Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category

November 17, 2015

Three Ways to Improve Your Child’s Time in the School Cafeteria

By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP
  • “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all students get at least 20 minutes to eat lunch, but many public elementary schools give kids just 20 minutes to enter, eat, and exit the chaos of the cafeteria.” (Source)
  • The school cafeteria can be a stressful and loud environment for some children, while others may enjoy this social time.
  • Children with Autism may especially have a difficult time approaching other children or “rushing” through their lunch  in the time given by the school.

kids eating lunchFor some kids, lunchtime is a fun and social time to talk to their friends.  For other children, this may be more of a difficult and stressful situation, as the cafeteria can be an overwhelming environment for some young kids. It is typically very loud with teachers and children talking and eating their lunch. There is often a short time period for lunch, therefore some students may feel rushed to eat.

It is well researched that children benefit from knowing what is going to happen next and prepare for a situation. Sometimes, in a fast-paced school environment, this is not always possible. I work with many children who would benefit from knowing what this cafeteria experience will look like prior to walking into a loud and overwhelming room. Although parents may not be there at lunchtime to help walk their child through the various steps to make this a fun, social, and enjoyable experience, here are some tips to help your child transition to the school cafeteria everyday at school.

1. eatingUse Dramatic Play: Over the summer, spend time practicing with your child what the school cafeteria may look like. This could include pretending to be the teachers walking around, or the students sitting and eating lunch. Work on the lunchtime routine from leaving the classroom and leaving the cafeteria.

2. Create a Visual Schedule: Sit down with your child and create a visual schedule about what is expected in the school cafeteria. This schedule will vary for each child, depending on what is most difficult during lunchtime. Click HERE for a creative way to include a visual schedule in your child’s lunchbox.

3. Preferred Foods: To make the transition to the lunchroom easy, stick to some of your child’s preferred foods in their lunchbox. Also, it may be less overwhelming if you organize the foods into easy containers to help your child see all their different options.

Photo 1, Photo 2

November 17, 2015

Technology Tuesday – Mommy Speech Therapy Articulation Cards

Many of our speech-language pathologists help kids with articulation, the production of sounds in speech.  Working on the same sound over and over again can get tedious, so we have to think of some fun ways to practice!  A website called is a great resource.  This site provides cards for each sound that are FREE for anyone to print out.  It includes pictures that focus on sounds in the front (initial position), middle (medial position), and end (final position) of a word.  Talk to your SLP about which sounds would be appropriate for your child to work on at home.  If you print out two copies of the cards, you and your child can have fun playing Memory Match, Go Fish, Hide and Seek with the card, and many more games!  Hopefully, our child will enjoy the card games so much that practicing sounds won’t be such a chore!  Of course, your SLP can also help you figure out how to incorporate the sound practice into your daily routines, too.  Chat with her today to get some ideas!

Photo 1

October 27, 2015

Tips for a Successful Halloween

By: Brianna Craite, MS, CCC-SLP

Halloween is a very exciting time for everyone to celebrate, get dressed up, and go hunting for candy. Here are some quick tips to make sure your Halloween is as happy as possible!

1. Prepare ahead of time

Try having your children pick out their costumes well ahead of trick-or-treating. It may be beneficial to let them wear the costume around the house to make sure they are comfortable. Be sure to check for size, if a costume is too big or has an accessory like a tail it may increase the likelihood for trips and falls.

2. Let your children know the plan

Go over what trick or treating will look like. Try practicing the script “Trick-or-Treat” while dressed in costume to shake out the nerves. Go over what to do in order to stay safe (e.g. stay in sight of Mom and Dad).

3. Get in the spirit!

Read books, carve pumpkins, and plan fall activities. These will provide opportunities for your child to understand what the Halloween season is all about; this is also a great way to introduce holiday vocabulary. Check out this website for specific activities for children with Autism.

Here are some other helpful resources:

Source 1

Source 2

Photo 1


October 14, 2015

Zones of Regulation: A Framework to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control

By: Lauren Foster, MS, OTR-L

Many people struggle to control their emotions. As individuals get older they learn to use strategies to cope with their anxiety, frustration and anger. These strategies may include going for a walk, listening to music or taking a nap. However, some children need extra help to learn and use strategies to help themselves state in a good emotional state. Zones of Regulation is a curriculum that uses cognitive behavioral techniques to teach self-regulation strategies to children.  The curriculum is designed to help children recognize their “zones” or states of emotion and then choose a response. There are four concrete “zones”: Blue (e.g., tired, sick, sleepy bored), Green (e.g., ready to go, happy, focused), Yellow (e.g., anxious, frustrated, excited) and Red (e.g., angry, out of control).

zones of regulation occupational therapyChildren first learn to recognize signs of each zone. For example, “when I’m moving a lot and fidgety and feeling really excited, I am in the yellow zone.” Or, “when I’m bored and sleepy, I am in the blue zone”. Once children are able to recognize what zone they are in they can begin to practice and use strategies to help stay focused. For example, “when I am in the yellow zone I may need to take a break and go for a walk. This helps me to focus.”

Therapists at Spectrum Pediatrics use the Zones of Regulation curriculum to teach children how to self-regulate and react to how they are feeling. Children can use the Zones of Regulation in individual therapy or you may see entire classrooms useing these strategies. For more information click HERE



October 14, 2015

Technology Tuesday-Choiceworks

Choiceworks is a great mobile app that our therapists often recommend to parents to help with visual transitions.  The app is designed to help children through their daily routines such as sleeping, therapy, or eating.  The application allows children to see what is coming next on their schedule and what to expect throughout their routines.  Our OT, Ashley, enjoys this app because it allows her to build in timers to help with taking turns and learning impulse control.

Some of the other features on this app are the ability to customize three boards (schedule, waiting, feelings), preload images, add your own photos, and save the boards to a PDF to make printing easy! The schedule board focuses on visually organizing the tasks, the waiting board helps to teach skills such as turn taking or waiting, and the feelings board helps children start to learn and recognize different emotions.  This is an app that is used daily at Spectrum Pediatrics and we highly recommend it! To purchase the app click here.

Photo 1

October 6, 2015

How to Talk to Your Child about Special Needs

By: Ashley Glasser, MS, OTR-L
  • As a special educator and now a therapist, I have learned over the years that children are curious.
  • Children want to soak up information and understand the world around them, but adults often find certain conversations difficult.
  • Knowing how to talk to your child about other children who have special needs can leave some at a loss for words.

It is difficult – you want to be able to answer their questions, but sometimes you may not know yourself what to say. And that’s okay. Starting a dialogue is a great first step. Teach children about differences in general.  Begin to read about various diagnoses and learn about the different ways that children might be experiencing the world, and let your child ask questions. Explore together and, as this mom puts it, allow the conversation to happen.

Books are a great place to start. There are numerous stories written for children to help them understand special needs. They will allow you to engage with the subject in a kid-friendly manner and, hopefully, will open the door for continued discussion and engagement with others. Click here for some great options.

Photo 1

October 1, 2015

Trick of the Trade from Lauren Foster, OTD, OTR/L

Write Your Story!

Occupational therapists and speech language pathologists can work together to help children engage in fun, creative activities that target underlying skills. One such activity is “story making.” Many children love to tell stories – stories that have happened to them, stories they have heard, and make-believe stories.  Creating one’s own storybook can be a great way to target underlying academic, occupational, and speech goals, such as sequencing, attention to a task, self-regulation, and fine motor skills like handwriting, coloring, and cutting.

pen paperHere’s are some topics for story-writing:

  • Something the child is interested in
  • Something your child wants to do
  • Something your child struggles doing
  • Something your child has done and wants to describe it
  • A new transition in your child’s life (e.g. a new move or new sibling)

Helping your child writing on these suggested topics will also create a bonding experience for you and your child, while using your child’s creativity.  You will both be able to share about your experiences, and this is wonderful for focusing on social skills and language building.

You can also use a story book to help a child understand what’s going to happen in the future. Research has shown that social stories help some children prepare for big changes in their lives and get familiar with what will happen, such as the first day of school.  Having your child create the story with you will not only to target speech and OT skills, but it will also prepare the child for a transition.  Get writing with your kiddo, and see the benefits unfold for both of you!

Photo 1


September 15, 2015

Technology Tuesday – DialSafe Pro

phone safety 911 strangersDoes your child know how to call 911 if there is an emergency?  Does your child know how to appropriately use the phone?  Does your child have your phone number memorized?  This FREE app is a fun, interactive, and kid-friendly way to help your child learn these skills.  Through a memory game, it allows your kid to practice dialing Mom or Dad’s phone number.  There are also numerous animated lessons about 911, strangers, and phone etiquette.  The simulator, that acts like a real phone (without calling anyone!), is built into the app to provide a real-life experience for the child.  This app is a MUST for safety and self-help skills for every child in your family!  Download it for your iPhone or iPad HERE!

August 12, 2015

You’ve Got a Friend – How to Help Kids Understand Autism

By: Tracy Huppert Magee, MEd. CCC-SLP
  • Connor Yates is a brave 10 year old that spoke about his autism diagnosis with his classmates.
  • Parents, teachers, and therapists should help in kids in building friendships with their classmates on the spectrum.
  • Resources are included for various ages to create inclusive classrooms!

Public speaking is something that is difficult for many people, but this boy with autism shows that he won’t let fear get in the way of having his message be heard.

Connor Yates is a 10-year-old boy with autism.  Previously, he did not want to tell his classmates about his diagnosis, but that all changed when his school had a speech competition.  He had been struggling to make friends at the school, and he decided he wanted to share about his diagnosis of autism with his classmates.  What a brave boy!  If only we could all stand in front of others and tell about our differences and how that makes each of us uniquely wonderful!

Connor’s speech got me thinking about how we could help more kids with the difficult skill of starting friendships with classmates, especially since school will be starting in the next few weeks.  Here are some resources that I collected to help kids in your child’s class understand autism!

  1. Kid’s Booklet on Autism – The Autism: New Jersey Organization has created this booklet with various games, puzzles, and other activities to educate children about autism and how to build friendships with those on the spectrum.  It has great resources for siblings, parents, and teachers, too!
  2. Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book – This picture book has received rave reviews.  It is the story of one boy’s friendship with Matt,  a boy who has autism.  The book helps explain about the diagnosis in kid-friendly words and pictures, and it give ideas on how to include a child with autism in social situations at school and in the community.
  3. Educating Children about Autism in an Inclusive Classroom – This guide was developed by Prince Edward Island Dept. of Education, and it provides information for teachers of an inclusion classroom.  Through research-based information, it gives a step-by-step curriculum to teach students about autism.  Handouts and other wonderful resources are included!

July 29, 2015

Trick of the Trade from Lauren Foster, OTD, OTR/L

Playdoh is a staple in many childhood preschools and homes, and there is a good reason why!  Playdoh is an excellent and creative way to address a variety of fine motor skills, such as strength and coordination. You can use the playdoh to practice making shapes and letters and work on literacy skills, as well.  For kids that benefit from extra proprioceptive (deep pressure) feedback, you can even “write” in playdoh using your fingers or a pencil.  There are as many “make your own” recipes as there are colors! Here’s two of my favorites:

Homemade Glitter Playdough (inedible)  (Source Credit)

  • 1 C Flour
  • 1 C Water
  • 1/4 C Salt
  • 1 TBSP Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tsp Cream of Tartar
  • Food Coloring (or if you want it to smell yummy, kool-aid)
  • Glitter (the bigger flakes, the better)

Edible Playdough (Don’t use with peanut allergies)  (Source Credit)

  • one 18-oz. jar creamy peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup non-fat dry milk

Photo credit