Eye contact is a form of non-speaking communication between people by demonstrating emotions. Poor or lack of eye contact is one of the signs/symptoms of Autism. My parents shared with me that I lacked eye contact for a very long time. It took me a long time to look at people face to face. The main reason eye contact is hard for Autistic children and adults is due to brain development:
Connection of nerves not working together in the brain!
Massachusetts General Hospital (2017) explains that imbalance of networks in the brain creates abnormal, delayed development of social interactions, including reaction of eye contact. Therefore, there could be underconnectivity of networks in the brain, which can demonstrate underlying causes of eye-avoidance.
Stewart (n.d.) describes sensory, language, and social difficulties of Autistic children and adults due to sources and networks not working together in the brain. For example, it can be difficult for Autistic children and adults to read body language, such as messages conveyed from the eyes. The visual and language networks with sensory input may be not working well together, which explain difficulties of social context.
Eye contact should not be forced and should occur naturally. Eye contact is important for attention and reasons of communication. Here are some ways to teach Autistic children and adults eye contact naturally:
Special interests! Do not tell directly to Autistic children and adults to look at them. This will make them not comfortable. Develop conservations or activities based on the their interests and interests you both have in common. Benefits are relationship building and working on an Autistic child/adult’s skills more naturally.
Be surprising and unexpecting. Give a good reason for an Autistic child or adult to look at you. By doing something surprising or something not right in the environment, this will gain an their attention and eye contact.
Choose the right activity. Activities, such as games, are a great way of developing various skills not just for Autistics, but for anybody. Here are examples of games that focuses on developing eye contact: hide and seek, pass the ball, playing puppets, under the blanket game (great for sensory input!), and etc.
The way to help Autistics develop on their eye contact is by using natural teaching procedures. Everytime you see an Autistic child or adult look at you or others, reinforce them! It is so encouraging for Autistics to hear how well they are doing, and they get attention themselves. Reinforce consistently because it helps in the long run!
So, do you think eye contact should be taught naturally? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
An autism activist is someone who advocates for rights of autistic people. An autism activist believes in helping autistics who have less than they do and provide services for better outcomes in life. Special interests can guide autistic people into becoming their own activists and advocates in the world. Now that we understand the idea of special interests turning people into their own activists and advocates, here is the next guest of this blog story!
Marcus Boyd is an Autistic activist and music producer. His music represents a part of his work as an autism activist and demonstrates his special interest in music as a music producer. He represents for autistic adults who can make it in the world of music industry, while advocating for autistic people through keynote speaking engagements and legislative work. Marcus is leading a positive change of ways people think about autism in the world. In fact, he became the first guest ever featured on my blog whose story was shared in one of my college courses! One of my professors in my online college this semester shared Marcus’s journey with autism a week before the interview recording. So incredible! You can watch the interview I did with Marcus here:
You can follow Marcus as “Autism Activist Marcus Boyd” through these social media accounts:
Music intervention is a kind of intervention in which helps autistics with self-expression, such as their feelings and emotions. Quintin (2019) shares that music evokes circuits of rewards and emotional responses in an autistic brain, which are released from the inside out. Music intervention has proved to help autistics improve their social interactions in the world. Now that we learned the importance of music for autistic individuals, lets learn about my next guest that I interviewed for this blog story!
Mrs. Bella is a music teacher from the United Kingdom. She became the second guest on my blog who was featured from outside the U.S. In this guest interview, we discussed about her experiences as a music teacher and providing music intervention for autistic children. I thank her for all she does as a music teacher for autistic children. She is incredible! Check out the interview I did with her here:
Have you ever had a feeling that something was different?
After I turned one years old, my parents noticed I was not making regular developmental milestones compared to my older sister, Samantha. This was back when my family and I were living in Brooklyn, NY. The Child Mind Institute (n.d.), shares some developmental milestones infants are supposed to achieve by the age of one:
Gets up without assistance
Demonstrates emotions of fear towards strangers
Responds to simple requests, such as someone saying “hello”
Repeats sounds and noises to get attention
Tries to say words other people say
Copies gestures and imitates
Uses hand grasps, such as a pincer grasp
Follows simple directions
Is an infant missing developmental milestones? How do we know if someone is Autistic? Here are some signs and symptoms of Autism to know and comprehend:
Delayed speech and language development
Repetitive behaviors (ex: hand flapping, rocking, spinning, head banging, creates same noises or sounds, etc.)
Fixation on special interests, objects, or activities
Does not like changes in routine
Poor eye contact
Demonstrates lack of social interaction (ex: playing, sharing, and talking to others)
High or low sensitivity to sounds, smells, tastes, texture, and/or colors
Avoids physical contact due to sensory sensitivity
Demonstrates attention to detail
Difficulty with social cues (ex: difficult to understand others are thinking and feeling)
Please be aware that these are some of the many signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are many more signs and symptoms beyond this list. As for me, I demonstrated every single sign and symptom on this list here. I did not say my first word until I was six years, and I did not fully communicate in sentences until I was ten years old. I used to bang my head against the wall, rock back and forth, and spin in circles as my repetitive behaviors. I was sensitive by touch, which meant I did not like hugs nor people touching my skin; I did not feel comfortable people touching me as an infant. I used to not like changes in routine at all. These are some examples from my infant years. You can learn more about this in my blog story, “Early Years”.
Do you know someone who displays these signs or symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
The CDC (n.d) shares the meaning of disability inclusion as allowing individuals with disabilities be part of society just like everyone else. Examples of disability inclusion includes the following: individuals with disabilities being employed in the workplace, participating in school clubs and activities, playing in games and sports in the community, and etc. Everyone has the right to be involved in the world. By working together, the world can be a more inclusive place for everyone to live in. Now let me introduce to you a guest that I interviewed in this blog story!
Timothy Rohrer is a young adult on the Autism spectrum from New Jersey who is impacting lives of individuals with disabilities by advocating for disability inclusion. Ever since he created his own disability inclusion pamphlet, he grew into an advocate known as “Tips4Inclusion”. He is a keynote speaker who has shared his journey on the Autism spectrum and other topics in special education for various school districts and organizations throughout New Jersey. He creates videos on YouTube about various topics in special education, including inclusion. He is an author of a book, “Timmy’s Story: A Story about Autism and Friendship”. In this guest interview, we discussed about his journey on the Autism spectrum and the importance of disability inclusion. Check out the interview I did with Timothy here:
The summer season has begun, and many families are traveling for day trips or vacation. Although, depending on an individual’s personality and/or where the individual is on the Autism spectrum, needs and challenges will be different for everyone. Thus, day trips and vacations can be difficult for many Autistics. Vartan (2017) shares many reasons that day trips or vacations can be difficult for some Autistics in which should be kept in mind:
Unexpected changes in routine due to new experiences
Issues with new noises and sights that can impact sensory input
Finding acceptable foods due to choosy eating habits
NOTE: I shared a blog story about helping Autistic children and adults going from choosy eating to healthy eating. The blog story is called, “Choosy Eater to Healthy Eater”.
Different levels of co-occurring disabilities or conditions
Example: An autistic child or adult having a physical disability as well, from minor to significant, depending on the individual.
Growing up, I had sensory issues and choosy eating habits during day trips or vacations. For instance, I will never forget the first time I ever went to Disney World. It was 2004, and I was 6 years old at the time. My parents used to find restaurants that had French toast, pizza, or macaroni and cheese on the menu. If they did not any of these foods on the menu, my family and I would go somewhere else until there was at least one of these foods on the restaurant’s menu. Keep in mind that it took me a long time to learn and try new foods, so I still had choosy eating habits for years.
Furthermore, I remember watching a show in Disney’s Animal Kingdom section of Disney World. The noise level of the show was so loud for me that I covered my ears the entire time, and I was starting to cry at one point. My mom noticed I was not having fun watching the show, so she got me outside because it was quieter outside than inside, since the show was playing inside. As I got older, I became not as sensitive with loud noises as I used to. A lot has to do with watching shows or listening to music on my phone by having the volume higher. Want to know how to help Autistics get ready and get through day trips or vacations? Here are some ways to help Autistics get ready and get through a fun day trip or vacation:
Be flexible! Allow the Autistic child or adult choose the vacation or day trip in mind. It allows them to work on making decisions for themselves. Although, keep in mind to make sure the location for the day trip or vacation is Autism friendly, which means places that have employees with knowledge about individuals on the Autism Spectrum. For example, Walt Disney World has a program in place that accommodates Autistics and their families. This is a great location because not only employees understand, but the location advocates for Autistics by having a program in place. Lastly, make sure to establish some break times during the day trip or vacation for everyone to rest up.
Establish an itinerary! Make sure to have a schedule full of routines because this will make a vacation or day trip less stressful for Autistics. Some changes in routine can occur during a day trip or vacation, which is understandable. Make sure to use visual supports, like a visual schedule, to demonstrate a change in routine. Autistic children and adults will learn and know expectations for the day during a day trip or a vacation, no matter the changes or not.
Use social stories or role playing! By creating social stories or role playing about vacations or day trips, this helps Autistics know expectations and understand in general about vacations or day trips.
Be equipped and prepared! Make sure to have packed sensory items and anything else based on Autistic child or adult’s needs to get through traveling and through a day trip or vacation. Here are some recommended items or objects: noise canceling headphones, visual supports (EX: visual schedule), fidget spinners, stress squeezable balls, an iPad or tablet, weight lap blanket, portable scents (sensory seekers), sunglasses, chewable foods (ex: crackers or pretzels), and etc. These are some recommend items, so remember to pack based on an Autistic child or adult’s needs.
Where are you going this summer? If you have been on a vacation or went on day trips already, where did you go? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
This year’s 4th of July is coming back to how we used to celebrate 4th of July. From watching fireworks to having BBQ parties, it is a fun holiday. Although, this holiday is one of the many holidays that can be hard for Autistics, due to social interactions and/or sensory sensitivity.
When it came to our 4th of July parties with my cousins, I always had a blast! Sometimes my family would host 4th of July at our house, or I would go to my cousin Ashley’s house. Although, I recall not enjoying the fireworks in person when I was younger because of the noise. The fireworks were so loud that I would always cover my ears! For years, my family and I would watch the fireworks live on TV. Who can relate with me about this?
Everyone can enjoy great holidays like this one! Here are some tips to make this holiday more friendly for everyone to celebrate:
Discuss aboutit! Any social stories about this holiday would be important to share to Autistics, so they know what is expected and general knowledge about the history of this holiday.
Go through old pics from this holiday! Going through pictures about what goes on during this holiday with the family can help Autistics be prepared.
Be prepared for anything! This means to have everything that an Autistic child or adult needs, from noise cancelling headphones to fidget or stimming toys. If going to see fireworks in person, make sure to prepare an Autistic child or adult by watching fireworks on YouTube, so the volume can be controlled. Also, make sure there is a relaxation area in the environment when needed for an Autistic child or adult.
As asked earlier, who can relate with me about being sensitive to loud noises, such as fireworks?
Lowry (n.d.) explains the meaning of echolalia by an individual repeating words, phrases, or sentences that occurs in the environment. Echolalia is one of the signs or symptoms of Autism. For me, I had echolalia after starting to develop verbal language at age six. I repeated words from anyone who interacted with me. Echolalia functions for communication purposes. Here are behaviors Autistics with echolalia will display:
Request based on interactions between people. This means an Autistic will ask for something based on observing others asking for things in a way, depending on the situation. Think of modeling, in which someone watches how someone else responds or behaves in the environment. That is how Autistics pick up communication skills.
Communicate lines from a TV show, movie, game, or place. This is how an Autistic will initiate something specific based on a line they recall from a TV show, movie, game, or location.
Gain attention. An Autistic will gain attention by saying a line from experiences they have been through prior based on the current experience. If the current experience is similar from prior, then they will more likely communicate the same line.
Respond by imitating. If an Autistic answered a question from someone by repeating that question the exact same way, this means they are most likely saying yes or correct.
Protesting. An Autistic will communicate based on seeing someone doing something they do not want to do. An Autistic will imitate by saying, “You do want to do this _activity “, even though it was meant about them. They will use the word, “you” instead of “I”, even though they are trying to refer about themselves.
It can be tricky to determine meaning from an Autistic with echolalia, but people have to be detectives. By being a detective, it can help in the long run. Here are some tips to help an Autistic with echolalia:
Sentence Starters. My speech language therapists used to use this prompting strategy to work on my language development. If an Autistic doesn’t have enough vocabulary yet, use visuals with this strategy.
Scripting. This strategy helps with social skills, such as creating conversations between people. Does this relate with echolalia? It does not because scripting helps with responding to conversations. The point is to teach Autistics how to respond. This can be done through modeling.
Provide choices. A big thing Autistics need help with is making choices. Providing choices, this allows Autistics to have a voice in what they think and feel. Make sure to ask them questions using preferred and non preferred items or activities. For example, do you want to eat a salad or pizza for dinner? This will allow Autistics to develop their thinking and decision making skills.
All of these tips works on various skills, in order for people to grow and develop. To wrap this topic up, do you know think echolalia is important for language development? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Are you someone who likes to eat only certain foods?
One of the signs or symptoms of Autism are people’s less interest in food or uncommon food preferences due to sensory issues, underdeveloped oral motor muscles, or behaviors influenced from the environment. During physical therapy at a very young age, I had trouble chewing foods, so I was taught how to chew by the therapist using hands-on prompting. They were using their hand to open and close my mouth. This helped me learn to chew and eat foods.
As I got older, I had a hard time trying new foods in general. When I was little, all I used to eat was macaroni and cheese, pizza, and French toast. I had these foods three meals a day for years. Plus, I had a certain way of eating these foods. For example, I would cut my French toast from the middle, eat around it first, and then eat in the middle of the French toast. This was a preference I liked when eating my toast. Another example would be when I tried a cupcake back in Children’s Center, the first school I ever attended in New Jersey. I ate just the bottom of a cupcake rather than the entire cupcake. That was how I ate cupcakes later on. Here is a picture of me eating a cupcake:
I think a lot of people can relate when it comes being a choosy eater. Now how do we break this habit exactly? People can go from being a choosy eater to a healthy eater in life. It is possible! Its all about taking the first step. I know the journey is not easy, but I can tell you myself that it’s worth it because eating healthy is part of a life journey for everyone. Any kind of food we eat impacts our own health. Here are some ways to help to become a choosy eater to a healthy eater yourself:
Start small. By taking baby steps, it can help towards eating new foods. For example, taking at least one bite of a new food will already make a difference. Make sure to praise afterwards because that was a big victory right there!
Do not press buttons. This means to not push your own or someone’s luck when trying new foods. For example, if a person has trouble sitting at the table due to past negative experiences and that is causing them to not try new foods, just make a goal to have to sit at the table for a couple of minutes. Its all about changing attitude towards mealtime. By changing attitude, this will help towards trying new foods.
Share clear expectations. Make sure to schedule times to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Using a clock, timer on the phone, or visual schedule are examples of visuals that can help create expectations for mealtime when going to try new foods.
Reinforce! Make sure to use a reinforcement system based on yourself or the individual on the spectrum. Praise for all of the good things you or someone on the spectrum is doing during meal time. From seating at the table for mealtime to taking a bite of a new food, providing feedback and praise is key to changing attitude and increasing this habit in the future and into other environments.
So are you someone who eats only certain foods, and do you think it’s possible to break the habit? Or do you know someone who is a choosy eater, and do you think it’s possible that they can break the habit? Share your experiences in the comment’s section!
A well-known concern from families is about having more kids after finding out their child was diagnosed with Autism. The answer to the question is that siblings are your Autistic child’s best friends for life. I know because I am the only one out of four that is Autistic in my family. I share being in the middle with my brother! Here is a picture of my siblings and I:
I always been known as the middle kid from the start. My older sister, Samantha, is two years older than me. Back in Brooklyn, NY, Samantha was the first sibling to know about my Autism diagnosis. My brother, Jonny was born 6 months after I was diagnosed with Autism the same year. He is a couple of years younger than me. In 2010, Ariella came when I was in 7th grade in middle school. Ever since Ariella came, my brother and I have been the middle kids in our family. As mentioned earlier, no else in my family is Autistic. I want parents to know that children are born differently, and it varies family to family. No matter what, love them as them. I love my siblings because they always loved and accepted me as who I am, and they still do today.
Siblings provide ongoing support for Autistics as they navigate in the world. Even though I’m further away from Samantha and Jonny now, since living in Florida, they still always help me out with anything when needed. Siblings create inclusion for Autistics in all kinds of environments and activities. Growing up, my siblings and I would watch Marvel shows & movies together because of sharing the same interest. It felt like our sibling bond time, so we still keep it going by watching them together via live stream on Disney Plus over video chat. Siblings can help increase overall mental health for Autistics. My siblings always keep me going to pursue my dreams and always provide great advice to me from their own experiences. Best of all, siblings love and accept as Autistics as best friends for life! My siblings will always be my best friends for life.
Is anyone else a middle child in their family? Share your thoughts in the comments section!