Explaining Autism Spectrum Disorder to Your Child

Moms and dads go through a range of emotions when given their youngster’s diagnosis of Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Often times, brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers, and other family members go through a variety of emotions and stages of dealing with an Aspergers family member as well.

Professionals agree that the Aspergers or HFA youngster should be given information about his diagnosis, as well as support for understanding and coping with the new information. However, many moms and dads may fear a number of things if they tell their affected child – or other kids (and sometimes other family members) about their youngster’s disorder. For example, they may fear that:
  • the youngster (or others) will use the disorder as an excuse for why she can’t do something
  • the youngster will think of himself (or others will think of the youngster) as a complete failure with no hope for a positive future
  • their youngster may lose some of her options in life
  • their youngster will become angry or depressed because he has a disorder
  • their youngster will not understand

These issues may or may not occur, but can be dealt with if needed. Some of these issues may surface whether or not the youngster and others are told of the diagnosis. In any event, all involved – including the Aspergers or HFA child – should have important information about the disorder since the diagnosis will affect various aspects of his life.

The possibility of unwanted issues occurring is more likely when the child – and other family members – are not told about the disorder and given the support they need. Consider the stories told by many people on the autism spectrum who were not told – or not diagnosed – until they were grown-ups. Misunderstanding others and having poor social skills leads to poor interactions with others and results in ridicule and isolation. Being told, “You should know better than that” or “stop being so rude to people” – and not having a clue what they did or how to “fix” or change the situation – all lead to disappointment and bewilderment.

Many people who didn’t know they had the disorder until they were adults (either because their parents didn’t know, or withheld information) have self-disclosed that, as children, they were seen as a major disappointment and failure to their families and others, but had no clue why they failed or how to do better. Over time, the end result was low self-esteem and isolation. Many of these adults now feel that if they had received the correct information about their diagnosis and what their differences were as children, they would have had a better chance of being more successful in multiple areas today.

Your youngster may know that he’s different, but he may come to the wrong conclusions about his perceived differences if you, the parent, leave him in the dark about his diagnosis. He may even wonder if he has a terminal illness and is going to die. He sees doctors and therapists and goes for treatments – but is not told why. Even the youngster who doesn’t ask or verbally express concern about being different may still be thinking some of these thoughts. Even kids with Aspergers and HFA can sense the frustration and confusion of others, and as a result, they may come to the wrong conclusions about the cause of the turmoil around them.

It is the parents’ decision whether they share information about the diagnosis with their youngster. It can seem like an overwhelming task, especially when day-to-day issues consume all the time and energy of a family. It may be helpful to discuss your concerns and possible options for disclosure with others that know your youngster well, other moms and dads of kids on the spectrum, and even people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism who have been told about their diagnosis.

There is no exact age or time that is correct to tell a youngster about her diagnosis. Her personality, abilities and social awareness are all factors to consider in determining when she is ready for information about her diagnosis. Starting too early can cause confusion. If older when told, she may be extremely sensitive to any suggestion that she is different. You can look for the presence of certain signs that a youngster is ready for information. Some kids will actually ask, “Is there something wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I be like my friends?” These types of questions are a clear indication that your child needs some information about her diagnosis. Some Aspergers kids may have similar thoughts, but may not be able to express them.

Some kids don’t get a diagnosis until they are in adolescence. Frequently, those who are diagnosed later have had some bad experiences that can influence the decision of when to share information with them about their diagnosis. They may not be emotionally ready to cope with the new information because of the toll the bad experiences have taken on their sense of self-worth. They may be very sensitive to any information that suggests that they are “weird.” Thus, they are not ready for any diagnostic information. On the other hand, an older teen may already know about a previous diagnosis (e.g., Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc.). Because of this history with another label, it may be an appropriate time to share the diagnosis and some concrete information about ASD.

Many parents have found that setting a positive tone about the child’s “uniqueness” is a great place to start. Everyone is unique with their own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and physical characteristics. One of my favorite lines is, “God made us all different because he knew it would be too boring if we were all the same.” Differences can be discussed in a ‘matter of fact’ manner as soon as the youngster understands simple concrete examples of differences. With this approach, it is more likely that differences – whatever they are – can be a neutral or even fun concept. Matter of fact statements like, “Daddy has glasses and mommy doesn’t” or “Michael likes to ride his bike and you like to play computer games” are examples. The ongoing use of positive concrete examples of differences among familiar people can make it easier to talk to your son or daughter about other contrasts related to his/her diagnosis.

Many adults of the spectrum assert the view that kids should be given some information before they hear it from someone else or overhear or see information that they sense is about them. An Aspergers youngster may have the view that people don’t like him or that he is always in trouble, but doesn’t know why. If given a choice, waiting until a negative experience occurs to share the information is probably not a good idea.

It is important that the process of explaining the disorder to a youngster is individualized and meaningful. It can be hard to decide what and how much information to begin with. If your son or daughter has asked questions, this gives you a place to start. But make sure you understand what he/she is asking. Recall that it is easy to misinterpret the meaning of his/her words. For those kids who have a keen interest in their diagnosis (and whose reading ability is good), there are many books written by autistic kids that may be of interest. There are also many more books written by adults on the spectrum. These authors are reaching out to others with a diagnosis by sharing experiences, tips on life’s lessons, and helping readers feel that they are not alone in this journey.

To make your discussion meaningful, you can begin by talking about any questions that your child has asked. You may want to write down key points and tell her that others with this diagnosis also have some of the same questions and experiences. Then you could ask if she would like to find more information by reading books, watching videos, or by talking with other people. If asking your youngster if she wants information is likely to get a “no” response, you may choose to not ask, but tell her that you will be looking for information and would like to share it with her. Let her know that she can ask any questions she wants to – at any time.

When people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism have an opportunity to meet others with the diagnosis, they often find it is an eye-opening and rewarding experience. People with the disorder can sometimes better understand themselves - and the world - by interacting with others on the spectrum. Interacting with others on the spectrum can help your child realize that there are others that experience the world the same way he does, and that he is not the only one who is “different” (which makes the disorder not so different after all).

For many parents, using a therapist to begin the disclosure process may be helpful. Having a therapist involved, at least in the beginning stages of disclosure, leaves the role of support and comfort to the parents and those closest to the Aspergers or HFA youngster. For a child with the disorder, it can be especially hard to seek comfort from someone who gives you news that can be troubling and confusing. Having a therapist whose role is to discuss information about the youngster’s diagnosis and how the disorder is affecting his life can make it easier for parents to be seen by the youngster as supportive. The therapist discussing information with the youngster about his disorder can also help moms and dads to understand the youngster’s reaction and provide suggestions for supporting him. Having a therapist involved also allows the use of a location outside of the family home for beginning this process.

Explaining ASD to a child can’t be done in one or two conversations. The child needs time to assimilate the new information about herself at her own pace. It will likely take several weeks before the youngster initiates comments or asks questions about the new information. The process of explaining the disorder is ongoing. Making the information meaningful from the youngster’s point of view will greatly augment the learning process. Also, a positive “spin” on the condition helps maintain self-esteem and a productive atmosphere for learning.

Overcoming the Challenges of Raising Aspergers Children

If you've recently learned that your youngster has - or might have - Aspergers or HFA, you're probably wondering and worrying about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that a youngster is anything other than happy and healthy, and a diagnosis of Aspergers can be particularly frightening. You may be unsure about how to best help your youngster, or you may be confused by conflicting treatment advice. Also, you may have been told that Aspergers is an incurable, lifelong condition, leaving you concerned that nothing you do will make a difference.

In this post, we will discuss the following:
  • Accept your youngster – quirks and all
  • Become an expert on your youngster
  • Don’t give up
  • Learn about Aspergers 
  • Provide structure and safety 
  • Find nonverbal ways to connect 
  • Create a personalized Aspergers treatment plan 
  • Find help and support 
  • Know your youngster’s rights 
  • Consider yourself a member of a very elite and interesting group of parents

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Strengths-Focused Parenting: Empowering Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to focus (consciously or unconsciously) on the weaknesses of a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA). This is a frequent occurrence for the youngster with poor social and communication skills, odd mannerisms, and learning disabilities. This is especially true of  kids with unacceptable behavior related to their disorder.

Kids with Aspergers and HFA already feel they are different. It is up to us to teach all kids that “different” is not “bad,” and that each of us has special strengths. We can help that process along by showcasing each youngster's special strengths and interests.

How to employ “strengths-focused” parenting:

1. When choosing the right school for your youngster, visit several schools (if possible) and look for signs of success. Meet teachers and staff, visit classrooms, and talk with the students to find out if this is the right school for your youngster's challenges. Discover whether the school's attitude about helping “special needs” kids learn matches yours.

2. Be creative in looking for solutions to your youngster's needs. Supplement school learning with dynamic resources, hands-on learning, and field trips to interesting places.

3. Be success-minded. With hard work, proper resources, and solid teamwork between moms and dads and teachers who care, most kids on the autism spectrum can succeed.

4. Become involved in your youngster's school, even if you only attend parent-teacher conferences to discuss his progress. Even the smallest effort during parent-teacher communication can send a positive message to your youngster's teacher and to your youngster, helping to promote positive self-esteem.

5. Don’t be afraid to seek out help. We are fortunate to live in a society where there are organizations, clinics and private practitioners that provide beneficial services for “special needs” kids. Early intervention can make a great deal of difference in helping a youngster and setting the stage for future success. Professionals say that in early years, there is a “window” of time to help a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism. This is true, but it is important to know that help, even later on can make a big difference in your youngster’s skill, behavior and emotional development.

6. No matter the diagnosis, when we help kids focus on their positive qualities, they are happier, feel better about themselves, and become more successful overall. All kids thrive with positive feedback, unconditional love and encouragement. Kids with Aspergers and HFA especially need positive responses and interactions with moms and dads, because it is often one of the most motivating factors. When kids with different abilities feel encouraged and motivated, they are more likely to take on new challenges and learn new skills.

7. A diagnosis is often useful. It can help your son or daughter get the services that he/she needs, the best educational programs, and the correct insurance coverage. It can also help moms and dads and people around the youngster to better understand his/her way of interacting and processing information in the world. Beyond these factors, though, it is important to look past a youngster’s diagnosis and focus on the person. Highlight the child's personal strengths. When these kids know that you see them for who they are beyond their disorder, challenges that come with any diagnosis don’t seem as overwhelming – and strengths can flourish.

8. Moms and dads of kids with Aspergers and HFA are some of the most dedicated, resilient and awe-inspiring parents out there. Parenting a child on the spectrum often takes 3 times the time and energy as a neurotypical son or daughter, and the parents that manage this extra load the best take time to take care of themselves. If you give, give, give and don’t leave any time for yourself, you begin to run on empty. When your personal energy is tapped-out, you have to work harder and might feel depressed, resentful, or irritable towards your child. Although it may seem selfish at first, it is important to do things that bring you joy outside of parenting. You then have more positive energy and deeper well of internal happiness and love to give back to your youngster. When you take care of yourself, you are really taking care of your child too, because you are giving him the best in you.

9. Use your youngster’s interests to build other strengths. Help her channel this energy into deepening her learning skills in other areas. For example, if a youngster’s interest is in trains, use this topic to study other subjects. For example:
  • to develop social skills, pretend you are two trains learning how to share
  • in spelling and writing, use words and stories that involve train activities
  • in art, create pictures of trains
  • for math, count trains

By building on the youngster’s chosen interest, he will be more excited to learn new skills. By accepting your youngster’s interest, he feels more supported by you.

10. Have you child learn as much as he can about famous people who have Aspergers and Autism.

11. One mom tried the following:  "I play a made up version of scruples for my boys called "What should you if..." to new social rules. I recently started adding a new game called "I am special because..." we take turns naming why someone else is special or different and have to guess who we are describing. The boys love it and it's funny, heartwarming, and incredibly touching sometimes to hear their descriptions. I always tell my guys (both on the spectrum) if everyone was "perfect" and all thought the same we would all be bored all the time. I love it when they tell their friends the same thing."

Teaching Aspergers Children the Social Etiquette of "Play"

Young people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism often have trouble with social interactions. Understanding what someone is saying and being able to react to it quickly and appropriately is critical to being part of a conversation. But some Aspergers kids can’t do that without help.

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Teaching the Visually-Oriented Student on the Autism Spectrum

Despite difficulties with eye contact, most children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are visual learners. Visual learners need to see the information. The whiteboard, texts for reading, or information on the computer all help these children succeed in the classroom.

It's important to distinguish that some visual learners prefer the written form of the language (e.g., a book that explains grammar or vocabulary). This preference is similar to an “analytical approach.” Other visual learners prefer diagrams or charts that illustrate grammar or vocabulary. This preference is similar to a “global approach.” Both types of visual learners may need to write down information in order to remember it. 

Although some teachers believe notes aid memory, visual learners see notes as a prerequisite to memory. In other words, if they don't write down the information and/or draw charts and diagrams, then they won't remember the information.

Information or ideas heard may not be retained as well as if the Aspergers or HFA child had been able to take notes. Visual learners should be allowed to write notes or draw charts and diagrams in the class, perhaps with the teacher providing a minute or two after an explanation or presentation to take down the information. Longer recall times to activate the language will prove necessary if visual imagery doesn't accompany explanations.

The 7 learning styles:
  1. Aural (auditory-musical): Student prefers using sound and music.
  2. Logical (mathematical): Student prefers using logic, reasoning and systems.
  3. Physical (kinesthetic): Student prefers using his/her body, hands and sense of touch.
  4. Social (interpersonal): Student prefers to learn in groups or with other people.
  5. Solitary (intrapersonal): Student prefers to work alone and use self-study.
  6. Verbal (linguistic): Student prefers using words, both in speech and writing. 
  7. Visual (spatial): Student prefers using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn. Researchers using brain-imaging technologies have been able to find out the key areas of the brain responsible for each learning style. For example: 
  1. Aural: The temporal lobes handle aural content. The right temporal lobe is especially important for music.
  2. Logical: The parietal lobes, especially the left side, drive our logical thinking.
  3. Physical: The cerebellum and the motor cortex (at the back of the frontal lobe) handle much of our physical movement.
  4. Social: The frontal and temporal lobes handle much of our social activities. The limbic system also influences both the social and solitary styles. The limbic system has a lot to do with emotions, moods and aggression.
  5. Solitary: The frontal and parietal lobes, and the limbic system, are also active with this style.
  6. Verbal: The temporal and frontal lobes.
  7. Visual: The occipital lobes at the back of the brain manage the visual sense. Both the occipital and parietal lobes manage spatial orientation.

Teachers should remember the following when working with Aspergers and HFA students:

1. Flashcards with pictures and/or words are an excellent tool for visual students. If flashcards aren't available, then the child can make his own. Alternatively, when encountering new words, the child can picture the object in his/her head.

2. Listening skills are a primary component of oral communication. Extra opportunities should be given to build listening ability, with many opportunities for visual learners to hear and process the information.

3. Visual students may struggle with pronunciation, intonation, tone, register, and other aural skills.

4. The child with Aspergers or HFA tends to have the following traits:

•    Arrives at correct solutions intuitively
•    Creates unique methods of organization
•    Develops own methods of problem solving
•    Develops quite asynchronously
•    Enjoys geometry and physics
•    Generates unusual solutions to problems
•    Has good long-term visual memory
•    Has visual strengths
•    Is a good synthesizer
•    Is a late bloomer
•    Is a whole-part learner
•    Is better at math reasoning than computation
•    Is creatively, mechanically, emotionally, or technologically gifted
•    Is turned off by drill and repetition
•    Is very sensitive to teachers’ attitudes
•    Learns best by seeing relationships
•    Learns complex concepts easily, but struggles with easy skills
•    Learns concepts all at once
•    Learns concepts permanently
•    Learns whole words easily
•    Masters other languages through immersion
•    May have very uneven grades
•    Must visualize words to spell them
•    Prefers keyboarding to writing
•    Reads maps well
•    Relates well to space
•    Sees the big picture, but may miss details
•    Thinks primarily in pictures

5. The child with Aspergers or HFA tends NOT to have the following traits:

•    Attends well to details
•    Can show steps of work easily
•    Can sound out spelling words
•    Can write quickly and neatly
•    Develops fairly evenly
•    Excels at rote memorization
•    Follows oral directions well
•    Has auditory strengths
•    Has good auditory short-term memory
•    Is a step-by-step learner
•    Is an analytical thinker
•    Is an early bloomer
•    Is comfortable with one right answer
•    Is well-organized
•    Learns by trial and error
•    Learns in spite of emotional reactions
•    Learns languages in class
•    Learns phonics easily
•    Learns well from instruction
•    May need some repetition to reinforce learning
•    Progresses sequentially from easy to difficult material
•    Relates well to time
•    Thinks primarily in words

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

The Autistic Brain: Malfunction or Human Evolution?

Are you aware that Autism prevalence figures are growing rapidly? According to recent statistics, Autism now affects 1 in 54 male children. More young people will be diagnosed with Autism this year (male and female) than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined.

Autism is the fastest growing “developmental disability” in the U.S. – and the only disorder dramatically on the rise (with mental retardation, Down syndrome, and cystic fibrosis remaining roughly the same). Earlier Autism prevalence figures were much lower, centering at about 0.5 per 1,000 during the 1960s and 1970s, and about 1 per 1,000 in the 1980s.

The reported spike in the prevalence of Autism raises questions about whether this dramatic increase is factual, or a byproduct of greater awareness that has led moms and dads, educators, and professionals to see symptoms of Autism in kids who would not have received the diagnosis 20 years ago.

The increase in Autism prevalence figures suggests several possibilities (here are just a few):
  • some relatively recent changes in the environment may be responsible
  • the diagnosis may be applied more broadly than before as a result of the changing definition of the disorder
  • there may be more complete pickup of autism (i.e., case finding) as a result of increased awareness and funding (e.g., attempts to sue vaccine companies may have increased case-reporting).
  • this is the way the human brain is developing

Human evolution is characterized by a rapid increase in brain size and complexity. Decades of research have made important strides in identifying the unique features of the human brain. But it has become possible only very recently to examine the genetic basis of human brain evolution. Through “genomics” (i.e., the study of the genomes of organisms), tantalizing insights regarding human brain evolution have emerged.

Metabolic changes responsible for the evolution of the human brain’s unique cognitive abilities indicate that it may have been pushed to the limit of its capabilities. Research adds weight to the theory that some neurological disorders are a costly by-product of human brain evolution.

The idea that certain neurological disorders are by-products of increases in metabolic capacity and brain size, which occur during human evolution, has been suggested before, but now researchers have access to new technical approaches to really put the theory to the test.

The human brain is unique among all species in its enormous metabolic demand. If researchers can explain how the human brain sustains such a tremendous metabolic flow, they will have a much better chance to understand how the brain works – and why it sometimes “malfunctions.” But is it truly a “malfunction” (i.e., functions badly)? Or is the human brain on its evolutionary path to “hyper-functioning” (i.e., functioning above and beyond the norm)?

Making Sense of Sensory Sensitivities in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Many children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have difficulty processing everyday sensory information (e.g., sounds, sights, smells). This is called “sensory sensitivity,” and it can have a profound effect on a child’s life.

Most “neurotypical” children (i.e., kids without the disorder) process sensory information automatically without needing to think about it much. However, children with sensory sensitivities have difficulty processing everyday sensory information. Those who struggle to deal with all this information are likely to become stressed or anxious, and possibly feel physical pain. This can result in difficult behavior. If the Aspergers or HFA child gets sensory overload, he may just “shut down.” He experiences what is known as “fragmentation” (similar to being tuned into 20 TV channels at once).

Children with ASD can be over-sensitive (i.e., hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (i.e., hyposensitive) in any of the following seven areas:

1. Sight—

Situated in the retina of the eye and activated by light, our sight helps us to define objects, people, colors, contrast and spatial boundaries. Children on the autism spectrum may experience the following differences:


•    A central object is magnified, but things on the periphery are blurred.
•    Central vision is blurred, but peripheral vision quite sharp.
•    Objects appear quite dark or lose some of their features.
•    Poor depth perception – problems with throwing and catching; clumsiness.


•    Distorted vision: objects and bright lights can appear to jump around.
•    Easier and more pleasurable to focus on a detail rather than the whole object.
•    Images may fragment.

2. Sound—

This is the most commonly recognized form of sensory impairment. Hearing impairments can affect a person’s ability to communicate as well as his balance. Children with Aspergers and HFA may experience the following differences:


•    May not acknowledge particular sounds.
•    May only hear sounds in one ear, the other ear having only partial hearing or none at all.
•    Might enjoy crowded, noisy places or bang doors and objects.


•    Inability to cut out sounds – notably background noise, which often leads to difficulties concentrating.
•    Noise can be magnified and sounds become distorted and muddled.
•    Particularly sensitive to sound and can, for example, hear conversations in the distance.

3. Touch—

Touch is important for social development. It helps us to assess the environment we are in and react accordingly. It also allows us to feel pain. Children on the spectrum may experience the following differences:


•    Enjoys heavy objects (e.g., weighted blankets) on top of them.
•    Has a high pain threshold.
•    Holds others tightly - needs to do so before there is a sensation of having applied any pressure.
•    May self-harm.


•    Difficulties brushing and washing hair because head is sensitive.
•    Dislikes having anything on hands or feet.
•    Only likes certain types of clothing or textures.
•    Touch can be painful and uncomfortable; child may not like to be touched, and this can affect his relationships with others.

4. Taste—

Chemical receptors in the tongue tell us about different tastes (e.g., sweet, sour, spicy, etc.). Children with Aspergers and HFA may experience the following differences:


•    Eats everything (e.g., soil, grass, Play-dough, etc.). This is called “pica.”
•    Likes very spicy foods.


•    Certain textures cause discomfort; some children will only eat smooth foods (e.g., mashed potatoes, ice-cream).
•    Finds some flavors and foods too strong and overpowering because of very sensitive taste buds; has a restricted diet.

5. Smell—

Chemical receptors in the nose tell us about smells in our immediate environment. Smell is the first sense we rely upon. These young people may experience the following differences:


•    Some kids may lick things to get a better sense of what they are.
•    Some kids have no sense of smell and fail to notice extreme odors (can include their own body odor).


•    Dislikes people with distinctive perfumes, shampoos, etc.
•    Smells can be intense and overpowering. This can cause toileting problems.

6. Balance (vestibular)—

Situated in the inner ear, our vestibular system helps us maintain our balance and posture, and understand where and how fast our bodies are moving. Children with Aspergers and HFA may experience the following differences:


•    A need to rock, swing or spin to get some sensory input.


•    Car sickness.
•    Difficulties stopping quickly or during an activity.
•    Difficulties with activities like sport, where the child needs to control his movements.
•    Difficulties with activities where the head is not upright or feet are off the ground.

7. Body awareness (proprioception)—

Situated in the muscles and joints, our body awareness system tells us where our bodies are in space, and how different body parts are moving. Children with Aspergers and HFA may experience the following differences:


•    Hard to navigate rooms and avoid obstructions.
•    May bump into people.
•    Stands too close to others, because they cannot measure their proximity to other people and judge personal space.


•    Moves whole body to look at something.
•    Difficulties with fine motor skills: manipulating small objects (e.g., buttons, shoe laces).

Note: “Synaesthesia” is a rare condition which some Aspergers and HFA kids experience. A sensory experience goes in through one system and out through another. So the child might hear a sound -- but experience it as a color (i.e., they will 'hear' the color blue).

*** How Parents and Teachers Can Help ***

Here are some ways you may be able to help a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism with sensory sensitivities:



•    Increase the use of visual supports.


•    Create a workstation in the classroom (i.e., a space or desk with high walls or divides on both sides to block out visual distractions).
•    Reduce fluorescent lighting. Use deep-colored light bulbs instead.
•    Use blackout curtains.
•    Wear sunglasses.



•    Use visual supports to back up verbal information.


•    Create a workstation.
•    Listen to music.
•    Prepare the child before going to noisy or crowded places.
•    Shut doors and windows to reduce external sounds.
•    Wear ear plugs.



•    Use weighted blankets or sleeping bags.


•    Allow the child to complete activities themselves (e.g., hair brushing and washing) so that they can do what is comfortable for them.
•    Gradually introduce different textures. Have a box of materials available.
•    Remember that a hug may be painful rather than comforting.
•    Warn the child if you are about to touch him; always approach him from the front.


Some kids on the spectrum are hyper- or hyposensitive to taste, and may limit themselves to bland foods or crave very strong-tasting food. As long as the child eats a bit of a varied diet, taste sensitivity isn't necessarily a problem.



•    Use strong-smelling products as rewards and to distract the child from inappropriate strong-smelling stimuli (e.g., feces).


•    Use unscented detergents or shampoos, avoid wearing perfume, and make the environment as fragrance-free as possible.



•    Encourage activities that help to develop the vestibular system. This can include using rocking horses, swings, roundabouts, seesaws, and games like catching a ball or practice walking smoothly up steps or curbs.


•    Break down activities into small, more easily manageable steps; use visual cues (e.g., a finish line).

Body awareness—


•    Use the “arm's-length” rule to judge personal space. This means standing an arm's length away from other people.
•    Put colored tape on the floor to indicate boundaries.
•    Position furniture around the edge of a room to make navigation easier.


•    Do “fine motor” activities (e.g., lacing boards).

*** How Sensory Sensitivities Affect Behavior ***

Sometimes, children with Aspergers and HFA may behave in a way that you wouldn't immediately link to sensory sensitivities – but they may be the underlying cause. Here are some examples of how a child’s behavior may result from sensory sensitivities, and how parents can help:

Picky eater:

•    Possible reasons: sensitive to taste or texture, or unable to feel food around the mouth.
•    Possible solutions: change the texture of food (e.g., purée it). Slowly introduce different textures around the child’s mouth (e.g., a toothbrush, some different foods). Encourage activities that involve the mouth (e.g., whistles, bubble wands).

Chews on everything (e.g., clothing, objects):

•    Possible reasons: may find this relaxing, or enjoy the sensation of chewing on the item.
•    Possible solutions: offer latex-free tubes, straws or hard sweets.


•    Possible reasons: may like the texture of feces or not be very sensitive to smells.
•    Possible solutions: try and introduce things (e.g., jelly, corn flour, water) to handle instead; introduce alternative strong-smelling items.

Refuses to wear certain clothes:

•    Possible reasons: may dislike the texture or pressure of clothes on his skin.
•    Possible solutions: turn clothes inside out so there is no seam, remove any tags or labels, allow the child to wear clothes he’s comfortable in.

Difficulties getting to sleep:

•    Possible reasons: may have difficulty shutting down his senses, in particular sight and hearing.
•    Possible solutions: use blackout curtains or weighted blankets; listen to music to cut out external sounds.

Finds it difficult to concentrate in the classroom:

•    Possible reasons: too many distractions (e.g., noise, talking, bells, chairs scraping the floor, etc.) or visual stimuli (e.g., people, pictures on the wall, etc.). May also find holding a pencil uncomfortable (it may feel hard or cold).
•    Possible solutions: position the student away from doors and windows so there are fewer distractions. If possible, use an individual workstation with some screens around it or use classroom furniture to create a distraction-free area for the student. Try different textures to make the pencil more comfortable.

*** How Professionals Can Help ***

1.    Music therapists use instruments and sounds to develop the child’s sensory systems, usually their auditory (hearing) systems.

2.    Occupational therapists design programs and often make changes to the environment so that adults with sensory difficulties can live as independently as possible.

3.    Speech and language therapists often use sensory stimuli to encourage and support the development of language and interaction.

4.    Sensory rooms can help to stimulate, develop or balance the child’s sensory systems. Some specialist schools, local services and hospitals have them, as well as some nurseries. You may also come across sensory gardens. Some families create a sensory room in their house (or adapt a corner of a room, perhaps screening it off with a curtain).

Sensory rooms might include:
  • bubble tubes
  • disco lights 
  • equipment that is activated by switches, movement, sound or pressure so that children learn about cause and effect
  • fiber optics 
  • mirror balls 
  • projectors 
  • soothing music 
  • tactile walls 
  • vibrating cushions 
  • water beds

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Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2011

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...