one time. 

Cue selectivity teaches the learner to identify one cue and to gradually expand and add information onto the cue until the cue becomes a whole complete concept or idea, like an orange. The experience of the orange is fresh in my mind when I think of it because of my experience of the orange, because of my exploration of the orange through all of my senses, and because somewhere in my childhood someone taught me to label it as an orange, and because every one I have seen with an orange has named it an orange, and because I have had many experiences with oranges throughout my life time.

Now we are talking about the multi-modal experience, repetition, and the idea of learning through experience. I can touch, see, smell, taste, and if I listen very carefully I may be able to recall the sound of the peel pulling away from the fruit. Ours senses are a direct connect to the information processing center of the our brain.

Left in isolation, I may have invented a new name for an orange; if my senses were altered and my sense perceptions were altered my experiences might be different than yours. I might not be able to describe my experience of an orange to you. If I could not communicate and describe my sensations my lack of common language, or language as a common denominator,  I might be isolated from the social connectedness of my immediate community.

Cue selectivity is imperative when teaching children with autism.  It is important to meet them where they are and what they understand, to bridge the person with community and the community with the person is one long term goal. Meet them half way, on their terms first.

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I Feel Embarrassed When My Child Touches His Private Areas in Public!

“My child touches his penis and becomes aroused when we are in public places. I feel embarrassed.” Your child knows the sensations  feel good, however, it is probably just a form of self stimulation. Most likely your child probably does not have the same schema or ideas about sexuality as most typical people or yourself. Reacting emotionally to this behavior may complicate the public situation.

The more immediate solution may be to redirect his behavior, for example, by saying and doing “fold your arms” then redirecting his focus to something that is of intense interest to him, or provide him with a choice between two highly preferred items. The internal drive for this type of self stimulation may be incredibly strong and may require much patience and consistency in developing a replacement behavior to help your child learn to regulate and control the behavior and the urges himself. It is best to pair your prompt, the verbal redirection with visual information, via modeling the behavior yourself, and using pictures, or written words.

In some cases replacement objects can be used like a fidget toy. They can be carried throughout public places and look “typical”.  Stress balls, gel filled sensory toys, and other items are readily available at toy stores. There are many catalogues specializing in sensory solutions for special populations.

Social stories may also be helpful. You can create a personalized social story which describes the social situation and helps the child develop an understanding of the implications of the social situation. Personalized social stories need to be written using language or pictures that the child understands.

One way to help your child with this type of self stimulation is to teach him when to masturbate or touch his private areas and where to masturbate, and in some cases how long to masturbate. Many parents are ‘okay’ with allowing the child who has an intense drive to masturbate to do so at home in the privacy of his or her own room. Masturbating in the bathroom is not a good idea as the behavior may be generalized to other bathrooms including public restrooms where it could invite dangerous situations. 

For extreme cases, another option may be medication. If you choose this option please speak with your child’s physician and also consult with the educational team and follow the prescribed recommendations.

Remember, that human touch is a part of our humanity. We all have innate drives that need attention, some more than others. Masturbation is a natural progression of human development.

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My Child is Different, So What!

My child is different! People stop and stare, they tell me to discipline him…he is out of control, grabbing items off of shelves, making strange sounds, trying to run away from me. I feel tired, sometimes I feel crazy,  and worn out and tired of strangers and their ignorance.

The general public is not well educated on topics such as autism and more often topics on human development, let alone accepting of people with autism or other disabilities. The sad truth is that people with autism are valued by very few people in their life time. Educating the public is a slow process. The media has done much to help raise an awareness through movies like Rainman, I am Sam, Bones and a few others.

Education does not automatically assure acceptance.  Acceptance requires a change in belief systems and heart. As parents we love our children, rejoice in their accomplishments no matter how large or small and will continue to do so. Having a child with autism can be a challenge and exhausting.

It is important to honor your work with your child, your joy with your child. The masses of people in public places …don’t worry about them, who cares. “Ignorance is bliss” is an old saying that took me years to finally comprehend. Ignorance allows the ignorant to be irresponsible – people cannot be forced  to change – educate them anyway. Talk with them about autism, plant seeds of information. Information can change perspectives and beliefs.

Connect with others who share the same values and challenges as you. Take time out to breathe and stoke your fires…honor one another as you move through life…and hold all the joyful moments you can savor. God has given you a great gift, your child with autism, who will in time work miracles in your heart!

I know at times, you might feel crazy, overwhelmed, and exasperated … you are okay! Talk with others, keep a journal, seek out professional help if necessary. Talking about and expressing feelings can be a venue to optimal health and provide new ways to solve perplexing problems.

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My Child Seems Pre-Occupied with Irrelevant Details

Teaching Cue Selectivity

What does “cue” selectivity mean?  Cue selectivity is a term used within behavioral psychology and education. Cue is exactly that, a cue, or a “clue, a characteristic of a thing that provides information about the whole object. What provides relevant information about a pen? the shape or the shiny reflection off of the casing? A  bicycle wheel? the shiny reflections off of the spokes or the round shape?

One of the challenges many people with autism face, and people with weak central coherence, is attending to relevant information within the environment which could range from physical objects to people and their relationship or relative placement and purpose within the environment. For example, in looking at a pen on top of a desk the person may only look at or see the shiny reflection off the pen and not grasp the gestalt or the whole component of the pen, the shaft, the clicker top, the color.

Teaching cue selectivity begins by teaching the person to attend to a specific characteristic of an object, mastering the characteristic and gradually expanding or building other characteristics of the object that describe the object from a visual perspective, tactile perspective, and kinesthetic perspective and pair the cues with a verbal, written, or picture prompt – the communicative form that the child understands.  

This is also known as overselectivity, the inability to attend to multiple cues to understand the object at one time or as a whole. The person may understand the characteristics as isolated pieces of information and attach meaning to the information that only has meaning for them and not necessarily same meaning to others. The person with autism may recognize Mary by her glasses…when Mary does not wear her glasses, the person with an ASD may not recognize her at all.  Overselectivity diminishes the ability to see the “forest” for the trees.

Why does cue selectivity need to be taught? It is the multiple cues that provide a whole picture, like a completed puzzle. A puzzle piece out of context of the rest of the puzzle probably will not provide the entire picture the completed puzzle will create.

Cue Selectivity is taught to strengthen comprehension and the ability to interpret information, act upon or within the information, and participate meaningfully within the environment. Who can teach cue selectivity? Anyone, anywhere, anytime! More information on the topic of cue selectivity and central coherence will be available later.

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My Child is Out of Control at Home and School, Are there Replacement Behaviors? A Glance at Impulsive Behavior

Impulsivity, what does it look like for a child with autism? Quickly grabbing items from others, opening and closing cupboard doors, getting desired things, items, and objects from others and storage areas without asking, running out the door to move through the hallway – run, jump, or bounce down the hallway. Taking things for an activity before it is the designated time to do so. These children are often very active, in motion, and moving very quickly. They seem not to be able to control their behavior. If they want it, they take it.

Often teachers and parents find this behavior annoying and disrupting to instruction, however, this behavior leaves the opportunities to develop communication wide open. It provides opportunity to teach the child to request access to items he wants or desires, opportunity to teach time management and self regulation, for example teaching the concept of wait…I am busy I will be with you in a minute.

Unfortunately, this often involves placing locks on otherwise free opening storage cupboards, child proof handles on doorknobs, and creating an inventory of communication photos, pictures, and or words to support the child in requesting items they want. This involves identifying and creating pictures of desired and undesired items that are in the cupboard and placing them on a choice board or choice page. This also might involved labeling the cupboard for the child to know what is in the cupboard and what items he or she can have access to.

Labeling the cupboard could look like  a broad category label system, color coding system, a number coding system  and combinations of labels and codes. This is the green cupboard all items in the green cupboard are related to classroom materials needed for academic activities. The communication pictures used to develop the skill of requesting the item and slowing the child down can be set up on a choice board that is kept in close proximity of each cupboard within the nearby area of the room.

An example of beginning to create opportunities for the child to request at home might be with foods in the kitchen. Picture cards are secured to the refrigerator with velcro  or attached with a small magnetic strip. The child is required to pull of the picture of the item that he wants, find an adult to request the item e.g. giving the picture to and waiting for the response, the adult can either affirm or deny the request. If the child has the ability to independently retrieve the desired food item after requesting, using communication,  he is encouraged to do so, or the adult can accompany the child to the refrigerator to retrieve the food item.

Many people view independent behavior as the ability for others to do for themselves. For a person with autism this can lead down a path of undesired routine and behavior. Retrieving items of desire, independently,  may not be accepted in all environments and can create  power struggles with others. Impulsivity over time can be replaced through teaching and using appropriate communication consistently and teaching self-regulation to put off immediate gratification.

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Why does my child act and say things as if others have no feelings?

Many people with autism exhibit what is called Theory of Mind behaviors.  This means that they lack the ability to naturally realize that other people have thoughts and feelings that are different from theirs. They lack the ability to take on the perspective of others or to empathize.

Most people learn this naturally through social interactions through the natural course of development. People with autism need to be taught about the feelings and perspectives other people have.

One of the larger complications this leads to is social understanding. The child with autism may not recognize the subtle cues of facial expressions, vocal tones, body posturing as they relate to the expression of feelings. Not to mention the use of language and its subtle nuances, metaphor and idioms. Children with an ASD more often are very literal cocrete thinkers.

How can I help this child? There are several ways to start. One might be teaching using cue selectivity to teach the subtle change in facial expressions. Using a hand mirror begin by making faces with your child, identifying the facial feature and pairing it with an expressive emotion. For example, when I  frown it is telling you that I feel sad, make the frown face exaggerate if necessary, trace the curve of your lips, draw the curve of the frown on the paper onto a blank face. Require or help the child make the same facial expression, draw the facial expression, write the word.  Practice it daily and begin adding additional exercises to it, stories about sadness, role playing, and try to help your child identify situations in which he has felt sad and write a personalized story about it, make it real.

Remember to focus on one cue at a time and then gradually build in one more cue at a time until your child has a whole picture of a person with the sad face. Focus one one cue at a time and pairing it with the emotional content is imperative. Keep language concise, clear, and precise. Utilize multiple modalities to engage the child into learning.

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Impulsive Behavior: Some Children Need Extra Help When Helping Themselves to Everthing

Some children cannot help themselves, they sit at the table ready to participate in an activity and they are compelled to touch and grab all the materials that are prepared for the activity.  It does not matter what the materials are, they could be art materials, game pieces, writing materials, legos, color tannagram tiles, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or anything at all.  They just can’t stop themselves.

This is a situation that requires the teaching of the “wait”  concept. Three things are needed…a fold your hands picture/word card, a wait picture/word card, and materials need to be kept out of arms reach of the child and provided or given to the child on an as needed basis.

Teaching a child to self-regulate their impulsive behavior takes patience, consistent redirection in a calm manner, and positive reinforcement when the child follows the directive or self-regulates his behavior. It is important to understand what is driving the impulsivity. Sometimes children are impulsive because they are excited or attracted to the materials themselves, some children just like to watch the facial expressions on the adult change, and some like to engage in a power struggle or tug of war.

Remember to front load the materials in a place out of reach from the child, pre-organize the components of the activity, and use the picture word card to redirect behavior. Remember most of the time the meaning and actions of the picture/word cards may need to be taught if especially the child has never been introduced to the concepts. In my experience, the majority of children with an ASD respond very well to the directive pictures when they have had prior use with them. The cards are non-threatening and remove you as the child’s emotional target for retaliation.

Consistency of the delivery of the expectations, positive and patient attitude, and immediate reinforcement of the desired behavior will create big pay offs for you and your child! Remember the reinforcement within the activity is intrinsic within the materials and offerings of the activity.

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Are You A Parent Who Struggles to be in Public Places With Your Child?


Do you own a suitcase filled with the “Shoulds”when it comes to being in public with your child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The shoulds are a large external family of social dictates that tend to rule internal social expectations. The should family is usually comprised of the social perspectives of others. The should family has influenced our socio-cultural behavior since we were young children and depending on how and who we have become as adults the “shoulds” still seem to regulate our behaviors from a deep internal fortress.

You should not take your child out in public, you should feel embarrassed when he has a meltdown, you should not cry in public, you should not express your feelings to total strangers, you should wear an orange hat with a purple fishing vest and carry a large banana to call home to mother! Should you? Should you be listening to the ancient and current dictators of ”should” telling you who and how to be and when to do it? Should you? I challenge you!

Who determines your response to a new and different set of behaviors from your child? Who prepared you to accept and love a child that is so different and unusual than anything you have ever experienced? Who prepared you for the child that does not seem to blend into any setting you live work and play in?

Who? most likely no-one. But it is okay. You are with the most unique and special gift you have been given in life. Your child is amazing!

Why let others and internal guardians of the “should” fortress indoctrinate you and tell you how to think feel and act? I am not telling you what or how you should do things. I am inviting you to take a personal uncomfortable risk, take a challenge to do and think and feel differently, invite a new internal voice that asks “how can I do, and see differently”, what do I need, what does my child need and how can we achieve it together.

I invite you to develop a new system that challenges, educates, the existing belief system of the social dictates of the “shoulds”.  Educate yourself, your family, your immediate community on the very unique needs of your child and best practices for your child.

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What kind of Educational Environment Will my Child Thrive In?

The learning environment requires a variety of tools, materials, and methods. It also requires a comprehensive understanding of your child’s need based on strengths, interests, and qualitative impairments in communication, social understanding, and repetitive behavior and in turn how these impacts his performance, his ability to engage and participate within the educational community and content.

Each child with autism is unique. There is no one standard practice or blanket treatment  that will help every child improve.  The successful learning environment can address the child’s learning style, does he learn by touch? By doing? By watching? By listening? by smelling and tasting? or any combinations therein. Designing a learning environment around his learning style is one of the key components.

How do I know what his learning style is? Watch him, observe, engage your child in a variety of activities. Take note what he likes or doesn’t like, how long he attends to an activity and what are the activity requirements for engagement. Does the activity facilitate appropriate behavior or do I see an increase in repetitive or undesired behavior is he starting to look more autistic throughout the activity? Is he distracted, staring off into space? If he is beginning to look more autistic the change something you are doing or change the activity altogether.

Make a list of all your child’s interests even if you believe it is something odd like waving a piece of string in the air, picking lint off the carpet, waving and watching paper move, carrying a deck of cards around in his pocket, lining cars or blocks up, shutting cupboard doors.…anything your child seems to like to do, typical or atypical. Write it down, list it, whether it is appropriate or inappropriate.

Next, evaluate his communication performance, his social understanding, and his stereotypical behaviors, and his strengths. What areas need to improve? What areas can have specific target goals? And what do these three areas look like in the learning environment. How do they impede or excel his learning abilities?

Then consider how you can use his interests and strengths as motivation to develop healthy work habits/learning habits and integrate the three target areas for learning for people with ASD;  social interactions, communication, and productivity (stereotypical behaviors).

Last but not least is the physical environment…setting the expectations and designing the conditions for learning to occur. Grab notebook and make a list of ten possible motivators and one to three new skills you would like your child to achieve.

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Why Does My Child Act Like He Does Not Hear Me?

 My child acts like he doesn’t hear me most of the time and I feel frustrated. Many children with autism seem like they are deaf to other people. Yes, they probably hear you and they are not ignoring you.

One of many reasons children with autism may seem like they don’t hear you is they are either actively engaged in an activity, they are distracted or preoccupied by something, thay may not be able to filter out the sounds and noises in the environment, they may hear everything at the same volume and be unable to filter out other sounds, they may need more time to prepare to change what they are doing and attend – pay attention to you..

This is a common observation of people working with children with autism. Many people with autism experience what is referred to as mono chanelled processing – meaning I can either look at you or listen to you but I cannot do both at one time. Their brains are wired to process only one source of input at a time, if they do both then they may not receive the incoming information.

Prepare the child. Tell them they need to stop what they are doing. Wait 10 seconds, maybe more depending on the child’s abilities, then tell them it is time to listen.

Anther way to grab their attention is to use visual cues/prompts in the form of a picture or word, again depending on how they best process incoming information, and pair the visual cue with a verbal prompt – say and point to the cue at the same time. Sometimes it is uneccessary to even say the word or phrase as the visual stimulus is often very powerful provided the child has attached meaning to the pictures or words.

Adam a young man, who is very active, and chatty, chatty being a sensory dysfunction in this case, does not seem to hear the words “quiet. listen”. Adults become frustrated when they have to repeat themselves over and over and over. When Adam is presented with the visual information in picture form, “quiet, listen”,  96% of the time he will immediately stop what he is doing and respond to the directive.

This method also removes Adam’s emotional content away from the person making the request or giving the directive and puts it on the picture/word communication cards. It becomes a win win situation for everyone. Remember not all interventions work for every child. It is important to consider their abilities, their form of communication, and to be sure that they attach meaning to the communication icons. Consistency and repetition provide a greater opportunity for success.

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