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Infant Development & Early Intervention

Red Flags for Autism

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Infant Development & Early Intervention

Red Flags for Autism

Roxana Rabadi, PsyD, LCP

There is no greater joy than watching your baby develop as a little person, hearing them laugh and babble, and seeing them explore their surroundings.

Some babies take a little longer than others to achieve expected milestones, from crawling to feeding themselves, and that’s not necessarily a problem; children develop at their own pace.

But there are specific behaviors that can be indicative of a developmental disability such as autism. Autism can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms and severity are different for every child. There are a broad range of conditions within the autism spectrum that can impair a child’s development and have lifelong effects on their ability to thrive in our complex world.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls and 1 in 59 American children are on the autism spectrum.” It is important to monitor your child’s developmental milestones and bring up any concerns to your child’s pediatrician.

Could your child have autism? Review the warning signs to learn more about the red flags for autism

  1. Children with autism may exhibit delays in developing speech and language skills, and inability to understand meaningful nonverbal communication. There may be a problem if:
    • By 12 months, there is no babbling or “baby talk.”
    • By 16 months, your baby has not spoken a word.
    • By age 2, there have been no meaningful two-word phrases.
    • Your child is displaying jargon speech (made-up language), or is imitating what caregivers say, and repeating it over and over.
    • Your baby has poor eye contact and won’t look at you when you are feeding him or her or smiling at him or her.
    • Your baby seems unable to understand or use hand gestures, including pointing and waving.
    • Your baby does not imitate anyone else’s movement and does not seem to notice other people’s facial expressions.
    • Your baby does not seem to recognize or respond to their name being called.
  2. Children with autism tend to lack social understanding and interest in interaction. They may:
    • Appear disinterested or unaware of those around them.
    • Not know how to connect with others, seek out play, or make friends, or how to establish or maintain age-appropriate relationships.
    • Not show enthusiasm/enjoyment during interactions or do not display shared enjoyment.
    • Display aggression toward others.
  3. Children with autism may exhibit rigidity, inflexibility and certain types of repetitive behavior such as:
    • Insistence on following a specific routine.
    • Having difficulty accepting changes in the schedule.
    • A strong preoccupation with a particular interest.
    • Having an unusual attachment to a toy or other object.
    • Lining up or arranging items in a certain order.
    • Repeating the same actions or movements over and over again.
    • Examining objects closely or from the corner of the eye.
    • Fascination with spinning objects and his or her reflection in the mirror.
    • Rocking, hand-flapping, twirling and finger-flicking.
    • Self-directed aggression, such as head-banging.
  4. Children with certain types of autism also have a sensory hypersensitivity that is shown by:
    • Resistance to touch and cuddling – your baby doesn’t reach out to be picked up.
    • Unusual reactions to light, taste, smells, textures, and sounds.
    • Hypersensitivity to loud noise.

If you recognize any of these behaviors, know that there’s no need to despair. An early diagnosis and specialized treatment can help.

If you believe your child may need care and you aren’t sure where to start, call us at 833.227.3454, email us at info@360bhmail.com, or visit our website to Request a Consultation.

About the Author

Dr. Roxana Rabadi is a clinical psychologist who specializes in diagnosing and working with children and adults with autism and related developmental disorders.

Dr. Roxana Rabad
Roxana Rabadi, PsyD, LCP
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Evaluation & Diagnostic Services

Evaluation and diagnostics – also known as psychodiagnostics – is the first step necessary to diagnose and clarify concerns regarding behavior, personality traits, mood, emotional functioning,
and cognitive processes.

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Infant Development & Early Intervention

Our infant development and early intervention program helps babies and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities learn key skills that typically develop very early in life. Early intervention can contribute to a child’s success at home, in school, the workplace, and community — and can make a positive impact on a child’s development and accomplishments well into adulthood.

Returning to School

Help for Families with Kids with Autism as School Resumes

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Child with care when returning to school

Help for Families with Kids with Autism as School Resumes

David Yim, MA and Junxiang (Mark) Hao, BA

Fall is here and COVID-19 is still having a huge impact on us all. As kids return to school – in a mostly remote learning environment – parents and kids are facing a whole new set of challenges.

For parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, the challenges are even greater. These parents know all too well that participating in school remotely usually requires intensive supervision and assistance to help ensure these special kids are successful. But with many parents going off to work each day or working from home, some are struggling to figure out how to manage work or other responsibilities while their child is attending school virtually.

Given the situation, many parents don’t know where to turn for help. But thankfully, various services and resources are available. You may be able to get the care and support you need – if you know where to look.

Your Local Regional Center

Parents can do their own research to get a clear picture of resources available in their community. With a bit of sleuthing and exploring the internet, it’s possible to find out what’s available locally. For residents in California, a good first step is to check out the local regional center website to identify resources offered.

In California, local regional centers, which are affiliated with the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), coordinate access to state-funded services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism and related conditions.

Your local regional center may be able to provide you with support from a contracted services provider that can offer an extra pair of hands to help guide your child with signing into sessions and staying on task through class instructions and individual work – all while maintaining appropriate behaviors. While this support is not intended to be a tutoring service, staff are equipped to promote engagement for a healthy learning environment and convey instructions or assignments, thus providing relief for parents or other caregivers.

Some regional centers conduct virtual informational meetings where parents can learn more about various services available. If your local regional center offers a virtual meeting option, this is probably the best and easiest way to identify services available in your area and how to qualify. If a virtual meeting is not offered in your area, you’ll need to explore information on the regional center website or connect with the local center via phone.

It’s worth noting that because of the current public health emergency, additional funds for services that were not available before the COVID-19 crisis are now available for emergent cases, so contacting your regional center could be beneficial. Even if you are already receiving services from your regional center, you may qualify for additional services that you aren’t getting now.

If you aren’t sure which regional center serves the area where you live, you can check the Regional Center Listings to find the center nearest you.

Types of Support Available

Support options can vary, depending on where you live, and may include the following. While all these types of services are helpful, daycare services are probably most valuable for parents who need assistance with kids that are distance learning.

  • Traditional Respite / Behavior Respite: In-home respite services that provide parents or other caregivers a temporary break from their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Daycare services: In-home services where care is provided to an individual while the parents or other primary caregivers are working or attending an educational program. These services are particularly helpful during summer/winter/spring vacation or other situations when parents cannot be at home to provide care.
  • Attendant Care / Personal Assistance: Provided in-home, in the community or in other facilities such as a group home, this service is intended to provide 1:1 or 2:1 service as an “extra pair of hands” for family members or caregivers who need support helping loved ones complete activities of daily living. This service is also helpful with community-based activities such as attending doctor’s appointments or participating in extracurricular activities.

Next Steps

Once you’ve identified options that may be available through your local regional center, how do you get services you need?

  • If you already receive some services from your regional center, you can contact your service coordinator to discuss additional services you want to request.
  • If you are new to the local regional center, you’ll need to complete an application process to determine your eligibility to receive services through your local center. This can be done by either completing an online questionnaire or by calling the regional center intake department. The regional center will determine your eligibility. If you are eligible, you’ll be assigned to a service coordinator who will help you get services you need. Many families qualify for state-funded services, but if you aren’t eligible for state-funded services, some service providers can still provide care through self-pay options.

Your Service Coordinator is the Key

Your service coordinator is your representative and is responsible for evaluating your situation and recommending services that are available and appropriate for you. Remember, your service coordinator takes care of many families in your area, so it’s important that you prepare for your conversation and be ready to provide a detailed explanation to justify the services and support you are requesting. Be as clear and concise as possible, and convey your circumstances using a fact-based vs. an emotional approach. Be persistent if you need to be.

Use this checklist to help outline particular circumstances and justification for requested support:

  • Parent(s) returning to work
  • Lack of family support or availability for childcare from family members
  • Only distance learning options available for school
  • No after school or supplementary programs available
  • Increase in problematic behaviors while at home
  • Financial concerns or inability to pay for childcare services
  • Sickness or death in the family
  • Life crisis such as divorce

If you still aren’t sure about respite, daycare, attendant care or personal assistance services or if these services are right for you and your family, you can request a consult to schedule a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation with one of our respite care specialists to learn more about your care options and for help with next steps in the process.

About the Authors

David Yim is grateful for the positive impact he has on the families he serves, and for more than 10 years he has seen his impact in action with many different people, behaviors and life situations. He knows that the little things matter, and he believes you should never underestimate the impact you can have on others. He’s had an incredible journey that has taught him countless life lessons. David wishes everyone could experience and cherish the positive impact we all can make in every moment and in every day.

David began working with children with special needs as a college student in 2005 while earning his master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis (ABA). For the past 13 years, he has worked at various autism agencies and special-needs schools, but he has found his true passion with ABA.

David is grateful for the special relationships he’s developed throughout his career. Today, in his role as Regional Manager with Behavior Respite in Action and Respite Works, he works with respite care professionals across the organization to help them and the families they serve to build and preserve the same special relationships he’s had the opportunity to develop himself.

In David’s spare time, you can find him singing, playing golf and hanging out with family and friends.

David-Yim
David Yim, MA

Regional Manager – South Region
Behavior Respite in Action | Respite Works

Junxiang (Mark) Hao believes it’s important to never underestimate your worth or your impact on the lives of the families you support. He never loses sight of what, or why, he does what he does. Seeing the development and growth of the people he works with is one of the most rewarding things about his job.

As department manager for our Behavior Respite in Action location in Monterrey Park, he reinforces this mindset with the direct support professionals he manages, mentors and supports by continually telling them that it is vital to not lose sight of how we can apply our own personal touch in the work that we do for others.

Mark started studying child psychology in high school. After high school, he earned his bachelor’s degree, and he’s been working in the field ever since.

Mark invests a lot emotionally into people, animals and the arts. He uses music as a form of release and likes to listen to new music while driving.

Mark Hao
Junxiang (Mark) Hao, BA

Department Manager – Monterrey Park
Behavior Respite in Action

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Social Skills Development for Kids with Autism During COVID-19

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Social Skills Development for Kids with Autism During COVID-19

By Melina Barragan, MS, BCBA and Lilian Hernandez, MS, BCBA

Social distancing has become a new reality for us all as we adjust and respond to the COVID-19 public health crisis. As a result, our day-to-day social interactions have become more limited. For children, reducing opportunities to face different social scenarios translates into reduced learning opportunities, and impacts social-emotional development. The effect on kids with autism and other developmental disabilities is even more significant because these kids often need extra help cultivating the skills they need to create and maintain positive interactions with others in social situations.

Cultivating Social Skills

Through everyday social interactions, kids learn skills such as:

  • Initiating and maintaining interactions with others
  • Identifying and responding to social cues
  • Sharing
  • Playing appropriately with peers
  • Understanding different perspectives
  • Responding to others’ feelings

The development of social skills is essential for individuals to establish and maintain healthy social relationships. Friendships not only improve an individual’s sense of belonging but can also enhance mental health, improve self-confidence and help reduce stress and anxiety.

For children with autism and other developmental disabilities, social interactions can be difficult. One of the biggest misconceptions about individuals with autism is that they are not interested in other people or that they prefer to play independently. However, the truth is that there are barriers related to their condition that impact their ability to engage with others effectively. Many simply do not know how to approach their peers or how to respond in social situations. This can contribute to social isolation.

There are numerous strategies used to teach social skills that are based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). One of the interventions widely used are social skills groups. These groups provide opportunities for kids to practice social skills with their peers on a regular basis. Groups are typically organized based on age and interests, and are often offered for kids, preteens, teens and young adults.

Social Skills Groups Via Telehealth

Social skills groups are typically conducted face-to-face, however, during the COVID-19 crisis, conducting social skills groups in person presents many challenges. Luckily, telehealth has evolved as a new platform for kids to come together virtually to continue to practice their social skills development.

Participating in a social skills group via telehealth is easy. Kids can join a group via any electronic device from the comfort of their own home. Led by board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) and other skilled clinicians, these groups give kids the chance to see their peers and engage in turn-taking games, sharing, conversations and other activities that help them build friendships through a virtual platform. Without the social interactions kids typically get while in school or through in-person social skills groups, participating in a social skills group virtually provides a safe and supportive environment where they can continue to learn the skills they need to start and maintain friendships.

With telehealth, social skills groups can be conducted using the same interventions used in person such as:

  • Video modeling
  • Role play scenarios
  • Modeling
  • Peer modeling
  • Social stories
  • Behavioral scripts
  • Following social rules
  • Visual aides

Interactive activities via telehealth can also be incorporated into the groups depending on the age and functioning level of the kids in the group. Examples include Drawful, Connect 4, Tic Tac Toe, Kahoot, Jeopardy, and scavenger hunts. The engagement between peers during these interactive activities allows them to share a positive emotional experience. For example, watching an amusing YouTube video – like a favorite amusement park ride, clip from tv show, or superheroes – can lead to laughter and discussion about the video just watched. Engaging in an interactive activity such as playing Jeopardy allows them to experience different interactions that can lead to finding common interests.

To learn more about how a telehealth-based social skills group could help your child continue to practice and develop the social skills needed to create friendships and interact with others, we invite you to Request a Consult with us. During this complimentary 30-minute phone consultation, we’ll be happy to discuss our social skills groups with you in detail, help you identify a group that is most appropriate for your child, and assist you in completing the steps needed to get your child enrolled.

About the Author

Melina Barragan has been practicing in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) for the past 9 years. She earned her master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis in 2016.

Shortly after completing her Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential, Melina joined California Psychcare as a Clinical Supervisor. During her tenure with California Psychcare, she has continued to grow and develop her abilities as a skilled clinician in the field of ABA. In her current position as Associate Director of Clinical Services based in our California Psychcare office in Inglewood, Melina supervises the delivery of ABA services to her clients. She also shares her skills and expertise with her teammates as she supervises, trains, and mentors them. Melina’s main areas of interest include social skills groups and functional behavioral assessments.

Outside of work, Melina enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She also enjoys running, water sports, theme parks, and shopping at antique stores.

Melina Barragan, MS, BCBA

Associate Director of Clinical Services
California Psychcare – Inglewood

About the Author

Lilian Hernandez is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) since 2016. Lilian earned her Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services from California State University of Los Angeles in 2016. She then went on to pursue her Master of Science Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, which she completed in 2019.

In her current role as a Clinical Supervisor for California Psychcare in Inglewood, Lilian conducts social skills and Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) groups with her clients. She is dedicated to using her passion in the ABA field to make a difference in the lives of others through treatments that focus on evidence-based, proven techniques.

Lillian headshot
Lilian Hernandez, MS, BCBA

Clinical Supervisor
California Psychcare – Inglewood

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Helping Kids with Autism Keep Up with Learning During Summer

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child being home-schooled

Helping Kids with Autism Keep Up with Learning During Summer

Judith S. Cohen, Psy.D., LMFT

There is no doubt the COVID-19 public health emergency caused many disruptions for kids and families during the previous school year. There has been a lot of physical, psychological and emotional upheaval for all students, but the impact has been even greater for those with autism and other developmental disabilities. These kids have been most affected because they have more difficulty adjusting to change, they need more assistance to learn, and they missed out on social opportunities which are vital to the development of abilities they need to better navigate life.

Now that the regular school year has ended, parents of kids with autism may be wondering what to do in the weeks until the new school year begins. It is likely many kids did not make as much progress during the last school year as they would have made if COVID-19 had not happened, and parents may be looking for ways to catch up or at least not lose any of the learning that was accomplished. They may also be wondering about how they can support their kids with their social skills development while we all ease back into normal life.

Summer school may be an answer for some kids, and the summer session can help kids keep up their learning. But this won’t be an option for all kids, and even for those who participate, the session only runs for a few weeks and still leaves a significant gap before the new school year starts.

With a little planning and effort, there are many things parents can do at home over the summer to help their kids be as ready as they can be when school resumes in the Fall. For parents looking for ideas, following are a few suggestions.

Learning Resources

During the school year there are many websites that are used by teachers to add to your child’s learning experience in the classroom. These favorites can be helpful during summer and can be fun too!

Social Skills Resources

Social skills help individuals function more effectively in social situations, and there are a few websites that can help parents cultivate skills their kids need to create positive interactions with others.

Other Resources

  • If your child has an Individualize Education Program (IEP), use time this summer to explore and better understand your child’s plan. The IEP is a written document that is created through a team effort and is reviewed once a year. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) website offers a wealth of information that can help you better understand the IEP process, your rights and what to ask for when school resumes.
    https://www.copaa.org/page/studentsandfamilies
  • If your child was receiving school-based behavioral therapy during the regular school year, continuing these services during the summer – either via in-home services or via telehealth – may be an option you’ll want to consider. In addition, social skills groups offered via telehealth may also be valuable. Lastly, if you need a break from your daily caregiving duties or help managing all the demands of daily life over the summer, you may want to explore traditional or specialized respite care services. For help determining if these services are right for you and your family, and for assistance with next steps in the process, please request a consult for a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.

About the Author

Dr. Judith S. Cohen’s background includes 33 years as a school psychologist, which includes 29 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and four years with a school system in New Jersey. After retiring from LAUSD in 2011, Dr. Cohen’s passion for children led her to a new role as an educational advocate, where she helped families in need obtain a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Dr. Cohen currently serves as the School District Coordinator for California Psychcare, a position she has held since January 2016. Her goal is to have every child with special needs get a FAPE through their IEP with appropriate goals, services and educational placement. Dr. Cohen is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and has been in practice since the 90’s.

Judith S. Cohen Psy.D., LMFT

Coordinator – School Districts
California Psychcare, Inc.

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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) / Behavioral Therapy – Home Based

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, refers to a variety of treatment options that are based on the principles of behavior analysis. ABA uses scientifically-based techniques for understanding and changing behavior, and is the most widely accepted approach to assess and intervene with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental challenges or delays. This type of therapy is conducted one-on-one, is customized for each person, and is appropriate for individuals of all ages.

Telehealth Therapy
Telehealth Services

Telehealth is rapidly growing in the field of ABA-based behavioral therapy and improves access to care for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities. Telehealth is as simple as using a tablet or computer to connect face-to-face with your ABA service providers, similar to how you may chat with family or friends who may live out-of-town.

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Social Skills Training

Our social skills training help individuals function more effectively in social situations and cultivates skills needed to create positive interactions with others. Delivered at one of our behavioral health treatment centers, we offer age-based groups for kids, preteens, teens, and young adults. Our groups are conducted in a comfortable setting where individuals with developmental disabilities can develop and practice their social skills with peers on a regular basis.

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Traditional In-Home Respite

Traditional in-home respite is appropriate for individuals of all ages and is available in situations when the parent or primary caregiver has a need for temporary relief or assistance with caregiver responsibilities.

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Specialized Personal Assistance

Specialized Personal Assistance is an enhanced service for individuals who have more challenging behaviors – like physical or verbal aggression, property destruction, self-injury, self-stimulation, or elopement – and therefore need more support than traditional in-home respite can provide. The service is appropriate for individuals of any age.

Funds for Services for Individuals with Autism are at Risk

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Funds for Services for Individuals with Autism are at Risk

Kate Sheldon-Princi, M.Ed., BCBA

The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, along with other state leaders, are predicting a $54 billion budget deficit as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis in the state. The deficit comes from an unexpected decline in tax revenues that will be coming into the state treasury due to reduced incomes and income tax collections, lower sales taxes, and reductions in other revenue sources like hotel, gas and similar taxes. Coupled with more than 4.2 million unemployment claims filed since COVID-19 hit, the numbers are staggering and in stark contrast to the $21 billion surplus California had just one year ago.

Cuts to Services for Autism are Possible

In response to the predicted deficit, leaders in California are considering a revised budget that will guide future spending for the state. The good news is that the version of the budget in review right now doesn’t impact people with autism or other developmental disabilities in a negative way. But it is still possible that the revised budget – once finalized – will include significant reductions in payment rates offered to behavioral therapy, respite care and other service providers contracted with local regional centers for services they deliver to individuals and families impacted by autism. This is troubling because a reduction in payment rates for these services could mean less services available to consumers and families.

What Can Be Done to Help Preserve These Important  Services?

There are a few things that can be done to help make sure funding for essential services for those affected by autism and other developmental disabilities continues.

First and foremost, between now and June 30th, Governor Newsom has the power to make last-minute cuts to the budget. So, if you agree that maintaining this funding is important, you can reach out to Governor Newsom to let him know how you feel. Here’s how you can ensure your voice is heard at the State level:

1. Go to the Governor’s website at https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/ to send an email, or call him directly at 916.445.2841.

What do you say? Your message can be very simple, but feel free to make it personal . . .

“I am a resident of California and I strongly support a budget that protects the developmental disabilities service system and its funding.”

That’s it. Your voice has been heard.

Secondly, any cuts that are in the final version in the State budget could be offset by federal funding. In fact, the federal government is considering the provision of additional funding for states, which could prevent hundreds of millions of dollars from being cut from the service delivery system nationwide. California will definitely benefit if federal funds are made available.

If you believe that maintaining funding for these essential services is important, you can take action now to let your member of congress know how you feel. Here’s how you can ensure your voice is heard at the Federal level:

1. If you aren’t sure who your representative is, go to https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and enter your zip code.

2. Once you identify your representative, you may need to do a little sleuthing to determine how to best communicate with him or her. It may take some time and effort on your part to get this done, but it’s worthwhile to ensure your representative knows you want to be sure funding for services continues to be available.

  • Some representatives offer a link to a form you can fill out and submit online. This is the easiest way to communicate, if this option is available.
  • Some representatives offer a phone number to their local office or their office in Washington, DC. If you try to reach them at one of these numbers, be aware that you aren’t likely to have the opportunity to speak with someone when you call. But that’s okay. Just leave a voicemail message when prompted to do so.
  • Some representatives only offer the main number for the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. If you call this number, the operator can help direct your call to your representative. If you don’t get to speak with someone directly, just leave your message when prompted.
  • Other representatives may offer other ways to communicate.

What do you say? Again, your message can be very simple, but feel free to make it personal . . .

“I am a constituent of the Representative. Please support extra federal funding for California to help save services for people with autism and developmental disabilities. And please ask your colleagues in the Senate to support it, too.”

That’s it! You’ve just asked your representative for the funds that will help support essential services, and you’ve told them you also want them to encourage their colleagues to this funding as well.

Note: Article originally published 6/10/20 – Updated 6/19/20.

About the Author

Kate Sheldon-Princi is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has been a member of the 360 Behavioral Health family since 2012. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Managed Care & Clinical Development for 360 Behavioral Health’s family of providers including California Psychcare and Behavior Respite in Action.

In her current position, Kate oversees the organization’s contracting, business development and legislative advocacy efforts.

In her free time, Kate enjoys exploring the great outdoors.

Kate Sheldon-Princi, M.Ed., BCBA

Senior Director of Managed Care & Clinical Development
360 Behavioral Health

father and son in masks playing with modeling clay

Respite Care for Kids or Adults with Autism During COVID-19

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father and son in masks playing with modeling clay

Respite Care for Kids or Adults with Autism During COVID-19

Karina Chavira, BS and Diana Ferrassoli, AA

The COVID-19 public health emergency is impacting parents in ways that are sometimes difficult to understand or even imagine.

With stay at home orders, distance learning and other changes created by our current situation, many parents are struggling to figure out how to use ZOOM®, help with homework, get their own tasks done as they work from home, or get things done around the house – all while ensuring everyone in the home is safe. These challenges are compounded for parents of kids or adults with autism or other developmental disabilities. With everything going on, simply doing a grocery run or taking a little break can be challenging.

The good news is that respite care can help make life a little easier. Helping hands are ready and safety measures are in place to help parents get the temporary assistance they need to take a break, complete everyday tasks, or manage the activities of their child while working from home. The bottom line is that respite care may be just what parents of kids or adults with autism and other developmental disabilities need to help keep everything running smoothly.

Who Pays for Respite Services?

In the state of California, the local Regional Center will authorize and pay for appropriate and necessary respite care services for any individual diagnosed with autism or other developmental disability. Parents and other primary caregivers can also receive respite services under a self-pay arrangement, paying for services directly as needed.

Keeping Your Family Safe and Healthy While Receiving Respite Care

Allowing someone into your home to provide respite care may seem difficult or even a little unsettling. But some respite service providers are going the extra mile to ensure your family and their respite care workers stay safe and healthy.

First and foremost, it’s important that your respite service provider has provided their respite care workers with essential personal protective equipment (PPE) including medical grade face masks, medical grade gloves and hand sanitizer. It’s also important that your service provider has an established protocol in place – including a process for conducting daily wellness checks with all respite care staffers; providing guidelines to staff regarding handwashing, wearing face coverings and other important safety measures; and rescheduling sessions if anyone in the client’s household is sick.

So how do you know if a respite service provider is doing all they can to keep you and their workers safe? The first thing you can do is visit the respite service provider’s website and look for information about their COVID-19 initiatives. Providers that are taking proactive measures will have information about their COVID-19 response “front and center” on their site so you can easily find it. You can also call the service provider to discuss details about what they are doing to keep everyone safe.

Final Thoughts

If you are the parent of a child with autism and would like to learn more about how respite care could help you manage all the demands of daily life, we invite you to request a consult to arrange for a complimentary 30 minute phone consultation. During the consultation, we can determine if respite care is right for you and your family, and we can help you with the next steps in the process to arrange for an authorization for respite services through your local regional center.

For more information about respite care services, visit traditional in-home respite and specialized personal assistance.

For more information about Behavior Respite in Action’s COVID-19 response, visit COVID-19 Updates.

About the Authors

Karina has been working with children and adults with special needs for more than five years. She is dedicated to using her passion for providing service to others to ensure those in need receive the quality care they deserve.

Karina earned her Bachelor of Science in business management from California State University Northridge. She currently serves as program coordinator for Behavior Respite in Action in Chatsworth.

During her free time, Karina enjoys traveling and volunteering. She has participated in multiple medical mission trips. Her love for medical mission trips began in June 2016 during a five-day mission trip to the Palawan Province in the Philippines, where a total of 3,131 people were served through educational sessions on personal hygiene, medical consultations and screenings. Since then, Karina has participated in medical missions at least once every year.

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Karina Chavira, BS

Program Coordinator
Behavior Respite in Action

Diana is committed to providing true service. To her, this means treating and responding to the needs of families and individuals with sincerity and integrity. Her passion is helping people function most effectively in their environments and communities.

Diana began working with children and adults with special needs five years ago. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to pursue an education in psychology. She’s currently enrolled in a bachelor’s program through Arizona State University and her goal is to work in the field of psychology diagnostics. Diana currently serves as a program coordinator for Behavior Respite in Action in Palmdale.

Diana enjoys collecting Starbucks mugs from different cities and countries, and currently has about 55 mugs from all over the world. She collects them when she travels with her family and friends.

Diana Ferrassoli photo
Diana Ferrassoli, AA

Program Coordinator
Behavior Respite in Action

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Traditional In-Home Respite

Traditional in-home respite is appropriate for individuals of all ages and is available in situations when the parent or primary caregiver has a need for temporary relief or assistance with caregiver responsibilities.

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Specialized Personal Assistance

Specialized Personal Assistance is an enhanced service for individuals who have more challenging behaviors – like physical or verbal aggression, property destruction, self-injury, self-stimulation, or elopement – and therefore need more support than traditional in-home respite can provide. The service is appropriate for individuals of any age.

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Success with Distance Learning for Kids with Autism

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A boy doing distance learning class

Success with Distance Learning for Kids with Autism

Susan Rischall Heytow, M.Ed., BCBA

Suddenly, schools closed their doors because of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Parents now find themselves in a new situation and are essentially responsible for continuing their child’s education at home.

If this is you, your child’s teacher may be using technology such as ZOOM®, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Schoology and other platforms to communicate with your child. To ensure your child can participate, you’ll need to provide him or her with access to a device and to high speed internet.

Whether your child’s teacher communicates online or provides printed packets of materials, your child will most likely need some help. The task before you may seem daunting, especially if you’re facing all this with a child who has autism or another developmental disability. You’re likely wondering what to do, how to cope and where to start.

The impact is even greater if your child was receiving 1:1 assistance in the classroom from a qualified behavior interventionist before COVID-19. Obviously since your child is no longer in the classroom, this assistance is either modified or is no longer available.

How do you manage the situation you are in and turn it into a successful and positive experience for you and your child? There are many things you can consider that can be beneficial.

Dealing with Confusion

The first challenge you’re likely to encounter is your child’s confusion over the need to do “school” while “at home.” For a child with autism, routine is important, change can be difficult, and merging the “school” and “home” worlds can be hard for your child to understand and accept.

As you begin to deal with this confusion, it’s crucial your child sees you as cool, calm and collected. Explain the current situation in an age appropriate way. Let your child know that everyone is home, even the teachers are at home, and that this is a new way to learn. It may take a while, but with consistency, the blending of “school” and “home” will become more routine, and your child will likely come to accept the new situation.

Keep a Schedule

Schools have schedules. Kids work best when they have a schedule and know what they can expect of others as well as what is expected of them. Be sure to plan for learning time as well as play time. Try a brain break, like a quick game of tic-tac-toe; or try a movement break like a 2-minute game of Simon Says.

After longer tasks, allow 15-30 minutes of outdoor play time. When your child has worked for a longer time, breaks can be longer too. In addition to play time, you will want to schedule time for snacks. Some snacks will be eaten during break time while others will be a finger food snack to eat while working.

Keeping in mind time for work, play, and nutritious snacks throughout the day, create a visual schedule for your child using pictures and/or words. Depending on your child’s ability, this can be broad or specific. You can make it elaborate and colorful or just write a list. You can include the actual time of day or just the order of events. Be creative. An example of a schedule might be:

  • Wake up, get dressed
  • Breakfast
  • School session with Ms. Smith
  • Break and snack
  • Work on assignment with Mom
  • Lunch
  • Play outside (P.E time)
  • School session with Ms. Jones
  • Break and snack
  • Finish incomplete work (on own or with help)
  • End of school day

Doing School at Home

While schools are generally in session for 6 or more hours per day, it’s important to realize that your child is not engaged in academic tasks for 6 hours straight. During distance learning, your child may spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 or 4 hours per day actually engaged in learning activities.

Learning will occur both on screen and off screen. Some assignments will be completed during video-conferencing sessions with the teacher. Other assignments will be completed independently and may involve the use of a computer. Some assignments may be printed on paper for your child to complete without the computer. No matter what approach is being used, you’ll need to be nearby to assist as needed.

Using Technology

If access to an appropriate device is a challenge for you, ask your child’s teacher if the school can provide a laptop or a tablet to borrow.

If access to high speed internet is an issue, check out this resource from the California Department of Education (CDE) for free and low cost access to the internet: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/availableinternetplans.asp

Once your child has access to the internet, with adult supervision, help your child use technology to access learning.

Basic Strategies for Success

Some kids may be able to attend to a 1-hour video-conference session without much assistance while others may need repeated redirection to look at the computer screen every couple of minutes. Likewise, when working on independent assignments, some kids can stay on task without much help, while others will need to be redirected more frequently.

Similarly, some kids can easily move from online instruction to independent learning to break time and back to independent learning without much of a challenge. Others will struggle. Be aware of your child’s needs and intervene as necessary.

No matter what your specific challenges with distance learning may be, there are simple strategies you can follow to help you better manage your child’s experience.

Priming – Advance Notice

Example: “In 5 minutes play time is over and we are going back into the house for learning…in 3 minutes play time will be over and it will be learning time…1 more minute of play time and then it is learning time.”

Choices

Example: “What do you want to use for your work? The red crayon or the blue crayon.”

First / Then

Example: “First read one page and then you can color.”

Task Analysis – Individual Steps for Larger Tasks

Example: To practice spelling words: 1) read the word out loud, 2) trace the word 3 times saying the names of the letters, 3) write the word 3 times, 4) turn the paper over and say the names of the letters, 5) write the word on his or her own.

Task Reduction

Example: Require completing just the odd numbered math problems.

Reinforcement

Example: Provide praise after each math problem is solved and then provide a break after the entire page is completed.

Additional Resources

In addition to joining your child’s teacher for online sessions, there are many learning websites that may support your child’s needs. City and county libraries have online access to a multitude of educational resources. Each school district has its own website and has recommendations for parents, teachers, and students. You may access any school district website; it does not need to be your own district.

Check out the California Department of Education (CDE) website https://www.cde.ca.gov/ as they also have links to numerous resources. Both school districts and the CDE have information available in multiple languages.

Final Thoughts

Remember that distance learning is new for everyone . . . teachers, parents, and kids . . . so have patience and give our teachers, our kids, and yourself a break. We are all doing the best we can in an incredibly challenging situation. We’ll be doing distance learning at least until the end of this school year. So, take a deep breath, keep calm and carry on.

If you are struggling with distance learning, requesting help from a qualified behavioral therapy services provider may be the answer. Behavioral therapy based on the science of applied behavior analysis (ABA) is available in-home and via telehealth. Parent training and coaching is also available. Traditional or Specialized respite services might also be a solution to give you an extra set of hands at home to provide a temporary break or assistance when needed.

To learn more about services that might benefit you and your child, request a consultation to arrange for a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.

About the Author

Susan has worked with children for more than 40 years, first as a preschool teacher, an elementary school teacher, and then an assistant principal at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  After retiring from LAUSD, Susan began her work in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis with California Psychcare. She’s a true Angelino – born and raised in the San Fernando Valley.

Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in child development from California State University, San Luis Obispo and her Master’s in Education from California State University, Northridge. After joining California Psychcare in 2006, she was influenced by its founder, Dr. Ali Sadeghi, and completed her BCBA credential in 2011.   In her current role as Director of Clinical Services – School District Department, Susan oversees the behavior intervention services provided to special education students in LAUSD.

Susan has two grown children and two young grandchildren. She enjoys county dancing and collecting giraffes.

Susan Rischall Heytow, M.Ed., BCBA

Director of Clinical Services – School District Department
California Psychcare

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Telehealth Evolution: Continuing ABA-Based Therapy During the COVID-19 Crisis

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Telehealth Evolution: Continuing ABA-Based Therapy During the COVID-19 Crisis

Edwin Tsai, MS, BCBA

Continuity of care for your child with autism or other developmental disability is essential to the success of your child’s ABA-based behavioral therapy program, and maintaining a regular therapy schedule is critical. But as we all deal with the COVID-19 public health crisis and strive to maintain physical and social distancing, continuing your child’s program can present a challenge because you may not feel comfortable allowing your child’s clinical team members into your home right now. This is understandable. Thankfully, using a telehealth-based approach may be the answer.

If your child has been receiving in-home behavioral therapy services, you may have heard of telehealth as a way for your child to receive their behavioral therapy. But you may have questions about this approach, and you may be wondering about how it’s different from traditional ABA-based therapy. The simple answer is . . . it’s not much different.

Traditional ABA-Based Therapy

With traditional ABA-based behavioral therapy, a Behavior Interventionist (BI) works 1:1 with your child in your home. The BI implements an established treatment plan, which may involve teaching your child important adaptive skills, communication skills, self-care skills and social skills.

The treatment plan is customized specifically for your child by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and your BCBA works closely with the BI and oversees all aspects of treatment. Sometimes the BI visits your home alone, and sometimes the BI visits with the BCBA who is supervising your child’s case. When the BI and BCBA visit your child together, the visit is called a supervisory visit.

Using Telehealth for Supervisory Visits

When using telehealth for a supervisory visit, your BI still visits your home and conducts your child’s session face-to-face. But instead of coming in person, the BCBA participates by providing direction from a distant site – video conferencing or teleconferencing into the session using a computer or other mobile device. This approach increases access to the BCBA, maintains treatment goals and outcomes, maintains coordination of care, and expands your child’s access to services during this challenging time.

The approach allows for a greater degree of physical and social distancing for you and your family because fewer people need to come into your home to provide services for your child. This alleviates the pressures of having too many people coming into your home, and having fewer people in the home makes many parents feel more comfortable continuing important ABA-based treatment for their child.

Using Telehealth for Direct Care

Conducting supervisory visits via telehealth can go a long way to help you maintain physical and social distancing in your home. But the BI still needs to come in to conduct sessions. For some families, continuing in-home direct services may still create discomfort. If this is the case for you and your family, receiving direct services through telehealth may be an option for you.

With this approach, the BI conducts sessions from a distant site – video conferencing in to your and your child’s computer, tablet or phone. The BCBA can also join sessions, as needed, to complete supervisory visits and ensure your child’s program is on track. With this approach, your child’s care can continue without anyone coming into your home.

Considerations Before Starting Direct Care Via Telehealth

Telehealth services are not appropriate for every child or every household. There are several considerations that need to be addressed before determining if telehealth-based services are right for you.

  1. A risk and safety assessment must be completed to identify any safety concerns that might arise during sessions. This includes determining if your child exhibits self-injurious behavior, may run away from the area where the sessions will be conducted, is inclined to throw objects or destroy property, or other similar concerns. If your child is likely to exhibit unsafe behaviors during sessions, direct telehealth-based therapy might not be the best fit. But telehealth-based parent training might be appropriate to help you better manage these behaviors.
  2. A skill assessment is necessary to determine if your child can effectively participate in direct telehealth-based sessions. The ability to attend to a tablet or computer screen, listen to and follow basic instructions (come here, look at me, sit down, etc.), respond and redirect attention to the screen if their name is called, and work on a task for more than 5 minutes are some of the skills needed for successful participation in telehealth sessions.
  3. Determining if your child’s treatment goals are appropriate for a telehealth-based approach. Goals that work well with telehealth include communication skills and social play. Other goals, such as self-care, are not as appropriate or effective via telehealth.
  4. Identifying a quiet area in your home where telehealth sessions can be conducted without any distractions. Having a designated area available is essential.
  5. Ensuring your child has a smartphone, tablet or computer that can run a teleconferencing application – like ZOOM® – without slowing down, along with an internet connection that provides little to no lag in audio and video. Access to appropriate equipment is essential.
  6. Confirming that you will be available at all times when sessions are in progress – in case there is a need to redirect the child.

How Does a Telehealth-Based Direct Care Visit Work?

Once all the considerations above have been addressed and an appropriate authorization for services is received, sessions can begin. Some elements of  telehealth-based sessions will be the same as would occur during in-person sessions, and some elements will be different.
The structure of a typical telehealth session is as follows:

  1. The BI contacts the family at the scheduled session time to discuss how the session will be carried out, present the lesson plan for the day, relate other details about the session, and address any questions family members may have. The BI will also ensure your child is in a quiet area and ready to participate in the session.
  2. The session is initiated by the BI using a videoconferencing application such as ZOOM®.
  3. The BI conducts the session much the same as they would if they were actually in your home.
    • First, the BI explains to your child what’s going to happen during the session – the same way they would in a home-based session.
    • Then, the BI kicks things off with an interactive activity that the child will enjoy. This activity might be a computer-based game of Uno or Tic-Tack-Toe. Starting with a fun activity is the same structure you’d see in a home-based session.
    • Next, the BI will move into the specific program for the day, engaging the child in a lesson that is customized to your child and his or her treatment goals. The BI continually monitors your child to ensure he or she is sustaining attention to the task. Again, this is the same structure you’d see in a home-based session. The only difference is that the BI and your child complete the lesson “virtually” rather than face-to-face.
    • After a few activities are completed, your child has an opportunity to take a break, get up, walk around, get a snack, etc. – just as they would in an in-home session. After the break, the session resumes.
  4. During the session, you or another caregiver is present to help with any physical support that is needed. This can include redirecting your child back to the screen or bringing your child back to the work place if they leave the area. You or another caregiver also helps if your child is having issues with using the computer or tablet.
  5. When the session is over, the BI speaks with you or another caregiver about the progress during session. Again, this is similar to what happens in an in-home session. After this debrief, the BI signs off.

Final Thoughts

California Psychcare has experience providing telehealth-based behavioral therapy – and the protocols, procedures and technology that are proven effective and that maintain confidentiality and privacy are in place. Our clinicians are trained and ready to deliver these services to your child immediately. We are ready, willing and able to transition current clients to a telehealth-based approach, if it is appropriate. We are also accepting new telehealth referrals from all insurance companies, health plans and regional centers.

If you think ABA-based behavioral therapy via telehealth may be beneficial as an approach to continue treatment for your child during these uncertain times, we invite you to call our TELEHEALTH HOTLINE at 818.474.1514.

About the Author

For more than 10 years, Edwin has been working with the developmentally disabled in Riverside, Los Angeles and San Diego. He has extensive experience working side-by-side with child and adult services agencies, and in the court system. He has a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and has provided ABA-based therapy to children with autism, as well as providing staff and parent trainings on ABA concepts and principles.

Edwin is a true leader, with a true passion for helping families in need. He appreciates his teammates who really care about what they do, and who care deeply for the families they serve. Edwin’s dedication to his teammates and his clients is inspiring.

In his personal time Edwin plays guitar and fire dances, which helps him unwind and expand himself creatively so he can use that energy in his work.

Edwin Tsai
Edwin Tsai, MS, BCBA

Director of Clinical Services
California Psychcare

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Traditional In-Home Respite

Traditional in-home respite is appropriate for individuals of all ages and is available in situations when the parent or primary caregiver has a need for temporary relief or assistance with caregiver responsibilities.

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Specialized Personal Assistance

Specialized Personal Assistance is an enhanced service for individuals who have more challenging behaviors – like physical or verbal aggression, property destruction, self-injury, self-stimulation, or elopement – and therefore need more support than traditional in-home respite can provide. The service is appropriate for individuals of any age.

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How to Make Staying Home Fun for Families with Kids with Autism

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How to Make Staying Home Fun for Families with Kids with Autism

Ashley Farag, M Ed, BCBA

It’s been two weeks since Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to “stay at home” as a strategy to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

For some parents and children with autism or other developmental disabilities, being at home may still feel like a vacation or a needed break. For others, “cabin fever” may be starting to set in as you look at your kids home from school every day and start to wonder – or even panic – about how to occupy the time, keep the kids entertained, and even how to make the most out of the time at home.

Fun is possible – and even necessary – in stressful times like these. It just takes some creativity and thinking ahead. In the situation we’re facing, with multiple family members likely at home, developing a list of various activities that include the entire family is a great first step to coming up with ideas for fun that can keep everyone occupied.

If you come at this with a positive attitude, you’ll soon realize that our circumstance has created an opportunity for us all to live more in the moment and be present with each other. Maybe this means more communication with family members, more time helping kiddos work on their skills, more time reading, or just more time hanging out with each other. For example, you may be having more meals together than during “normal” times when people’s schedules can be so different and challenging to align. Mealtime in and of itself can be a fun activity, such as trying to figure out how to make dinner with what’s in the house and involving the family in the decision.

Here are 10 more ideas for activities that can make being home fun for the whole family. Every child on the spectrum and every sibling is different, so you’ll want to adapt these ideas to work for your situation. Based on the functional level of your kids, you can make these activities simpler or more challenging … it’s up to you.

  1. Given how important it is right now to comply with proper health and hygiene practices to help minimize the spread of the coronavirus, one of the first things you could do is invent a game to help kids understand and adopt the right habits. This can include practices such as handwashing and “social distancing.” Parents can use fun reinforcement and rewards to encourage the desired behaviors. For example, if the children follow instructions to wash their hands for the recommended amount of time throughout the day, they could be rewarded with the opportunity to choose what the family is going to have for dinner that night. The same with social distancing. Make it a game to learn to stay six feet apart. Use ribbon or tape or string to illustrate how far apart six feet is and teach the kids to appreciate the distance and stand back.
  2. Increase use of Facetime or other telephone or online communications so kids can stay in touch with friends and relatives they may not otherwise see as often now. For example, you might schedule a Facetime call with grandma every afternoon at 4:00 PM, which allows you to check on her and gives the kids an opportunity to stay connected. This can also help establish a new “normal” routine for the kids.
  3. Encourage healthy living by engaging in regular movement activities at home or outside, as weather permits, including walks, hikes, going to the park, building a fort, planning an obstacle course or conducting a scavenger hunt. There are so many things to do inside and out based on your type of housing, the play spaces available, and your proximity to parks and other outdoor amenities. Just be sure to maintain a safe “social distance” with others who may also be out taking a walk in the park.
  4. Schedule daily “story time” with the kids, including reading aloud to each other. This also can become part of the new routine. You may even join a family member or friend to make it a group “book club” via an online video conference platform where everyone takes turns choosing and reading books to each other. Reminder: audio books are available for loan through library websites even if the library is closed.
  5. Invent new games, such as a board game or card game based on a book, movie or show that the children or whole family really like.
  6. Change the rules of an old game to make it different and new and to challenge both the adults and the kids to practice flexibility; you are likely to try some new rules that make the game even more silly and fun.
  7. Draw portraits of each other or draw or paint anything else of interest to the children or family. Hang up the art and have your own family art show.
  8. Take a free “virtual” museum tour online to see the historical or natural history items, paintings, sculpture or crafts on display at an actual museum. Many museums around the world show highlights of their collections online. The Smithsonian is just one example of an excellent collection of exhibits you can view online.
  9. Create a donation pile of toys, clothes and books that have been outgrown and are no longer needed, and research charities that accept donations. This activity might be part of a planned “spring cleaning” of the house, so it’s a way to be productive as well as teach the kids sorting and categorization of items, and to make decisions about what to keep versus give up and the importance of sharing with others less fortunate.
  10. Hold your own “Family Olympics,” which can be a fun and sneaky way to get the kids to do chores. Think “Gold Medal Bed Maker” or “Silver Medal Vacuumer.” You could do this on a daily or weekly basis and keep score of points on a board in the kitchen or garage, with prizes to the “winners.” It also makes mundane but necessary tasks fun and engaging.

Everyone can participate in these activities. They can be tailored to various skill levels and accommodate participation by siblings who are not on the spectrum. As important, the activities can become part of new, normal routines that make coping with the changes easier.

Remember, everyone needs a break sometime, and if you need an extra set of hands to provide care giving for your child with autism or other developmental disabilities while you run out for groceries, prescription medications, or just take time to go take a walk by yourself, our Traditional In-Home Respite services and Specialized Personal Assistance services are available.

About the Author

Ashley Farag strives to make the “impossible” possible every day. She’s dedicated to providing excellent services for the best outcomes, and helping people make meaningful progress towards achieving their goals and improving their quality of life.

Ashley earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology with an emphasis in Psychobiology from California Lutheran University in 2008. She worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as an undergrad in Southern California and the Middle East and considers working with individuals with autism and developmental disabilities a privilege. In 2011, Ashley earned her master’s degree in education with an emphasis in ABA from Arizona State University. Her areas of interest are collaboration and intervention in the school setting, treatment of sleep disturbance, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

Ashley is turning her longtime hobby of candle-making into an opportunity for individuals with special needs to gain vocational training and employment. She also enjoys exploring beautiful Southern California with her dogs Dexter and Rudy.

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Ashley Farag, M Ed, BCBA

Director of Clinical Services
California Psychcare

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Traditional In-Home Respite

Traditional in-home respite is appropriate for individuals of all ages and is available in situations when the parent or primary caregiver has a need for temporary relief or assistance with caregiver responsibilities.

personal assitsance services icon
Specialized Personal Assistance

Specialized Personal Assistance is an enhanced service for individuals who have more challenging behaviors – like physical or verbal aggression, property destruction, self-injury, self-stimulation, or elopement – and therefore need more support than traditional in-home respite can provide. The service is appropriate for individuals of any age.

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How to Talk to Your Child with Autism About the Coronavirus

How to Talk to Your Child with Autism About the Coronavirus 599 399 bh360

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How to Talk to Your Child with Autism About the Coronavirus

Niki Mostadim, PsyD

If you feel like the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has hit hard and unexpectedly, you’re not alone. Everyone is having to adjust quickly to a new “unnormal normal” life that is aligned with changing and evolving recommendations and restrictions. This is especially true with the “stay at home” order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom late last week.

For parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, talking to kids can be a challenge. With schools closed and so many activities cancelled, helping children adjust to new routines can also be difficult. But with a little forethought about how you want to handle the situation, it can be done.

So how do you talk to your child about the coronavirus? Consider these tips:

  • Before talking to a child about the virus, determine what the child knows and understands already about the situation. Do they know there is a public health crisis going on? Do they understand why they are home from school? Are they bothered by the routine change or not really?
  • If they don’t seem to notice or care too much, they probably don’t need to know as much information, at least not right away. On the other hand, if they are aware of what’s happening and seem upset or afraid, more information should probably be communicated. Continually monitor your child’s awareness level because awareness may change as the days go by and kids may seek more reassurance and information from parents over time. If this is the case, be sensitive to your child’s needs and provide them with the reassurance and information they need.
  • It’s a parenting decision to determine how much information to share. It’s important to be honest and truthful, but kids should not be panicked unnecessarily. Only the parent or other caregiver has some understanding of how the child reacts to trauma, whether it’s a natural disaster or death in the family, and thus how they are likely to react to information about the new virus.
  • Either way, be calm when talking to your child. If you’re calm, they’ll take that as a sign that they should be calm, too, and that “We are the boss of the virus, not the other way around!” This also will reassure the child that you are there for them and are doing everything you can to ensure their health and safety. Another way to reduce stress in the house is to limit exposure to the news, which can heighten anxiety.
  • If you choose to share more information, you could describe the virus as a really bad and highly contagious flu. While we know this isn’t exactly the case, it’s a good analogy to help your child understand what is happening. They’ve probably heard of the flu and may have even had the flu, and they may understand that some people die from flu every year while most do not.
  • Regardless of what you choose to disclose, make the child aware of the personal health and hygiene habits that are important to practice now to keep the virus from spreading. This includes washing their hands really well and keeping a “social distance” of about six feet from other people – be it in the home or out in the community.
  • If the child is struggling to adjust to a change in their routine, help them visualize a new routine. One way is to draw a calendar (a schedule) to show them what the day will look like now, so the child can understand and begin to embrace the new routine. That said, it’s wise to maintain as many elements of the “old” routine as possible, perhaps by waking up, having breakfast and going to bed at the same times now as before – which also will make it easier to adjust back to the old routine when school and other activities of daily living resume. The goal is to make the new routine seem normal – no matter how it may have changed – so the child can adjust with as little stress as possible.

Part of maintaining your child’s routine is continuing their ABA-based behavioral treatment program. We know that continuity of care is essential to the success of your child’s therapy, and your child’s program is considered to be an essential and necessary healthcare service.

Many service providers are still offering these important services. Continuing with your child’s sessions and taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise of your skilled ABA-focused service providers may even help your child adjust to all the changes they are experiencing. If you aren’t comfortable continuing sessions in your own home, some service providers are expanding access to services through telehealth.

If you would like to learn more about how our skilled professionals can continue to help you through these uncertain times – including whether telehealth-based sessions could be an option for you – please call our Telehealth Hotline at 818.474.1514 or Request a Consultation to request a complimentary 30-minute phone conversation to discuss your specific situation.

About the Author

Dr. Mostadim earned her doctoral degree in applied clinical psychology, and her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has an extensive background in psychodiagnostics testing and has been working with children and adults with autism for over 10 years. To Dr. Mostadim, there’s nothing more important than being able to work with families and children with special needs because it allows her to grow tremendously in all aspects of her life.

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Dr. Niki Mostadim, PsyD

Regional Director of Clinical Services
California Psychcare

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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) / Behavioral Therapy – Home Based

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, refers to a variety of treatment options that are based on the principles of behavior analysis. ABA uses scientifically-based techniques for understanding and changing behavior, and is the most widely accepted approach to assess and intervene with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental challenges or delays. This type of therapy is conducted one-on-one, is customized for each person, and is appropriate for individuals of all ages.