Free Q & A on Back to School Tips with Dr. Peter Faustino, moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira

By the end of the summer, most of us parents are happy to see summer end knowing our ASD children will have routine and a schedule back in their lives (and so will we).  But  we dread the stress related to the start of a new school year.  There are ways to lessen the stress and help prepare both your child and the teacher for a new and hopefully successful new school year.

Autism College hopes to help this year by offering you a two hour free Q & A with Visiting Professor, Dr. Peter Faustino, school psychologist, moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira. Both Dr. Faustino and Chantal have written on the topic and are looking forward to answering your questions and giving you tips to prepare your child, yourself, and the teacher for the start of a successful new school year! Whether your child is fully included or in a special day class there are ways to prepare and alleviate some of the stress of the transition from summer to school, especially when there are teachers new to your child or teenager.

Join Dr. Faustino and Chantal on Monday, August 22, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:00pm PST on the topic : Tips for Reducing the  Back to School Stress for Children with Autism, Parents and Educators.

Dr. Peter Faustino has been working as a school psychologist for more than 12 years.  He is currently the President of the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP).  NYASP – the state affiliate of NASP ( – serves children, their families, and the school community by promoting psychological well-being, excellence in education, and sensitivity to diversity through best practices in school psychology.  Dr. Faustino joined the Bedford Central School District in 2003 to work at the Fox Lane Middle School. Dr. Faustino also maintains a private practice with the Developmental Assessment and Intervention Center (DAIC) in Bedford Hills, NY.  He presents frequently at national conferences, schools, and parent organizations.

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Tips on helping your child and teen with autism make friends

On an earlier post, I discussed why it is hard for children and teens to make friends.  Relationships  are important, but difficult for many on the spectrum. With help they can learn some social skills that will allow a connection with others to be made on which to form a friendship. Here are some autism parenting tips on how to help them in this area:

  • Connect with the child by playing with what he wants to play with, and in the way he is playing with it.
  • Teach him turn taking skills using the toys or objects he is interested in, and then try some simple games.
  • If the lack of eye contact is getting in the way, suggest that the person on the spectrum focus on the ear of the person they are   conversing with.  To the conversation partner, it will look like they are making eye contact.
  • Teach social skills to the level possible. Teach about body language and  social cues. Think of how foreigners in a strange land don’t understand the local customs and have to  learn them: it is the same for a person with Asperger’s and neurotypical body language and social cues.
  • Teach wherever possible beginning and ending conversations and what kind of topics to bring up. Practicing them in a small group with peer tutors or buddies is a great way to get used to using them.
  • Find special interest groups where they can discuss the topic they are passionate about at length.  For example, if they are into Legos, trains,  or Star Trek, find a local club that is based on that interest. Then limit the conversation on that topic to  specifically scheduled times and to the club, by reminding them they can talk about it then.

For more information and autism parenting tips on teens and relationships, read  my book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, or sign up for my course on Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum.

Tips on getting your child with autism the right education

As described in a earlier post,  your child has the right to a free and appropriate education under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA) and you must learn to advocate for your child.  Following are some tips in regards to ensuring that your child gets the educational help he or she needs:

  • Know what your child’s educational needs are.
  • Learn about the educational strategies that work the best for students that resemble yours on the autism spectrum.
  • Learn what you can about your local school district. School districts vary depending upon the administrators in charge and how they are funded. What do parents and professionals  in your area have to say about the different  districts?
  • In some geographical areas there are knowledgeable educational consultants who can help. Try to find one experienced  with the level of autism your child has by asking knowledgeable parents in your area if they have used one.
  • Get to know the different school options in your area. What  do parents and professionals  have to say about the different classes and school sites?
  • Learn about IDEA and “No Child Left Behind” and what the parent’s duties as well as what the school’s duties are in terms of the education of children.
  • Visit different types of classrooms and different school before making a decision regarding your child’s educational program.
  • Develop and maintain good relationships with school staff, educators and other professionals there to help your child, as well as in the community.
  • Keep good records of any phone calls, meetings, conversations about your child.
  • Keep good records of all assessments and IEP’s.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions, and do not feel intimidated by the professionals. Remember you are the expert on your child.
  • Monitor your child’s progress and educational program.
  • Keep focused on your goal – a free and appropriate education for your child.

Remember, an informed parent is the best advocate for your child! Read more in my book, Autism Spectrum Disorders. Tips on how to communicate and negotiate more effectively with your school will be given in the course Empowerment Strategies for the ASD Parent.

Travel Tips for Families with an Individual on the Autism Spectrum

by Chantal Sicile-Kira

Transitions are usually difficult for many on the spectrum, and traveling is really a series of transitions. Preparing the person – child, teenager or adult – as much as possible will make any trip a more enjoyable experience for all involved. Some advance planning of specific steps of the trip can be made ahead of time. Below are tips for both preparing the person (1), and preparing the environment for a better travel experience (2).

1. Preparing the Person

Leaving the security of home for a new place can be off putting for individuals with autism. How you prepare the person on the spectrum depends on his or her age and ability level. Here are some tips:

  • Think of the individual’s daily routine and the items he or she likes or needs and bring them along to make him feel more at home. Bring whatever foods and drinks will keep him happy on the trip, especially if there are dietary restrictions.
  • Buy some small, inexpensive toys or books that he or she can play with during the journey and that if you lose it will not be the end of the world. If he only plays with one favorite item, try to find a duplicate and see if you can “break it in” before the trip.
  • Do not wash any items (including plush toys) before the trip as the individual may feel comfort in the “home” smell of his cherished item.
  • Put up a monthly calendar with the departure date clearly marked, and have the person check off every day until departure. Bring the calendar with you and mark off number of days in one place or on the trip, always having the return date indicated.
  • Put together a picture and word “travel book” of what means of transport you are going to be using to, who you are going to see, where you will sleep, and what you will do or see at your destination. Go over this with the person, like you would a storybook as often as you like in preparation for the trip. Using a three-ring binder is best, as you can add extra pages or insert the calendar mentioned above for use on the trip.
  • Put together a picture or word schedule of the actual journey to take with you on your trip. Add extra pages to the travel book. Add Velcro and attach pictures or words in order of the travel sequence. For example, a picture to represent the car ride to the airport, going through security, getting on the airplane, etc. For car trips, pictures representing different stops on the trip and number of miles to be driven can be used. Add an empty envelope to add the “done” pictures when you have finished one step of the journey.
  • Taking a short trip before attempting long voyages, if possible, is recommended. This will help the person get used to traveling and give you the opportunity to see plan ahead for possible areas of difficulty. Also, if you use the travel book system, it will help the person make a connection between the travel book and any impending travel in the future.
  • Travel environments such as airports and train stations are areas that involve lots of waiting. Teaching the individual the “waiting” skill before traveling (if he or she does not already have it) will make your life and theirs much easier. Make or find a picture or icon that will represent “waiting” to your child, such as a line drawing of a “stick” person sitting in a chair, with the face of a clock next to it. Write “waiting” clearly on the card. Glue to cardboard, laminate it and place a piece of Velcro somewhere on it. Next, make sure you have picture of whatever items your child usually requests or wants immediately (favorite food, toy, ride in the car) backed with Velcro. The next time he or she requests the item, place the corresponding item on the Velcro strip on the Waiting board and say “We’re Waiting” and set a timer for how long you think the person can wait – for some this will be 10 seconds, for others a few minutes. When the timer goes off, immediately give the requested item, and say, “Thank you for waiting.” Do this, lengthening the amount of time the person needs to wait. Eventually, he or she will get the concept.

2. Preparing the Environment

Some preparations can be made ahead of time for the different environments and means of transport you will be using. Most people and companies in the field of tourism are willing to help to ensure a positive environment for all their customers and guests. Here are some tips:

  • When staying in a hotel, it is a good idea to call ahead and ask for a quiet room. You may wish to explain about the person’s behavior if there is a likelihood of him or her exhibiting them in the public part of the hotel. Same with a friend or relative’s home. It can be a bit disconcerting for everyone concerned if your child or adolescent takes his clothes off and races through your friend’s home stark naked.
  • If you are traveling by plane, call the airlines as far in advance as you can, and tell them you will be traveling with someone who has special needs. Some airlines have “special assistance coordinators.” You may wish to explain about the person’s needs and some of the behaviors that may affect other travelers, such as rocking in their seat. If the person is a rocker, asking for bulkhead seats or the last row of seats on the plane will limit the number of fellow travelers that are impacted by the rocking. If you need assistance getting the person and luggage to the gate or to change planes during the trip, call ahead and reserve ‘wheelchair assistance.’ Even if the person does not need a wheelchair, this guarantees that someone will be waiting for you and available to assist you. (This was suggested to me by a special assistance coordinator when I told her that the help I had requested had not been provided on a recent trip). When requesting the wheelchair, you may need to explain about the person’s autism. For example, I have explained in the past that my son with autism had difficulty moving forward in a purposeful manner and we needed help to get to the gate to catch a connecting flight.
  • Persons with autism should always carry identification. Make sure he or she has an id tag attached to him or him somewhere, with a current phone number written on it. You can order medical bracelets, necklaces and tags to attach to shoe laces. Additionally, if the person can carry it in his or her pocket, make an ID card with a current photo, date and phone numbers. Be sure to put any information that is important to know such as allergies and medications, and any special information (i.e. non-verbal).
  • Adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a U.S. federal or state-issued photo ID that contains the following: name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature in order to be allowed to go through the checkpoint and onto their flight. Acceptable identification includes: Drivers Licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent) that meets REAL ID benchmarks (at time of writing, all states are currently in compliance).

Using many of the tips listed above has made traveling much easier for our family. Now, we look forward to any travel opportunity as we all enjoy the experience. A little planning goes a long way!