Our Screen-Refer-Treat (SRT) Study was recently highlighted by NIMH Director Dr. Joshua Gordon in his ‘Director’s Messages.’ His message on Wednesday focused on the need to address the significant health disparities that exist for traditionally underrepresented populations in accessing mental health services. The SRT study has aimed to improve access to early detection and treatment for ASD in rural communities. One specific objective has been to reach Hispanic families, as evidence suggests that they are under-identified and experience longer delays in accessing ASD-specialized services relative to other racial/ethnic groups.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has just released an updated set of practice guidelines for treating children with autism. These guidelines recommend that pediatricians respond promptly to family or clinical concerns about autism by referring children to community services or specialized therapists as soon as signs become apparent. This recommendation is based on consideration of the long waiting lists for diagnostic evaluations, the importance of specialized early intervention, and the common co-occurrence of other developmental issues that can be addressed while waiting for a diagnostic evaluation.
Holiday travel, especially flying, can be a challenging experience for children with autism spectrum disorder. Advance preparation can often make a significant difference in the experience of your child as well as the rest of the family. Here are some steps you can take to prepare in advance:
- Provide the airline with information about your child, including a document stating his or her diagnosis, allergies or medications, as well as potential challenges the child may face during the trip.
- Bring some of your child’s favorite items with you, and keep them handy. These items – which can include electronics, favorite books, or toys – can keep your child entertained during travel. Some children may also enjoy opening “surprise packages” of small toys that you purchase ahead of time.
- Be sure to bring some of your child’s preferred snacks (or special travel treats!) from home. In addition to providing some distraction during long waits or travel times, they can ensure that hunger doesn’t negatively affect your child’s mood.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to a Security Officer in advance about any special needs or challenges your child might have in navigating the airline screening process.
- Have your child wear some form of identification that is readily visible, such as a bracelet, badge, hat, or shoelace tag.
- Take advantage of the resource links below regarding travel and autism.
While the upcoming holiday season brings excitement and anticipation to many, families with children on the autism spectrum understand the challenges that may occur with celebrating festivities. As you plan your calendar for the next few months, consider some of the events below, which are geared towards children with sensory sensitivities and offer modified levels of light, noise, and number of visitors.
- Sensory-Friendly Santa welcomes people of all ages and abilities. Autism Speaks is collaborating with Cherry Hill Programs this holiday season to provide sensory-friendly Santa Experiences now in more destinations. Space is limited, so be sure to RSVP.
- Springfree Trampoline in Issaquah is also hosting Sensory Sensitive Santa. It is a free family event where families can enjoy a relaxing and calm environment to have complimentary photos taken with Santa. Call (425) 654-1306 for more information.
- Centerstage Theater in Federal Way is presenting a Sensory Friendly Matinee of Robin Hood – a brand new holiday pantomime. Click here to purchase tickets.
- Seattle Theatre Group, Disney Theatrical Group, TDF and community partners offer sensory-friendly performances with modifications such as lower sound, designated quiet and activity areas within the theatre, guidance and sensory supports (fidgets, earplugs, noise-cancelling ear muffs), and specialized therapists assigned to support families. Upcoming performances include A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frozen and 22nd Annual DANCE.
In addition to holiday sensory friendly events, there are several other options available year-round:
- Seattle Children’s Theater offers a series of Sensory Friendly Performances with special modifications for each performance. For a list of upcoming performances and to purchase tickets, click here.
- In partnership with the Autism Society, AMC has a Sensory Friendly Films program, showing family-friendly movies the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Click here to see showings and purchase tickets.
- Pacific Science Center offers Exploration for All on one Saturday each month. Admission is free for families with a member who has ASD. The center has specially trained staff along with maps of exhibit spaces rated for noise level, visual stimulation, and strong odors.
- KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue offers Low Sensory Evenings so children can explore freely without distractions. KidsQuest turns down the noise and lights, limits attendance and offers low-sensory bags for checkout during any visit. These bags include headphones, fidget toys, sunglasses, and “Low Sensory Storybooks” that introduce the child to the museum.
While the Thanksgiving holiday can be a time of joy for many, it can also pose challenges for children with autism who experience sensory sensitivities and/or difficulty adapting to changes in their routine and new social situations. Autism Speaks has shared some helpful tips for addressing some of these challenges and successfully navigating the Thanksgiving holiday. Some tips include using an illustrated teaching story to show children what changes to expect in their routines and also creating a quiet space where they can retreat to when waiting for dinner to begin. Click here to read the full article!
In addition, check out the READi Lab’s list of tips for the holiday season here! We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!
We are deeply grateful to the parents who participated in our ImPACT intervention study, and are happy to share this initial report of our findings with our READi Lab friends!
In a nutshell, parents’ use of ImPACT strategies with infant siblings of children with ASD was associated with infants’ increased motor imitation, which in turn led to improved language/communication skills. We are excited about these findings, and look forward to sharing additional results as they become available.
Dr. Edmunds is a former graduate student of Dr. Stone’s and a current postdoctoral fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital. She was invited to speak at our annual ASD PEDS meeting in Bethesda, as an early-stage researcher who contributed to our NIMH-funded ‘Screen-Refer-Treat’ research grant. Dr. Edmunds described some of her “lessons learned” and pitched some ideas for future work in the area of implementation science. Way to go, Sarah!
A new study from the READi Lab was published this week in the journal, Autism Research! Led by graduate student Trent DesChamps, the study examined levels of parenting-related stress among parents of young children who expressed ASD concerns but had not received a formal evaluation. Trent and the team found that parents of children with ASD concerns experience higher amounts of parenting stress on average compared to parents of children with other types of developmental concerns and parents of children with no developmental concerns. These findings suggest that families of children with ASD concerns experience unique stressors, even compared to parents with other types of developmental concerns, and highlight the need to better support them and their children during the period of time prior to the diagnostic evaluation. To check out the article, click here!
Dr. Stone was asked to comment on a new study published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ that reported a high rate of ‘false positive’ screening results on the M-CHAT/F. In her comments, which appeared in ‘Healthline,’ she describes the importance of conducting universal ASD screening, and of conceptualizing screening as one part of a process that also incorporates behavioral observations, concerns of parents and primary care providers, and shared decision-making regarding next steps. To read the full article, click here!
The READi Lab would like to extend a big welcome to our two new graduate students in the Child Clinical Psychology program at UW, Shana Attar (left) and Hannah Neiderman (right)!
Shana received her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut and her master’s degree from Harvard University. She became interested in ASD research while working as a phenotyper in an Autism lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. After this, she further cultivated her interest in ASD through involvement in other research studies, including an early detection study at Total Child Health in Baltimore and more recently, an early intervention study at Drexel University in Philadelphia with Dr. Diana Robins and Dr. Giacomo Vivanti. Shana is interested in researching strategies that improve early detection rates and early intervention utilization in community settings.
Hannah completed her undergraduate degree at UCLA, where she was involved in various research labs and clinical fieldwork focused on developmental psychopathology, which sparked her interest in ASD. Since then, she has further explored her interest in ASD as a research fellow at the Yale Child Study Center under Dr. Katarzyna Chawarska, where she worked on multiple studies including the Autism Center of Excellence grant focused on early indicators of ASD as well as a multimedia ASD screener study within the community. Hannah’s research interests include early intervention for children with ASD and accessibility to diagnostic and intervention services for families in the community.
Last week, Sabine Scott joined the READi Lab to work on the Pathways study and the new Sprout study! Born and raised in Southern California, she graduated from Pomona College with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in May 2019. Previously, she conducted research involving language acquisition and problem-behavior reduction, worked as a behavioral interventionist, and worked at a day camp for children and young adults with disabilities. Sabine hopes to continue working with children with ASD and their families, and to eventually pursue a PhD in clinical psychology. We are very excited to welcome her to our team!
Children on the autism spectrum each have their own personality and ability to react in social situations, which is why Autism Speaks has collaborated with the University of Washington READi Lab and Microsoft office to create Personalized Teaching Story templates. These templates can be customized with pictures and personalized language to teach children on the spectrum what to expect in various social situations. Here are the personalized story templates currently available:
- When a Bad Person Hurts Other People
- Going to a Restaurant
- Going to the Store
- Handling Bullying
- Play Date
- Potty Training
- Taking Turns
If you would like to know more about the Personalized Teaching Story templates or want learn how to develop your own template, please click here!
Ethan Shallcross, a teenager software developer who has a form of ASD, developed Aumi to help people manage their anxiety, mental health, and physical health. There are four main functions: mood tracking for self-management, energy accounting to avoid burnout, a planner, and profiles that enable users who struggle with communication to share their story with others. The app was developed for people with ASD, and its high customizability makes it adaptable to the user’s needs so it is not overwhelming to use. Shallcross is continually adding new features to better help people in the ASD community. If you want to learn more about the app, click here!
We are very excited to announce the receipt of a new 4-year Clinical Trial Award from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). This new grant, currently called the Sprout Study, will enable us to expand our work with the Part C Early Intervention System to promote the use of evidence-based screening and intervention for children under 3 years old in Western Washington. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Wendy Stone, and the Co-Investigators are Drs. Lisa Ibanez, Jill Locke, and Kevin King. Ms. Kisna Prado will serve as the Research Coordinator for this study. This new grant will complement our other ongoing grant awards from NIMH and HRSA, which share the goals of expediting access to early ASD screening and specialized intervention when ASD is suspected. And in case you’re wondering, the DoD Autism Research Program is one of their Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.
School psychologist Dr. Peter Faustino shares six tips to help families with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) talk about tragedy. These tips not only offer families power and strength to encourage their children to cope with frightening and tragic events, but also allow families to establish a sense of security for their children. Examples of some tips are:
- Starting the conversation by asking your child what he or she already knows about the incident
- Using the communication style and level that works best for your child
- Recognizing that individual children process information differently and over a different time course
- Connecting with others to develop support networks
- Watching for behavioral changes in your child
- Focusing on positive aspects of the incident, to the extent possible
To learn more about the six tips, click here!
Doug Hebert, an art teacher and comic book artist, is inspiring and empowering teens with autism through his new comic book superhero, “Focus!” Hebert highlights autism as the hero’s super power, rather than a shortcoming or disability. Also, in order to inspire and mentor young artists with autism to fulfill their creative potential, Hebert encourages them to create the covers and panels of his comic books. To learn more about the comic book “Focus,” click here!
This week the READi Lab said a bittersweet good-bye to Katie Coddington, who will be pursuing her Masters in Occupational Therapy here at UW in the fall! Katie has been an integral part of the READi Lab team over the past three years. During her time in the lab, she played an essential role in coordinating the ImPACT study, training staff to perform play-based assessments with families in our studies, and mentoring undergraduate research assistants. We will miss her kindness and passion for working with children with developmental delays, but wish her all the best in this next step in her career. Thank you for everything, Katie!
Last week, Wendy represented the READi Lab and the Pathways project at the Autism Cares Meeting in Washington D.C. She was in good company, with colleagues from the UW LEND program, Seattle Children’s Autism Center, and the WA Department of Health. And yes, it was during their 90-degree heat wave. Wendy presented a summary of the results of the focus groups conducted with EI providers regarding their work with families when ASD is suspected.
As families prepare for their summer vacations, a growing number of special attractions, theme parks, and hotels are preparing and receiving training to provide sensory-friendly and inclusive services to all types of families, including those with children with autism. Among the destinations doing so are Sea World Orlando, Aquatica Orlando, and Discovery Cove. In an effort to provide a less sensory stimulating play experience for children with autism, each park has created a quiet room with neutral décor, minimal noise, lighting on dimmer switches and interactive toys where families can take a time out. Sensory guides have been created for each park that rate the attractions on a scale from one to ten based on the five primary senses – touch, taste, sound, smell and sight. They are available online and corresponding signs have been posted in each park!
The website Autism Travel provides a list of the certified destinations, including resorts and malls that accommodate families with children with autism. To learn more about the inclusive opportunities, click here!