Posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Faith, parenting, Winchester Sun Columns

Disciplined with a Shake in His Stride

Many employers suffer a grave loss of which they are unaware. They shy away from hiring prospective employees because they are on the autism spectrum. The mere words autism spectrum conjures images of inept social skills, stark refusal to follow instructions, bursts of fury, refusal to take correction or responsibility and more. Amid, such a tsunami of negativity it is no wonder they drown out the positives. Yet, even as toddlers, there is a lot we can do to help our kids secure a job. We need to learn to recognize and respond to the potential.

Prior to Annie Sullivan’s arrival, Helen Keller had no discipline. She prowled her family home, doing as she pleased and responded to attempts of refusal with violent outbursts. Her parents labored under the misconception that allowing Helen’s atrocious behavior expressed love. Lucky for Helen a fiercely determined, courageous, half-blind teacher understood the roots of love begin in discipline. And discipline blooms from the small things.

IMG-2425I was nervous about my son Colton’s first involvement with STRIDE (Supporting Therapeutic Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities every day. I knew it was a fantastic program, but it forced me out of my comfort zone. It challenged me to face my fears even as I sought to still Colton’s. I had to swallow my pride, accept I wasn’t the only one able to care for my son and get myself out of his way. He was evolving. Pandering to my fears placed me between the kid he was and the man he’d someday be

This week, Colton started his first job. It’s a goal he’s pursued for several years. He has worked for family, friends, and neighbors but has been unsuccessful in the traditional job market. Until now.

Like most on the spectrum, Colton excels at repetitive tasks. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t advise the fast-paced and often stressful environment of restaurant work. However, food prep at Steak and Shake is ideal. Colton’s job is to remain in one station and chop, weigh, bag and otherwise prepare food for use the next day. He is able to work at his pace, somewhat segregated from other employees, spared from the hustle and bustle of peak hours, does the same thing daily and works off a list. An Asperger kid’s dream!

STRIDE members encouraging Colton at work

One of the greatest hindrances to kids on the spectrum is fear of the unknown. Doing things for the first time is scary for most but debilitating for some on the spectrum. Colton didn’t have that hurdle. He had an idea of what to expect because STRIDE taught him the basics of food preparation years ago. When we faced our fears and trudged the painful path of discipline and self-discovery in STRIDE, we had no inkling of what it would bring. The dividends of that years old investment are evident today. Colton loves his job at Steak and Shake. His self-esteem has grown exponentially because his coworkers lavish him with praise, kindness, and encouragement.

Colton explaining his job & encouraging his friends.

Times have changed a lot since the days of Helen Keller. But a child’s need for discipline has not. The world’s expectations of our kids tend to be low. It’s our responsibility to be the Annie Sullivan our kids deserve. We must love them through our pain so they may be a valuable productive member of the workforce and the community at large.


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Posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Holidays, parenting

Let the Holidays be Quirky

In our daily lives, we accept the quirkiness of our special needs kids. But when the holidays roll around some parents strive to present their child in the best possible light, which translates to what other people deem appropriate behavior but is a foreign concept to our special one. You have the rest of the year to work out your child’s idiosyncrasies. Don’t torture you or your child by trying to live up to someone else’s misguided notion of normalcy. You’ll find the holidays much more enjoyable if you just embrace the quirkiness.

kid-pout-foodIf you have a picky or sensory eater on your hands the holidays are not the time to try new foods. If you cannot get the menu ahead of time be prepared by secretly taking a favorite food in with you. To avoid, setting a very bad habit I advise not letting your child see the favorite food, lest she start wanting to transport food into restaurants and such. If the preferred food happens to be a favorite among children in general, it’s always best to pack enough so no child is left out. Avoiding a meltdown for your child b setting off a tantrum in another is not good for anyone.

If you have a middle of the road kiddo, who is doing well with new food introductions and  seems to be handling the day well, go ahead and try a new food. Just know her limitations and don’t force the issue to the point of a meltdown. Once your kiddo has a meltdown you probably will too and the rest of the family will likely follow suit.

Have a “safe” quiet place in mind, before you arrive. Even on his best days, my Asperger’s kid cannot tolerate crowds for extended amounts of time. To avoid him locking himself in the bathroom for hours we had a plan in place. He knew where he could retreat to when needed. We reviewed the plan before we arrived. He could use the isolation place but he couldn’t remain in it for the duration. In the beginning, he spent more time in seclusion that socializing. But as he got older and more confident he spent more time in the mix of things. Now, at 23 he rarely bolts from the social scene.

If you’re dealing with severe sensory issues you might consider taking a favorite blanket orspd-1 sheet which can be used to cover himself, including his head if necessary, to cut down on sensory stimulation. For young child, I recommend fidgets to help them self-calm. A fidget or small favorite toy kept in his pocket is a good calming tool. It takes only his hand in his pocket to get a steady stream of reassurance. Of course, stuffed animals, dolls, and other treasured toys or pillows can have the same impact.

If noise is the spark to your child’s sensory wildfire, try taking noise-reducing headphones. Classical music has been proven to have a calming effect. If you don’t have a CD player with classical CD’s set up a Pandora station on your phone. Show your child how to thumbs up or down the songs in order to achieve the perfect blend for your child.

My son Colton could never get enough tactile stimulation. He would lick the tips of his fingers before touching anything in order to increase the sensation. Not only was this super gross, but unhealthy as well.  Sitting on the floor at home and rubbing his hands as hard as he could against the carpet was one thing. But essentially, licking other people and things in public was quite another. I nailed a small piece of carpet to each side of a thin block of wood. He carried that with him and when he needed stimulation he rubbed it between his palms. A much more hygienic way to increase tactile stimulation.

It’s all about controlled chaos. You may not be able to fully prevent your child’s meltdowns but a little pre-planning can lessen the chance of one occurring or reduce its severity. The goal is to gently prod them into new and difficult social scenes but in a way that is manageable for them. This is not the time to worry about Aunt Becky will view your parenting skills, or what Uncle Frank will think when you ax his desire to have a tickling tournament with your child. This is the time you do what’s best for your child.

Posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, parenting, Sensory Processing Disorder, Special Needs Kids

Kentucky Derby Run For The Noses

Have you ever considered the sensory benefits presented by the Kentucky Derby? A well-rounded sensory diet has been touted as one of the great hallmarks to proper childhood development and education. With minimal effort and even less cost, you can create a fun-filled, sensory balanced day for you and your kiddo.

Whether your child is typical in development on the autism spectrum or somewhere in between, a well rounded sensory diet is crucial to proper development. So, with no further ado, let’s delve into how we can turn this typically adult day into a fantastic childhood memory.

If your child doesn’t already have those plastic horses that have been around for what seems like hundreds of years, you can pick some up at your local Dollar Tree or other discount store. Using paint, markers, stickers or whatever else is at your disposal decorate the horses so they are different and therefore, visually stimulating. Even getting horses in different colors and sizes makes an impact to the eye.

The tactile sense is enhanced by not only holding and galloping the horses around the track but in making the track itself. Depending on the preferences and needs of your child you have two options for creating the racetrack. You can spread sand or freshly dug-up dirt in a plastic container to create the track. But if that isn’t a preferable option you can create a turf track by using rocks or other markers to create an oval track in the grass. Just make sure the track is big enough to accommodate the number of expected children racing horses, be that two or twenty.

Everyone knows that the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps are synonymous. But did you know that mint is believed to stimulate the brain? For your child’s Derby Day allow him/her to nibble on raw mint or suck on peppermint candy. For an additional health boost try drinking water infused with lemon. Whether you use the mint and lemon together or separately it is sure to rev up your child’s taste buds.

Auditory input can be achieved musically or by isolated sound. For the former try listening to or singing My Old Kentucky Home prior to the start of your race. You can find it, as well as other auditory gems, such as the bugle Call to Post, the sound of releasing the horses from the gate and the calling of an actual horse race, by performing a simple Google search.

Of course, no Derby would be complete without a cheering crowd. The app Instant Applause is fun, free and easy. Once you’ve downloaded the app and opened it, you simply tap the large orange circle to hear the crowd’s cheering and applause. The beauty of this app is that the more and faster you hit the button the louder and more ongoing the cheers. Therefore, you can simulate real racing by increasing the number of times you press the button as the horses draw closer to the finish line.


The winner in your derby doesn’t need a blanket of roses to stimulate the sense of smell, a single rose will do the trick. The scent of roses has been known to enhance a feeling of well-being and calmness. This is especially true in individuals who have ADD/ADHD, sensory processing disorder or are on the autism spectrum.

Now that you know all the information let your child have some fun on this typically adult day. Allow him/her to take his/her decorated horse around the homemade track while sipping a mint and lemon drink to the sounds of a cheering crowd. Then let the calming aroma of roses fill the air as all the racers claim their spot in a fun-filled, sensory satisfying day.

And when the fastest two minutes in sports is over you can bask in the knowledge that not only did you have fun with your friends but you fed the ever voracious sensory appetite of your developing child. Happy Derby Day, everyone!