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Two Tips for Finding & Working With a Great Occupational Therapist for Autism

Most parents of kids with autism constantly ask themselves, “Am I doing enough to help my child?”  And yet, thousands agree on a specific type of therapy that they feel has helped their child most: occupational therapy.  We’ve asked over 40,000 parents of kids with autism on MyAutismTeam “What therapies, if any, work best for your child?”  Out of all responses, the number one answer was occupational therapy (OT).

When we explored this area more with our parents to find out why OT was so useful, and how to pick the right OT for your child, two tips surfaced:

Tip 1: Finding an OT Trained in Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Can Make a Huge Difference for Your Child

Useful skills for sensory overload

“Five minutes with [our  OT trained in Sensory Integration] and we had a wealth of information on techniques for calming [when overstimulated], ideas for a sensory diet [that helps prevent sensory overload], and tools for managing crises.  [For each skill] our OT provided us with a hands-on demonstration for how to work with our child [so that we could do it ourselves].”

The “sensory diet” can be incorporated into the school setting

“Our OT not only explained the sensory issues our son had, but she [also] gave us strategies [and a written 'sensory diet'] so that he can be as independent as possible.  A lot of the activities in his sensory diet can be incorporated into his daily routines.  His school also has a copy, and his IEP states that he can be given sensory breaks when needed.”

Sensory issues impact all areas of day-to-day living

“Both outside and school occupational therapy have helped our now 14 year old son [with everything from] being able to be hugged, to touching food with his fingers, [avoiding] hand cramps from being so forceful when using a pencil,…wiping his mouth with a napkin, [and] putting his face under the shower water.”

Tip 2: Partner with Your OT and Reinforce the Goals at Home  

“Even the greatest OT needs help and support from the family.  Take what the OT teaches and then add skills done at home to reinforce the goal of your child living [independently] in society.”

“You know a great OT when they have a one-on-one with you and they take what you say into the therapy room.  They let you see what they are doing and they give you homework!  OT has to be done at home by you!  It doesn’t start and stop with the therapist.”

“Our OT never made our family feel like we were not doing things right, and she was super supportive in finding answers to the questions we had.  She really listened to what we thought his major challenges were and we worked together from there.”

Warm Reception from OT’s

Last week we shared these results with OT’s who specialize in autism at the American Occupational Therapy Association‘s Annual Conference in San Diego.   They were thrilled to see the response to OT by parents in the autism community and genuinely hungry to hear the parent perspectives and anecdotes about autism and OT.  We were swamped with questions following the talk and really moved by the passion of the OT community to make a difference in the lives of individuals with autism.

If you already have an OT that you and your child love, please be sure to add them to your team on MyAutismTeam.com, today.  If you’re looking for an OT, follow the tips above and start your search by connecting with parents on MyAutismTeam near you to see which OT’s they are using.

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More information on Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists (OT’s) and Occupational Therapist Assistants (OTA’s) help individuals with autism gain independence and participate more fully in life by integrating cognitive, physical and motor skills.

These skills might include:

- Daily living skills (dressing, grooming, going to the bathroom)
- Fine motor skills (writing and cutting with scissors)
- Gross motor skills
- Playing, coping, sharing, self-regulation, and social skills

By definition, occupational therapy is tailored to the specific developmental needs of the child – and the will evolve as the the child turns into an adolescent and an adult.

Other good reads:

The Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit has a primer on OT and other therapies that is quite useful.

What to Ask of an Occupational Therapist” – from The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism offers more information on sensory diets and everything else your OT can help you with.

Music & Autism: How Music Helped One Mother Connect With Her Son

 “Music is the shorthand of emotion” – Leo Tolstoy

After her friend suggested that she join MyAutismTeam, Amy Pentz, of Riverview, Florida, used her phone to check it out. On the homepage of the social network for parents of kids with autism, she played the MyAutismTeam video tour, while her almost-3-year old son watched a movie. When the theme music for the video tour began, her son’s ears perked up, he turned around, began dancing, moving his arms and feet, smiling, making eye contact, and for a moment, “Autism didn’t exist. The music was so cheery, it made him happy listening to it,” says Amy, the self-described stay at home mom.

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Amy joined MyAutismTeam to get “a little help, support and camaraderie” from other parents who’ve been in her shoes. She wanted to be connected to those who understood the daily ups and downs of raising a child with autism. Little did she realize she would end up connecting even more with her son, Dayne, with the music from the site.

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“He’s never responded to any other music. Classical, country, rock… I’ve tried everything. But nothing has ever got him up and moving like the song that played on the MyAutismTeam video.”

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Here is a video of Dayne feeling the music.

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Amy explains, “I suspected that he was “quirky” when he was around 18-months-old, and lost all of his verbal language. My concerns were ignored by his pediatrician, so I found a new one who listened to me. Over the next year, there were numerous speech/language, occupational & behavioral evaluations. November 7, 2012, my suspicions were confirmed by an ADOS test.”

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Dayne, who will be three this month, gets a lot of therapy through a team of providers (Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, Behavioral Therapist and soon an ABA Therapist) at Total Therapy. One member of Amy and Dayne’s team is Nicole Shea, an occupational therapist who also specializes in Therapeutic Listening, and who first introduced Amy to music therapy, combined with the other OT and ABA therapy Dayne was benefiting from.

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The American Music Therapy Association says that music therapists, like Nicole Shea,

…use music therapy to enable those without verbal language to communicate, participate and express themselves non-verbally. Very often music therapy also assists in the development of verbal communication, speech, and language skills.

The interpersonal timing and reciprocity in shared play, turn-taking, listening and responding to another person are augmented in music therapy with children and adults with autism to accommodate and address their styles of communication.

The rhythmic component of music is very organizing for the sensory systems of

individuals diagnosed with autism. As a result, auditory processing and other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, gross and fine motor skills can be enhanced through music therapy.

Musical elements and structures provide a sense of security and familiarity in the music therapy setting, encouraging individuals with ASD to attempt new tasks in a predictable but malleable framework.

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treble-clefZingDog, the musician and composer who wrote Happy Campers, the song that Amy’s son, Dayne connected with, had no idea how much the cheery music moved Dayne. “I was very pleased to hear the effect my music had on Dayne. It is both humbling and very satisfying to know that my music has made a connection with people. It makes me smile,” says the musician.

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“I wrote Happy Campers over the course of a few hours, so it happened about as quickly as all of my music does. I picked that title because to me it conjures up images of happy kids without a care in the world. I try to envision how each piece of music could be used and what visual images would work well with what I’m composing.”

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When asked about other music recommendations similar to Happy Campers, ZingDog agrees that musicians like Feist, Jack Johnson and Ingrid Michaelson also offer a collection of up-beat music.

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A Look Back To 2012

At MyAutismTeam, we looked back on some of our favorite stories of kids with autism ‘feeling the music’ in 2012. Besides Dayne, here are two more kids on the spectrum who connect with music in their own ways.

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Jacob, a blind child with autism literally feeling the music with this street:

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Ethan, the 6-year-old playing Billy Joel’s Piano Man accompanied by his music therapist on guitar:

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Do you have a story to share about your child with autism? Share it with us on MyAutismTeam.com, the social network just for parents like you. Are you a parent looking for music therapy for your child? Browse the music therapists listed in the MyAutismTeam Provider Directory (Keyword: “Music Therapy” Location: U.S.).

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2013 Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions, From MyAutismTeam Parents

With each new year, this is a time to take stock of your accomplishments, or ponder those projects that will make it to the “to-do” list in 2013.

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And no New Year is complete without resolutions. Resolutions can take many forms; from the above mentioned project list to personal improvements in ourselves. At MyAutismTeam, we wanted to hear from the parents about their own resolutions. We surveyed over 35,000 parents on MyAutismTeam about their resolutions and what they are envisioning for 2013.

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One of the resounding resolutions for parents this year will be to take a moment for themselves. From making an effort for laughter to making time for spouses and exercise, parents recognize that they give their best to their children when they are at their best. While simple in theory, such small acts go a long way, as a study from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders has shown that parents (mothers in particular) are prone to feeling a sense of chronic stress that is similar to that of soldiers in combat.* This stress can often translate into health issues leading to additional stress, etc.

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However, parents are taking note. In an effort to avoid and reduce stress, parents are choosing to focus on the positive. Concentrating on their children’s strengths and new therapies, parents are choosing to make 2013 a time to learn. In a year when autism was front and center, parents are also taking action and vowing to be stronger advocates for their children and more engaged in their progress. The top ten resolutions from the survey are listed below.

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Top 10 Resolutions for 2013 by Parents with Children on the Autism Spectrum

  1. I will develop my child’s areas of strength.
  2. I will take things one day at a time.
  3. I will be a stronger advocate for my child at his/her school or with healthcare providers.
  4. I will explore new therapies for my child.
  5. I will be part of a strong social network for emotional, social, and informational support.
  6. I will make more time for my spouse and myself.
  7. I will exercise more.
  8. I will start looking at things from my child’s perspective.
  9. I will manage my own anxieties about social situations with my child.
  10. I will be vigilant in monitoring and managing my child’s progress.

In the busy days ahead, don’t forget your resolutions to help you get through to the next. Did your resolutions make the list? If not, share them with MyAutismTeam at http://www.myautismteam.com today.

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5 Practical Tips for Parents of Kids with Autism This Holiday Season

Autism Holidays

While the holiday season can be exciting because it lets us break routine, thousands of parents on MyAutismTeam.com have told us that it’s the breaking of routine that can create unexpected behavior in their kids with autism. Here are 5 tips from thousands of parents on MyAutismTeam.com to navigate the holidays:

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1) Practice – do a practice run of holidays events like gift exchanges with others, or meeting Santa at the mall, or even eating at the special occasion dining table. By getting their children familiar with typical holiday festivities, parents on myautismteam.com told us, the anxiety in their kids goes down.

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2) Keep it small – If you can, avoid large or loud groups. Some kids with autism get easily overwhelmed in large groups and loud noises, even if only music. Parents say it’s a good idea, to permit your child some downtime away from the hustle and bustle, so they can feel a moment of calm.

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3) Comfortable surroundings – gradually decorate your home and have them help. Some children with autism experience sensory overload from decorations, like flashy lights and music. Homes with non-flashy decor can feel more comfortable.

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4) Keep it simple – avoid over-scheduling. Parents suggest time-boxing certain events, and managing your child’s expectations of how long it may be that we’re visiting Aunt Katy’s or Granny’s.

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5) Finally, create a food plan – if visiting others for dinner pack snacks and meals that are familiar to your child, and communicate with your hosts that’ll you be doing that so that everyone is on the same page.

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These are just a few tips. Kids with autism are so different, and have different needs. Parents interested in learning more should ask other parents in their shoes on MyAutismTeam.com.

The Trouble With Eye Contact

Navigating Asperger’s and reflecting on other learning differences

by Michael McManmon, Ed.D., (originally published in Psychology Today)

SHIFT HAPPENS: Letting go can make all the difference

I was recently speaking with some college students about cognitive rigidity and transitions. We were discussing how, as a young adult on the autism spectrum, shifting to the next stage of their life can be difficult for not only themselves but also their parents. I asked them to attempt to take perspective of the situation their parents are facing.

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A student in the group raised his hand and stated, “Shift happens!” Everyone in the room had a good laugh. The next day I ordered a dozen or so tee-shirts with the phrase “Shift Happens” in big bold letters across the front, and presented one to the student who had so wittingly coined the phrase.

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Those of us who work with young adults with ASD (autism spectrum disorders) are often stymied by their rigidity. In addition to teachers and other professionals, it’s important for the parents role to change as their son or daughter transitions or “shifts” into the next stage of their life. The symbiotic relationship that develops in early years between a parent (usually a mom) and their son or daughter with a learning difference needs to evolve and change. These young adults need to be given the opportunity to take the lead and advocate for their needs. Many times they are more capable than you or I even know.

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I call this “cutting the steel umbilical cord.” It has to be cut from both sides with a diamond blade. If a parent persists with the same supports they provided for their son or daughter in junior high or high school, it can actually work against the student’s progress.

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The fact is, the more a parent slowly lets go, the better the student does. The key is being able to teach the student to self-actualize. They need to become their own advocate as they shift to the next stage in their life, and the earlier the better. Whatever they can start to do for themselves, let them do it. Show them, don’t do it for them.

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The biggest problems occur when a parent folds their life around their student and develops their own emotional need to be involved. While this is an important part of parenting a child, it can dis-empower a young adult and may lead to “learned helplessness”. Many parents I speak with have the same worry, that their son or daughter may end up living at home playing video games until they are 35. What I am speaking about is a classic example of a ‘less is more’ type of approach; ‘being” rather than “doing’.

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It is a real art to know when to help, how much and for how long. Parenting a young adult on the autism spectrum can be challenging and there are no easy answers. Parents can ask themselves when should their son or daughter need to feel the pain or the repercussions of their actions? When should they step in or sit on the sidelines?

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The sayings ‘calm mom, calm child’, ‘flexible parent, flexible student’ ring true. Taking care of oneself is crucial. You cannot give something you don’t have to someone. You are useless to another person if you are anxious, fearful or controlling. Parents can transmit this fear and anxiety.

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An adolescent with special needs benefits from a parent who is healthy and clear minded. If parents take proper care of their own personal needs, they will be in a better position to help their son or daughter make the shift to independence. By modeling a peaceful, healthy lifestyle and resisting the urge to continually step in and fix problems for their son or daughter, their young adult will have the best chance for long term success.

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When a young adult is beginning to shift or transition to the next stage, a parent can slowly let go and focus on taking care of their own needs. Like the flight attendants say “put your mask on first before your child’s”.

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Originally Published on Psychology Today

Dr. Michael McManmomMichael McManmon, Ed.D., holds a doctorate in special education from the University of Nevada/ Las Vegas, a masters in Counseling from Shippensburg University and a masters in Human Development from the University of Kansas. He is the father of seven children from 45 years old to 6 years old. His oldest child was the first interacial adoption in Nevada History. His youngest child is also adopted and has Autism and ADD. He has eleven grand children. He is the founder of the College Internship Program and works with students with learning differences and Asperger’s syndrome. McManmon has worked on curriculum development, staff training, program evaluation, and administering community based programming. He has an inside perspective as he himself was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and grew up in a large family with several individuals on the spectrum. He speaks nationally and internationally on topics related to the CIP curriculum and Aspergers Syndrome. His book Made for Good Purpose: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Help Their Adolescent with Aspergers, High Functioning Autism or Learning Difference Become an Independent Adult was released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers early in 2012.

Teens IQ’s and Brains Can Change – Of Course!

“IQ is malleable.”   A recent study published online in Nature and summarized in the Wall Street Journal found evidence that IQ is not fixed (as was once thought), but instead can change over time correlated with changes in the brain.  Specifically the study looked at 33 British teens (the sample was too small to draw broad conclusions for all teens), giving them an IQ test and MRI in 2004 and again in 2008.  What they found is that IQs jumped up or down for about 1 in 5 teens and those changes corresponded to changes in the brain.

There is speculation that the change in brain structure and associated change in IQ is the result of learning experiences.  In other words environmental factors, mental engagement, learning new thing, can all affect brain structure and intelligence.

The quantitative side of me was alert to the small sample size and correlation/causality questions, but my non-scientific, gut reaction to this news screamed out, “Of course it does!”  It immediately made me think of early intervention, of aggressive, hands-on speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy and all the proven good it does for children on the autism spectrum.   So many of the parents on MyAutismTeam report that early intervention therapy had the biggest impact on their children.   That learning and focused attention matters enormously and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it alters the brain, and changes IQs (or whatever measure of intellectual potential you wish to measure).   Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me at all.  I think time, and larger studies will prove that this is one more reason to fight for early intervention and never give up on our kids.

What We Needed Was A Hug … [Button]

Do you ever feel like all someone needs is a hug? Or maybe all you need is one?

"Hug" buttons on MyAutismTeam

Today we released a hug button on posts! It is located below each update on MyAutismTeam. See below the orange text “hug” next to the “like” button.

When we first launched “How is your day going” updates on MyAutismTeam, we noticed a trend: parents who indicated they were having a “Good” day would generate more comments or likes than those parents who were having a “So/So” day or a “Bad” day.


We’ve all been there. You read someone’s post that leaves you speechless, but you still want to somehow show support, indicate that you “get it”, or let them know you simply feel for them. The “like” button doesn’t always cut it, and words sometimes fail you. So what is there?


Last year, a study was released by the University of Michigan suggesting that there is an empathy deficit in social media (like Facebook). This created a bit of controversy around what it means to be connected to others online. Even still, there isn’t a social media site (the biggest being Facebook) that enables everyone the ability to express empathy beyond comments or a “like” button.


A couple of weeks ago, I was having dinner with a friend of mine Andrew Mayer, who does a lot of work in the social media space specifically around casual games. I asked him for his advice around what we can do to help our users express concern or empathy toward another parent on MyAutismTeam, especially when that parent is having a rough day. I told him, “You want to express that you care, but it seems hard. If the person was there in front of you, you’d reach out to them, touch their hand for reassurance…” His immediate reaction, “Hugs. A hug button.”


That was simple enough. We talked about it internally. We already had “likes” on the site, why not try “hugs” on the site and see what everyone thought? Would anyone use it?  Is that too intimate? They jury is still out, but we want to know your opinion. Do hugs help? Give hugs a try on the site and let us know. Is there something else that would be more helpful?


Tell us.


Mary Ray, Head of Product at MyAutismTeamWritten by Mary Ray, Head of Product at MyAutismTeam


Follow us on Twitter @myautismteam or Facebook www.facebook.com/myautismteam


As always, please send us any feedback/questions that you have!

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