A Cleveland autism diagnosis can leave parents reeling – even when it’s something you’ve been expecting as you awaited the results of ADOS testing and other examinations. Sometimes, it can feel like something of a relief. You finally have answers. But there’s also the daunting next question: What now?
Parents face a lot of uncertainties, siblings may not understand (or may have much anxiety if they do), and the child who was diagnosed may not yet understand the implications – but can still sense shifts in emotional tone throughout the home.
Autism, more formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and non-verbal communication. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that autism affects 1 in 44 children in the U.S. today. Our dedicated team of speech therapists, ABA therapists, occupational therapists, and educators offers help to families in Cleveland, Brecksville, Broadview Heights, and Akron.
No. 1: Breathe
The very first thing to do after a Cleveland autism diagnosis is BREATHE. Autism is a lifelong condition – and that in itself can feel very intimidating as you contemplate your next steps. But know that in most cases, the symptoms can be managed. Behaviors can be managed with help. Your child can lead a long, healthy, meaningful, successful life.
You have already taken the very hardest step in all of this, which is seeking professional intervention when you recognized something wasn’t quite right. You persisted in pursuing answers – even when you knew the answers might pose challenges you might not feel ready to face. You did this because you love your child.
Now that they have an autism diagnosis, give yourself a few beats to catch your breath, acknowledge your own feelings, and prepare yourself for the next chapter. Your engagement and advocacy will be pivotal to your child’s success, and it’s important that you’re in a good mental/emotional space to do so. Online support groups through Facebook and other social media channels can be especially helpful as you embark on this journey.
No. 2: Explore Early Intervention
The next/first step is to get help. Your options may vary depending on your child’s age. Do not worry that your child may be too young. A child can receive a Cleveland autism diagnosis as young as 18 months, and early intervention therapies are strongly recommended to start before a child turns 3.
In Northeast Ohio, we have a program called Help Me Grow for infants and toddlers birth to age 3 with a medical diagnosis or developmental delay, as well as for families concerned about their child’s development. They help work on things like speech delays, social interaction help with other kids, etc.
Services and specialists may include:
- occupational therapy
- speech therapy
- physical therapy
- developmental specialist
- early childhood mental health therapy
- registered dietician
- vision and hearing specialists
You may need to obtain a referral to early intervention from your pediatrician or pediatric specialist. In Cuyahoga County, it takes about 45 days from the referral to complete the eligibility, assessment, individual family service plan, and then finally the beginning of early intervention services. There has been something of a backlog since COVID, so it’s a good idea to get this process started as soon as possible.
No. 3: Start Looking at Private Therapy
Early intervention is provided as a public service. But children with autism can also benefit from private therapy services. In the beginning, the schedule of these services may be intensive, ultimately tapering off as they reach their goals and milestones.
Children with autism are often referred for a combination of therapy services, including:
- Speech Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (also known as ABA or behavior therapy)
Therapy & Wellness Connection offers all of these – and more – and insurance covers most if not all of these services if your child has been diagnosed with autism. We can provide these services in-clinic, in-home, and sometimes in school or daycare. Some patients may be eligible to receive some of these services via teletherapy.
The key with these services is consistency. Intensive therapy, particularly early on, can feel a bit overwhelming when it’s 3-4 times a week (longer stretches with ABA therapy), but showing up and being actively engaged in the carryover is important.
If your child is school-age, the school should begin the process of drafting an IEP, or individualized education plan. If you find ultimately that your child’s school and IEP fail to serve their best interests, there are scholarships available to enroll them in private education, with teachers who will teach the way they learn. Therapy & Wellness Connection offers homeschooling and other education services with credentialed special teachers and intervention specialists.
No. 4: Engage With a Social Skills Group
Among the most significant deficits many kids on the autism spectrum face are communication and social skills. They’re going to need as much practice as they can – early and often. And it’s a lot of pressure to just put on a sibling or two. Joining a Cleveland social skills group for kids with autism can help them make significant strides.
We offer several different social skills groups, sorted by age, at our Brecksville clinic. These include:
- Say-n-Play. This is an awesome group that focuses on social interactions and activities like crafts, songs, games, and books. It helps children with speech-language difficulties, but also following directions and engaging with others in a group setting.
- OT Group. This focuses on zones of regulation, social interaction, and skills of daily life. We take fun “field trips,” play games, and work on group projects.
- Thrive Social Center Courses. These include everything from learning social boundaries to getting along with friends to teens & technology, to young adult groups.
This extra support will help prepare kids for real-world scenarios and interactions, helping them make friends, stay safe, and be included.
No. 5: Learn to Listen Without Your Ears.
If your child has received a Cleveland autism diagnosis and is non-verbal or speech-delayed, it can be very frustrating to know what they want, what they don’t want, how you can help, and how to parent them. But just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating. Remember that behavior itself is a form of communication, and kids on the spectrum may be engaging in “unexpected” behaviors to communicate wants, needs, or aversions.
ABA Therapy is extremely helpful in addressing unexpected behaviors and promoting those that are expected and helpful. Speech therapy can help with non-verbal communication, articulation, and social pragmatics. Occupational therapy can help kids tackle critical life skills like self-regulation, measuring the size of a problem, diversifying their diet, self-care, etc.
But in the meantime, recognize that just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. You may be your child’s voice for the foreseeable future. It’s important to try your best to engage them at every opportunity, and understand what’s NOT being said.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
What is Autism? AutismSpeaks.com
More Blog Entries:
Cleveland ABA Therapy Strategies, May 5, 2022, Cleveland Autism Treatment Blog
Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own emotions and behavior in a way that matches the demands of a given situation. All of us have had trouble at some time or another checking our emotions when we feel heated or excited. But learning to resist highly-charged emotional responses, calm yourself when you’re upset, adjust your expectations, and handle frustration without an outburst? That’s really a lot to ask of any child in a world that is so unpredictable – but it’s especially tough when a child struggles with a condition like autism, down syndrome, or other disability, disorder, or delay.
Why Do Some Kids Struggle With Self-Regulation?
Difficulties with self-regulation can be displayed in a number of ways, depending on the child. Some kids will have an instantly major reaction to something with no real build-up. They sort of “explode,” and aren’t able to inhibit that behavior response. Other kids will allow distress to build up for a time, but can only take it for so long before we see an emotional outburst. Even when those of us on the outside can see it building, we have little notion of how to stop it.
In either case, what we’re talking about is more than a simple tantrum, which every kid goes through, particularly in the toddler stage. Difficulty with self-regulation is a persistent, ongoing issue involving behavior that isn’t developmentally appropriate. It’s one thing for your child to throw a tantrum when they’re 2. It’s another for your child to be regularly melting down at age 5 or older.
What’s critical for us as a therapy team is help kids learn how to safely handle those big emotions, finding ways to adequately express them in a way that is more effective, less disruptive, and safer than a meltdown. Doing so requires we understand the why of the behavior.
In our experience, issues with emotional control are some combination of individual temperament, learned behavior, and the lack of communication/social skills needed to effectively communicate their emotions otherwise. Children with conditions like ADHD, autism, ODD, anxiety, or other conditions, learning to manage emotions is especially challenging and requires more outside help.
Teaching Kids Key Emotional Control Techniques
Learning emotional self-regulation is an important life skill, and some kids need more help to learn it than others.
We typically start by teaching young children to recognize the sensations and feelings in their body, and then putting those feelings into thoughts. How does your head feel? How does your skin feel? How does your heart feel? What is your breath doing? What “zone” of emotion are you in? (This can be color-coordinated for younger kids, with very basic, “red =mad, yellow=silly, blue=sad, green=happy,” etc.) Awareness is critical before change.
Once they master this, we can start teaching them about the “size of a problem.” Keeping it simple, we measure some problems as “big,” some “medium,” and some “small.” Then we talk about how to measure reactions in a similar way – big, medium, or small. When small problems have big reactions, that’s when we have the most trouble. The key is to try getting the size of the reaction to match the size of the problem. When it doesn’t, we ask them to reflect. Repetition on this is key.
Another strategy we use early on is to break challenging activities – the ones we know are going to lead to serious frustration – into smaller, more manageable parts. Our occupational therapists can help create social stories for this too, preparing them for each step and spelling out exactly what is expected of them.
Each time they act out, wait until they’re calm, and then ask: What went wrong? Why? How can we fix it for next time? How can we self-advocate for things we need or want without having a meltdown? This helps to create a pattern of mindfulness and thinking about the impact of their reactions. We also try to regularly remind them that at any point, they can “change the channel” of their emotions, by doing things like taking deep breaths, counting to 10, stretching, or taking a break.
Once they can tie feelings to thoughts, reflect on what went wrong, and advocate for themselves, then we can start working on affirmations and positive self-talk (i.e., “I can do this,” “I am brave,” “I am ok,”) etc.
If self-regulation is a skill with which your child struggles, we can help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavior therapy, and homeschooling, tutoring, and social skills groups to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
How Can We Help Kids With Self-Regulation? Child Mind Institute
More Blog Entries:
Brecksville ABA Therapists Offer “Time-Out” Alternatives, Feb. 6, 2022, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog
Social skills groups can be an invaluable tool for children who are developmentally delayed or struggle with social and communication skills. It’s particularly valuable for children on the autism spectrum, but can also be pivotal for children, teens, and young adults with conditions like Down syndrome, ADHD, and cognitive disabilities.
“So many of our patients benefit from our social groups because social skills are essential life skills,” explained Brecksville’s Therapy & Wellness Connection Owner & Founder Jaclyn McClymont. “We offer social skills groups that vary by age and developmental level, each targeting different sets of skills, from understanding and expressing basic emotions to self regulation and anger management to coping with bullying and informed use of technology.”
There is extensive evidence that social skills groups are incredibly effective in helping kids and adolescents make substantial strides with social communication – particularly when those facilitating are trained and experienced. (All of our social skills groups are facilitated by licensed speech, occupational, and ABA therapists.) In the biggest study of PEERS (the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills for young adults), researchers evaluated participants and non-participants before and after the 16-week social group session. Participants had “significantly greater improvements” in things like frequency of social engagement and improvement of overall social skills as opposed to those on the waiting list. There was also a substantial decrease in certain symptoms of autism spectrum disorder related to social responsiveness.
Social skills are about much more than just communicating with others. They are critical to establishing friendships, succeeding in school, and (later in life) getting and keeping a job.
Among the skills our social skills groups target:
- Being flexible
- Considering the perspectives of others
- Listening to others
- Initiating and/or joining play
- Age appropriate play
- Coping with confrontation, rejection or teasing
- Verbal communication
- Staying on task
- Following directions
- Asking for help
- Evaluating the size of a problem
- Understanding non-literal language and concepts
Learning to read non-verbal social cues such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are often incorporated as well.
Most of our groups are relatively small (groups of 2-8), facilitated by a therapist. There is typically some instruction, possibly some role-play or a fun activity to encourage social interaction. Participants get feedback (and parents may be looped in as well) to help them practice the skills they most need to work on. Face-to-face interactions and practice in a safe environment help the lessons to stick.
- Literacy & Language group for kids with speech & language disorders, particularly those preparing for kindergarten.
- OT group helps kids with social interactions, self regulation and certain life skills, such as cooking. This one is great for older kids and teens, and it incorporates lots of games, projects, and field trips.
- Say & Play, which focuses on how to make speech sounds, follow directions, and engage in a group setting. This is a fun one for small children, with a heavy focus on crafts, songs, books, and games.
We also have courses on building friendships, problem solving, getting along, social boundaries, technology, and more.
If you have questions about our social groups, our dedicated pediatric therapy team is happy to help answer your questions and help you sign up & join the fun!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA/behavior therapy to children in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
Evidence-Based Practice Brief: Social Skills Groups, National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders
More Blog Entries:
How Brecksville Homeschooling Can Benefit Kids With Special Needs, Nov. 6, 2021, Brecksville Pediatric Therapy Center Blog