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MK Cares: Autism Awareness Month

April 26, 2012

From Macaroni Kid: Summit Short Hills SoMa:

Why is Autism Awareness Month important?
The CDC recently released new rates that estimate the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in our country. In the United States an estimated 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In New Jersey, the rate is even more alarming- at 1 in 49 children diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Living in a community that includes a large number of children with autism and related disorders, makes it very likely that you will interact with families dealing with autism at some point in your future. It is imperative to share the facts about Autism with your friends and family, and your children as well. They will have an increased understanding about what these children and their caregivers are experiencing, and how they may be able to help.

What is autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are complex neuro-developmental disorders that range on a “spectrum” from mildly impaired to significantly impaired. ASD’s may have significant impact on a child’s development in communication, social skills, and are often characterized by restricted or repetitive behavior(s). These disorders present many differing behavioral challenges for children diagnosed along the spectrum.

The following is a list of common signs and symptoms of ASD:

  • Poor eye contact
  • Does not respond to name by age of 12 months
  • Lack of an interest in others or delayed social skills
  • Lack of a verbal or nonverbal communication system or delayed communication
  • Resistance to change in routine
  • Rigid schedules
  • Stereotypic and/or repetitive behaviors
  • Difficulties with eating, sleeping, and toilet training
  • Delayed in areas of self-help and daily living skills
  • Difficulties attending and/or listening
  • This is not a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms and should not be used for diagnosis. If you are concerned about your child’s development, you should contact a medical professional.


How can I get my child/husband/wife to stop ____________________?
In Applied Behavior Analysis we focus on changing variables in the environment in order to reduce problematic behaviors and increase appropriate behavior. There are 4 “functions” or causes of behavior:

  • Access to social attention (this can be positive or negative attention). Some children receive attention when they are misbehaving, more than when they are engaged and behaving appropriately. This extra attention they are gaining when they misbehave- even if it is a reprimand, actually increases the inappropriate behavior.
  • Access to material items - such as a favorite toy, the Ipad, food and drinks, or other tangible items.
  • Escape from a demand or aversive situation. A child’s mother tells him its time to go to bed, and he asks for two stories, plus a drink, a backrub, and then a nightlight and another story.  Escape does not necessarily mean from a demand. A child could also find a certain sound, smell, light, or other sensory issue as irritating or painful.  I once had a child who was sensitive to smells react negatively towards me on a first visit. He was bothered by the perfume I had on.
  • Automatic reinforcement: This refers to stereotypic behaviors that are repetitive, meet a sensory need, and make us feel good intrinsically. These behaviors often relieve stress or anxieties. Examples are hand flapping, watching wheels turn, spinning in circles, etc.

My 3 year old tantrums every time I talk on the phone for longer than 5 minutes, what should I do?

  • Match the function of the behavior to the “treatment”. Your daughter tantrums until you hang up and give her attention. You gave her attention for the tantrum and ended your phone conversation. She received everything she wanted. By giving her attention, you just increased the probability that she will tantrum again the next time you are on the phone.  Instead, you want to ignore her when she is tantruming, and provide lots of attention when she is quiet and behaving appropriately.
  • Provide language that is appropriate. Teach your daughter to tap you on the shoulder or say, “Excuse me mommy?” when she needs your attention. Children often learn to communicate their wants and needs through the use of inappropriate behaviors (crying for a bottle, to be held, etc.). Once they are able to learn how to communicate their wants/needs more appropriately, we would expect a decrease in the inappropriate behaviors.
  • Teach a replacement behavior. In this case you may teach your daughter to wait quietly or engage in independent play until you finish a phone call.

My friends have a child with autism- what should I be aware of?
As parents, we all face struggles with our own children. Some struggles that parents of children with autism face are:

  • Missing excessive days of work due to their child’s health related issues
  • Not having access to respite care or a babysitter that can watch their child while they go out. In short- lack of a social life.
  • Increased pressure on their marriage, not enough time to spend together alone, or too many demands, disagreements about treatments, financial stress, etc.
  • Having to take their teenage boy into the public women’s restroom because he is not yet independent in toileting.
  • Missing out on important things such as your child telling you that he/she loves you, wanting to be held or cuddled, or even giving a hug
  • Having to give up a career, sell a house, or even move to another state in order to find and provide quality treatment for their child

Some things you can do to help are:

  • Offer to watch their child for an evening
  • Teach your own children how to use PECS or sign language so that they may communicate and socialize with their peers that have autism
  • Join a social skills group with your child- they are usually looking for typical peers
  • Offer support and friendship!

I would like to donate to Autism Awareness, but there are so many different options. Where should I give money?
There are great Awareness campaigns that give more general support such as Autism Speaks and locally, Autism New Jersey. Three large needs right now are for:

  • Find a cause/cure, which relates to money for genetic research
  • Early intervention in Applied Behavior Analysis, which is the most effective form of treatment for Autism and related disorders and the only form with over 30 years of research behind it.
  • Support for programs for Adults with Autism, which is going to become a huge need in the community within a few short years, as all of these children grow up.

Lindsay Chapman, MA, BCBA is the Assistant Director at ABA 4 U in Union NJ. Lindsay is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and is member of Applied Behavior Analysis International and the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts. Her programs focus on positive environments and teaching procedures combined with strict ABA principles and techniques.  ABA 4 U utilizes the teaching principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, which have been demonstrated as best practice in the research literature for individuals with autism and related disorders. Individualized training and behavioral supports are provided to individuals with autism and related disorders so that they can achieve the greatest possible independence and be valued, contributing members of their community. Their mission is to provide high quality effective services for our clients.