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The Value of Using Autism Therapy in Toronto for Support with an Autism Diagnosis

Read Time: 5 minutes

Finding out that your child has autism is probably one of the most difficult things in the world for a parent. You might go through a period of denial, believing that there has been a mistake. Then you might have a period of grief and loss, thinking about the way things would have been. You might cry about the loss of  your “healthy” child, feeling all sorts of negative emotions. Using the resources available from autism therapy in Toronto can help you right from diagnosis.

Accepting your autistic child as he/she is can be a liberating experience. The moment you stop fighting the diagnosis of autism, you will be in a better place to support your child’s needs. By embracing his/her uniqueness, you will be better able to make decisions and pursue the strategies and supports that your child requires.  

Mom hugging autistic son after discovering autism therapy in Toronto.

Embracing the atypical 

Do you love your child less because he/she is on the autism spectrum? The answer is clearly no. But parents are human beings nonetheless and they tend to turn into saviors, wanting for their autistic children to be “typical”. 

In truth, your child needs to be loved, first and foremost. You have to embrace the atypical and be accepting of who he/she is. Remember that you are your child’s greatest advocate. Acceptance is a gradual process and one that will help you fight for your child. 

Why is denial the first response?

In a beautifully written piece for The Autism Society, Dr. Robert Naseef says: “Acceptance is not about giving up or resignation, but rather learning to live with something that is hard to face.”

You received the diagnosis, but, deep down, you likely already knew something was not right. There are few parents who can accept this diagnosis and think about solutions on the spot. Most parents automatically go to denial as a first response – this is a defence mechanism, one that we have selected to keep pain at a distance. 

Even if your child has been confirmed to be on the autism spectrum, he/she is still your child. And you should try and see the diagnosis as the start of a journey, the one toward helping your little one achieve his/her maximum potential. Accessing autism therapy in Toronto is one way to help them.

Instead of fighting the diagnosis, it is best to accept it and learn how to live with it. Let go of the things you imagined and celebrate your child, and his/her abilities. The diagnosis will only help you cater more effectively to his/her needs and provide the needed support. A diagnosis can also help you access provincial funding for autism therapy in Toronto. You will have a happy child as a result and feel less stressed in your parenting. 

Autism is neither good nor bad

Are you familiar with the concept of radical acceptance? It refers to accepting something as it is, without fighting it. Acceptance is the first step to creating a plan. You have to acknowledge that something has to be done before you can create a plan to tackle it. When it comes to autism, this concept can be very freeing and can help you advocate for your child. Autism is neither good nor bad, and it is certainly not the only defining characteristic that your child has. 

Therapeutic solutions, such as autism therapy in Toronto, can help your child learn new skills and achieve new levels of potential. At home, you will have to work with him/her as well but make sure that you leave plenty of time for fun. Spontaneous play, led by your child, can be of tremendous importance. Do not insist for typical play, as this can only cause frustration. Follow your child’s lead and interests. 

Do not send the “you are broken” message

Even if an autistic child is non-verbal, you have to pay attention to your words and to your gestures. If you are constantly pushing for normality, you are sending a message that they are somehow “broken” or “damaged”. While it is not possible to separate autism from the child, you have to refrain from seeing your child exclusively from that autistic perspective. 

Challenge yourself to accept your child, with the good and the bad. Try not to see your child’s skill deficits as permanent, there is always something to be learned or a way to improve a skill or situation.  Use their needs as a jumping off point for new learning and skill development.   

A message to take home about autism therapy in Toronto

There will be plenty of moments when you will feel challenged, wanting things to be ‘normal’. In those difficult situations, remind yourself that autistic children are, first and foremost, children. And like all children, they need our love to thrive. 

Stop thinking about the things that are “missing” and embrace the child you have. Celebrate each small success and avoid comparing your child with others. With the help of a team of therapists, create a personalized plan using all the avenues available at autism therapy in Toronto, making sure that you are actively involved in the therapy process. You have the insight into what is important to your child and family and should feel comfortable to direct the therapy team towards achieving those goals. 

Contact Side by Side Therapy to have a no-charge 30 minute consultation to discuss the best options for your child.

Respite Services in Toronto for ASD Parents

Read Time: 3 minutes

With the weather finally getting warmer and the hope that the Ontario “stay at home” order will be lifted, parents are becoming optimistic that these days of isolation may soon be behind us.  Parents can begin planning how they will access respite services in Toronto. Parenting is hard on the best days especially for those that have autistic children, throw in a pandemic and life becomes more challenging and overwhelming than ever before. 

Couple at lake at sunset, enjoying the time that their child is in respite services in Toronto.

Understandably, parents need a break in order to successfully care for their children; taking care of themselves will guard against burn-out, stress and fatigue. Accessing respite as opposed to just a regular babysitter will also allow parents to go out on a date or take a break without stressing and worrying about their child’s well-being while they are away. 

Benefits of Respite Services in Toronto

Respite services in Toronto are available to come to your home and provide specialized caregiving to your child or children and youth that have special needs including Autism.  Respite services provide flexible short-term temporary care and relief, depending on your specific needs, which is essential for supporting parents with child/youth with special needs.  Allowing parents to have time to engage in self-care, rest, see friends and most importantly, spend time together, will undeniably help parents to be more successful and calmer caretakers.  

When the restrictions are lifted, parents need to take this opportunity to reconnect and take a well-deserved break. Parents, especially those of Autistic children, may have found a strain on their relationship due to the overwhelming commitments around caregiving, especially during these unprecedented times.  In realizing this, it is important, now more than ever, to use respite services in Toronto to take the time for each other to reenergize and connect.

Below are some suggestions of fun date ideas to do in the GTA:

Laser Quest is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Laser Quest – After being cooped up for so long, if you are looking for a fun and interactive activity, that is reasonably priced, then Laser Tag is a great option.  They have many locations around the GTA from Toronto East, Mississauga, Brampton, Richmond Hill and Whitby. For more information please visit their website at https://www.laserquest.com/

Formula Kartwary is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Formula Kartways Located in Brampton, Formula Kartways is a go-karting venue to fulfill your thrill-seeking needs. If you enjoy the need for speed or some friendly competition with your partner, then this is the perfect date place.  The great thing is that you don’t need to be good at go-karting to have a great time! For more information please visit their website at http://formulakartways.com/

Axe Throwing at Batl Axe is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



BATL Axe Throwing – If you are looking for a way to release some of the pent-up energy accumulated during your stay home during the pandemic, then axe throwing is the perfect solution. This incredibly fun activity has various locations around the city.  Try it out, you will surely not be disappointed!  For more information please visit their website at https://batlgrounds.com/

Cineplex Cinemas is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Cineplex Cinemas – There is no better way to escape from reality than through the experience of a movie.  Going to the movies is a classic pastime and a great way to spend time with your partner.  With many locations around the GTA, you will undoubtedly find a movie that will sweep you away on date night! For more information please visit https://www.cineplex.com/

Visiting High Park is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



High Park – As Toronto’s largest public park, there are many amazing things to do in this vast, lush, beautiful outdoor playground. The park offers activities such as hiking trails, a few eateries, a picnic area, a zoo, a lakefront, to just name a few. What a terrific way to become reacquainted with your partner in an outdoor majestic environment. All you have to do is arrive, take a breath, relax and enjoy!  For more information please visit their website at http://www.highparktoronto.com/

Visiting the Distillery District is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



The Distillery District – Tucked away in the Toronto East-End, what was once a historic distillery district, is now a community made up of a mix of old and new, resulting in an amazing urban gem. While at the Distillery you will find cobblestone pathways that lead you to quaint art galleries, shops and restaurants. There are also often all sorts of events going on, which indeed, keeps the district full of energy and life. 

For more information please visit their website at https://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/

In conclusion:

Remember, parents are humans with important needs too.  Luckily, respite services are available to help make life easier and provide opportunities for partners to re-energize and reconnect. Take a break, go on a date, you know you deserve it!  

If you would like to discuss respite services in Toronto, please contact us to set up a no-charge consultation today. 

Top 10 Fun Autism and Sensory Friendly Places in the Greater Toronto Area

Read time: 5 minutes

Have you ever been in a situation where the music was just too loud or the lights were way too bright? How about being in a place that was far too overcrowded and you started to feel overwhelmed and panicky? Well, this is a common feeling for those that are diagnosed with autism or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is related to over or under sensitivity to certain sensory stimulation such as loud noises, bright lights, tastes and touch.

It is a condition that affects the way the brain receives and responds to information concerning our senses and has been found to create either an over or under sensitivity to certain things within our environment.  Those that have (children specifically for the purposes of this article) SPD often receive a co-occuring diagnosis like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Since SPD is so prominent in children especially for those that also have additional disorders, life can become difficult for not only the child but for the parents and caretakers as well.  This sensory sensitivity can be very debilitating and sadly can turn a task as simple as going to the grocery store into a very difficult undertaking.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in Canada, some companies have caught on for the need to provide alternative accommodations for those that live with special needs like  SPD, ASD & ADHD etc. These establishments have collaborated with autistic focussed organizations to find ways to modify their businesses to provide a sensory-friendly environment.  

Child with autism plugging her hears and shutting her eyes tight.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli in the environment. These GTA attractions are working to help your child manage these times.


Below you will find some of the places around the GTA that are now offering these autism and sensory-friendly settings.

Autism or Sensory Friendly Attractions in Toronto

1. Ontario Science Centre – 770 Don Mills Road, Toronto, ON M3C 1T3The Ontario Science Centre offers Sensory-friendly Saturdays on the first Saturday of every month from 3 – 7 p.m. They have partnered with Geneva Centre for Autism and other organizations to offer sensory-friendly events and programs. Sensory-friendly Saturdays were created to provide an environment that is inclusive, respectful and accessible. Their program is available to everyone and is appropriate for all ages and abilities. 

The following dates are set for 2020:

February 1, March 7, April 4, May 2, June 6, July 4, August 1, September 5, October 3, November 7 and December 5 


For more information please visit their website at: https://www.ontariosciencecentre.ca/showsandexperiences/368/ 

2. Toronto Zoo – 361A Old Finch Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M1B 5K7

The Toronto Zoo has developed a downloadable app specifically for those with ASD. This app called MagnusCards (for more information please visit http://torontozoo.magnuscards.com/) was created to provide a structured, step-by-step program that has a game-like design which helps teach a variety of life skills through the use of the app.

This app is believed to provide empowerment and a welcoming environment for those living with autism and other cognitive special needs.  The five-card decks include information on entering the zoo, Indo-Malaya, Tundra Trek, African Rainforest Pavilion, and Getting Help.      

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.torontozoo.com/tz/accessibility 

3. Cineplex Movie Theatre – Variety of Locations

Cineplex theatres offer “Sensory Friendly Screenings”, which includes a “lights up and volume down” environment.  In partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, Cineplex provides an atmosphere that allows those individuals with ASD or those who suffer from sensory sensitivities the opportunity to enjoy new releases at the theatre. 

The website states that these screenings will take place approximately every 4 – 6 weeks on Saturday mornings at 10:30 AM, however it is best to check your local theatre in case any changes have taken place. 

For more information please visit their website at: https://www.cineplex.com/Theatres/SensoryFriendly 

4. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – 100 Queen’s Park, Toronto ON, M5S 2C6

The ROM has teamed up with Autism Ontario to create a “ROM Sensory Friendly Guide”, where they provide helpful tips for visiting. The guide speaks on different areas in the museum that could affect someone with sensory issues (such as loud noises, lighting, scents, temperature, sloped floors and crowded areas). It also outlines where there are quiet areas around the museum. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.rom.on.ca/en/visit-us/accessibility/rom-sensory-friendly-guide-for-visitors

5. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada – 288 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9, CANADA

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the first autism certified attraction in Canada.  This Certified Autism Center has been designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) after completing comprehensive autism awareness and sensitivity training. 

Ripley’s Aquarium is committed to ensuring that their visitors with ASD and other sensory sensitivities have the greatest time while at the attraction. The staff have undergone extensive training and each exhibit integrates some form of IBCCES sensory guidelines (https://www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada/files/2019/04/Sensory-Guides-Final.pdf) which provides the guests with additional information regarding the sensory impacts at each display or activity. 

Please check out their website for dates and times as they will be hosting several additional sensory-friendly days that include quiet spaces, music-free environments and increased lighting. 

6. Chuck E. Cheese – Various locations around the GTA

Chuck E. Cheese offers a sensory-friendly experience the first Sunday of every month at participating locations, this includes opening doors two-hours before their regular opening times.  The organization realizes that the Chuck E. Cheese experience can be overstimulating and therefore wanted to provide an opportunity for those that suffer from sensory sensitivities to come out and have fun with well-trained staff.  As it is their mission to provide an event that allows “ALL kids to be a kid”.

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.chuckecheese.com/events/sensory-sensitive-sundays

7. Skyzone – Various locations around the GTA

Skyzone offers activities such as trampolining and jumping along with a wide variety of other programs. At Skyzone, visitors are provided with a fun experience that allows them to burn off energy in an extremely fun way.  Skyzone offers sensory-friendly hours which provides a calmer, toned-down jumping experience for those with special needs. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.skyzone.com/programs/sensory-hours

8. Sobeys – Various locations around the GTA

As mentioned, tasks for which most would think is simple such as grocery shopping can be an anxiety-ridden experience for both a child with ASD and their parent/caretaker.  Grocery stores can have a lot of sensory stimuli such as loud music, bright lights and crowds which can be overwhelming for a child that suffers from sensory sensitivities.

Sobeys has taken notice of this issue and has now created an accessible and inclusive sensory-friendly shopping experience.  To accommodate the sensory needs, Sobeys provides every week, a two-hour shopping window where they eliminate almost all the in-store lights and sounds.

Some of the sensory sensitivity measures taken by Sobeys are turning down the lights, turning off scanners, lowering music, having staff members speaking in softer tones and holding off on any announcements. According to Sobeys, the sensory sensitive shopping takes place currently on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Please check with your local Sobeys for up to date information on dates and times. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.blogto.com/eat_drink/2019/09/sobeys-sensory-friendly/

9. Young Peoples Theatre – 165 Front Street East, Toronto M5A 3Z4

Young Peoples Theatre offers “relaxed performances” where the performances are the same however there is a more relaxed atmosphere relating to noise levels and movement.  The sensory sensitive measures include the house lights being adjusted so that they are not as dark as they normally would be. They have also created designated relief areas where you can go if a break is needed.  For the ease of your child’s visit the theatre has also created a visual visiting guide that can be looked over with your child prior to your arrival to help eliminate any fears or surprises that could arise. 

The visual guide can be found at: https://www.youngpeoplestheatre.org/about-ypt/accessibility/

10. Upper Canada Village – 13740 County Road 2, Morrisburg, Ontario

Upper Canada Village is nestled up in Morrisburg Ontario and offers visitors an exciting experience of what life was like back in the 1860s.  Through transporting back in time, visitors are able to explore authentic buildings, activities and the people of the time. Upper Canada Village offers ASD sensory-friendly Sunday mornings where a child with sensory sensitivities will be able to enjoy the attractions is a less chaotic and overwhelming environment. They provide some helpful tips on their website for visiting the village with a sensory sensitive child.

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.uppercanadavillage.com/events/asd-sensory-friendly-sunday-mornings/

Enjoying fun and memorable experiences is so important for children and even though your child may suffer from sensory sensitivities it is comforting to know that particular companies are working towards creating inclusive and accessible environments for ALL children to feel welcome and be able to enjoy their time. 

Autism: what’s more important equality or equity?

Read time: 6 minutes

Equality and equity are words that are often understood as being synonymous as they both have the implication of fairness, however, the two meanings are actually very different. Equality means to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Equity speaks to ensuring that everyone has the opportunities they need to be successful.

There have been many political movements that have espoused equal rights: women’s groups, minority groups, autism advocacy groups and other disability rights groups.

With equality, it is assumed that everyone has the same starting point and should be treated in exactly the same way. While with equity, the belief is that not all people start at the same point and for that reason, each person should receive (based on their distinct abilities) what they need to be successful. In understanding the difference between the two, we can conclude  that fairness does not mean equality

Modifications and Accommodations for Autism

While the idea behind equality is to treat everyone “fairly” and “equally”, it has sadly missed the mark when looking at fairness around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Assuming that everyone is equal and is starting from the same place (which we know is not true, especially in autism) can actually create unintentional barriers. For instance, modifications are necessary for those with autism to be successful in their daily routines.

Making practical changes allows the starting point to truly become one of fairness. Simply put, modifications and adjustments are how we can promote fairness and ensure that all people are provided with the tools they need to achieve success. 

An example of these modifications put into action is an autism framework is that of a child who has sensory concerns or challenging behaviour and has trouble sitting in a circle on the floor with the rest of the class.  Pressuring the child to join on the floor may create resistance or even a meltdown which affects not only the autistic child but the class as a whole. A small concession that a teacher may make is to allow the child to sit on a chair in the circle to help with engagement and integration.

Yes, this may seem to some degree “unfair” to the other children or “special treatment”, however with this minor adjustment being made to accommodate a child that has additional needs, the teacher has effectively created a more positive and successful learning environment not only for the autistic child but for the entire class as well.

We cannot and must not expect every child to fit into one box and hope that success will be the same across the board. We have to realize that accommodations and flexibility provided by parents, professionals and autism caregivers are not only kind but are actually essential to achieving true equity. 

Autism ABA Therapy Lindsey Malc Side by Side Therapy Equality vs Equity Cartoon of boys trying to see over a fence.
Equality vs equity cartoon showing the practical difference between the two terms.

As these adjustments are necessary, we need to position them as being so. Instead of the modification being looked at as unfair, it rather should be seen as levelling the playing field to ensure fairness. If we don’t make a big deal about these accommodations than others (classmates, siblings etc.) won’t either. We need to keep in mind that it’s not only those with autism that are different, but we are also all different in our own way and therefore have different capabilities and needs.

In focussing too much on equality and  fairness, we end up overlooking the wonderfulness of difference. Instead, we need to look at each person individually to ensure equity and flexibility are at the forefront. Then and only then we can indeed provide fairness in its truest form.  

To further exemplify, here in Ontario, Canada all of the changes that are being proposed and made regarding the Ontario Autism Program’s funding is a prime example of the misunderstanding surrounding equality and equity.  The province seems to be under the impression that allocating the same amount of funds for children who fall within provincially designated categories (age, etc). will provide equality across the board.  However, where the mistake lies is that autism does not affect each person in the same ways.

Therefore, funding and resources should not be allocated based on provincially set rigid categories such as age, and should instead be provided and distributed based on individual need. As autism falls on a spectrum from mild to severe, one child who is nonverbal may require, for example, far more Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy or Speech Therapy, than a verbal autistic child. This example is just one of many reasons why “equality” in this case will just not work.    

Below is a helpful example of a lesson that can be played with your children to help explain this confusing topic:  

The One Size Fits All Band-Aid Lesson – Ask the children to share their most serious injury: some may say a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder or a cut on the forehead. Once the injuries have been acknowledged, explain to them that your solution to heal them is to provide them each with a band-aid. 

This solution will most likely raise some confusion to the children, as how is a band-aid supposed to fix a broken arm or a dislocated shoulder? This unhelpful solution shows that there is not one solution to all situations and that each situation needs to be addressed in it’s own way. Even though using the same solution (the band-aid) may in theory seem fair, how can this “equal” method of treating three different injuries be acceptable? All that is accomplished is that only a small number of people actually get the help they need while the rest of the group suffers. 

Once again, it is important to remember that there is a difference between equality and equity. Fairness can only truly be gained with compromises and modifications which ensure that all people are indeed given the tools they need to be successful.  Would you not agree to a person with bad eyesight getting glasses or a non-english speaker having a translator at the hospital? It is a similar situation when making adjustments for autistic children and others with exceptionalities.

We know that not all people are born the same, and in keeping this in mind, we need to continue to work towards levelling the playing field to ensure actual fairness is received. 

Autism and Memory: Can you guess the amazing superpowers of a child with autism?

Read time: 4 minutes

This post was written by Dr. Tracy Alloway. She is an award-winning psychologist, professor, author, and TEDx speaker. She has published 13 books and over 100 scientific articles on the brain and memory. Her research has also been featured on BBC, Good Morning America, the Today Show, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and Newsweek, and many others.

Autism is characterized by a difficulty to recognize and respond appropriately to social and emotional cues, which causes problems with social interactions. Yes, they have unique strengths that can give them an advantage in certain areas. Watch a clip.

Working Memory and the Brain: from Understanding Working Memory

The brain of a child with autism develops differently from children without it. Recent research has found that the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the home of working memory, is one of the brain regions most affected by autism. Initial results show that the PFC of a child with autism has a much greater volume of neurons, up to 67% more. One possible explanation for this excess growth is that the genes controlling neuron development are overactive, resulting in greater brain volume. Exactly how this is related to autistic behavior is unclear at the moment, but the link an abnormal PFC and autism suggests that there may be a working memory connection to the behavior. (Courchesne & Pierce, 2005).

Children with autism also display less activation in the PFC when they are asked to remember and process information. This pattern seems to be evident regardless of the nature of the task. In one experiment they were asked to process letters, in another, shapes, and in another, faces. In all instances, the result was the same: there was less activation in the PFC for children with autism than in those without it.

The study with faces, also found that children with autism tend to analyze facial features like objects, rather than in light of social relationships, which may explain their trouble interpreting social nuances (Koshino et al., 2005; 2008).

Furthermore, when a child with ASD is presented with two tasks and has to focus on one while ignoring the other distracting task, their brain activity reveals that they do not actually shift their attention to the more important information (Luna et al., 2002). They have a difficult time determining what information is important.

In the classroom, some students with ASD might appear to struggle with certain memory-heavy activities. However, this may be connected to their difficulty in knowing what they should focus on, rather than a working memory deficit per se.

Working Memory is linked to AUTISM

The working memory profile of the student with ASD depends on whether they are low or high functioning. In some cases, high functioning students can have an above-average verbal working memory, while low functioning students perform at the same level of a student with a specific language impairment. In general, low functioning ASD students also have a poorer working memory than their typically developing peers do.

However, even high functioning ASD students can display verbal working memory problems. In my own research, I found that the type of material they have to remember provides us with a clue to their working memory profile. They struggle in particular with abstract information like nonsense words or new vocabulary. Why? One explanation is that when they are presented with abstract ideas that they have to both process and remember, they spend too long trying to comprehend the material and so forget what they need to do.

For example, during a verbal working memory test, Daniel, a 14-year-old with ASD, was presented with the sentence: Dogs can play the guitar. Daniel spent a long time thinking about the sentence before finally answering “True”, because “you can train a dog”. As a result of the lengthy time spent deliberating the answer, he forgot the final word in the list of sentences (Alloway, Rajendran, & Archibald, 2009).

The strategies they use to remember information can also over-burden them. Studies confirm that when remembering information, high-functioning ASD individuals do not use their long-term memory, visual strategies, or even contextual clues. Instead, they rehearse things over and over again. While this can be useful in remembering short sequences of information, it is ultimately a time-consuming and inefficient strategy to simply keep repeating things. These students are aware of their own memory problems. Alistair, a high-functioning 13-year-old, commented that he had “number overload” when he failed a test that required him to repeat numbers in backwards order.

Now, let’s look at their visual-spatial working memory profile. The majority of individuals with ASD do not have deficits in this area.  In one task, students are shown a matrix with dots that appear in random locations and they have to recall their location in a backwards sequence. Both my own research, as well as other studies, confirms that students with ASD do as well as their peers without autism. In the classroom, this means they should be able to remember information that is presented visually. 

Cover of a book written by Tracy Alloway about a child with autism




To find out more about the memory superpowers of a child with autism, check out Dr. Alloway’s new children’s book here.

**

References

Alloway, T.P., Rajendran, G., & Archibald, L.M. (2009). Working memory profiles of children with developmental disorders. Journal of Learning Difficulties, 42, 372–82.

Courchesne, E.,  & Pierce, K. (2005).  Brain overgrowth in autism during a critical time in development: implications for frontal pyramidal neuron and interneuron development and connectivity. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 23, 153-170.

Koshino, H., et al. (2005). Functional connectivity in an fMRI working memory task in high-functioning autism. Neuroimage, 24, 810–821.

Koshino, H., et al. (2008). fMRI investigation of working memory for faces in autism: visual coding and underconnectivity with frontal areas. Cerebral Cortex, 18, 289-300.

Luna, B., Minshew, N.J., Garver, K.E., Lazar, N.A., Thulborn, K.R., Eddy, W.F., & Sweeney, J. (2002). Neocortical system abnormalities in autism: an fMRI study of spatial working memory. Neurology, 59, 834-840.

World Autism Awareness Day: April 2, 2020

Add Your Voice to the Giant Autism Billboard for World Autism Awareness Day
Add Your Voice to the Giant Autism Billboard for World Autism Awareness Day

World Autism Awareness Day is today, which means it’s a great time to contribute to the Giant Autism Billboard (see it here). It’s a thought-provoking project centred around the importance of autism awareness, and it stems from the belief that the sharing of lived experiences is a great way to help others gain a better understanding of neurodiversity.

The Giant Autism Billboard, an online collaboration that invites autistic people of all ages as well as their family members, caretakers, and doctors to condense their life experience and advice about autism into one pearl of wisdom to share with the world, the idea, thought, or message they most feel represents their experience. Finding a way to distill life with neurodiversity into one statement is no mean feat, but it has inspired many voices throughout the autism community to offer their unique input.

World Autism Awareness Day is today, which means it's a great time to contribute to the Giant Autism Billboard (see it here). It's a thought-provoking project centred around the importance of autism awareness, and it stems from the belief that the sharing of lived experiences is a great way to help others gain a better understanding of neurodiversity.

Autism Awareness Day is only a starting point

The large collaborative project serves to illustrate an idea that’s central to autism awareness, which is that no two neurodiverse people are alike and no one’s experience with autism is exactly the same. This helps to create an understanding of autism as a spectrum of behavioural differences which are experienced uniquely, defying negative stereotypes and embracing the idea that neurodiversity can bring skills in addition to challenges. The project celebrates the voices of those affected, acknowledging that they are most able to provide true autism awareness and amplifying their voices to contribute to the cause.

World Autism Awareness Day is today, which means it's a great time to contribute to the Giant Autism Billboard (see it here). It's a thought-provoking project centred around the importance of autism awareness, and it stems from the belief that the sharing of lived experiences is a great way to help others gain a better understanding of neurodiversity.

The Giant Autism Billboard will be featured on the We The Parents website during the month of April, which has been designated as World Autism Awareness month. The site was founded in 2017 by parents Neve and Keane as a welcoming, judgement-free resource which parents can look to for advice, and takes special interest in supporting families affected by autism.            

I have contributed and I hope that you will as well.

Lindsey

Applied Behaviour Analysis isn’t all we do – we’re adding 5 amazing disciplines!

Read time: 3 minutes

Lindsey-Malc-Autism-ABA-Therapy-Side-by-Side-Therapy-Toronto


In these uncertain times, it’s important to have a goal and work towards achieving something. At Side by Side, that’s exactly what I’ve been working on! When I began Side by Side, I envisioned a group of talented therapists who would use applied behaviour analysis to improve the lives of special needs kids and their families by empowering parents to implement the strategies we use every day. 

What I very quickly realized is that parents want the support of a team of professionals, not only behaviour analysts.  Each of the disciplines brings a valuable skill set to the table and families deserve to have access to all of these skill sets under one roof. While I believe in applied behaviour analysis with my whole heart, I recognize that it doesn’t hold all the answers and that my ability to be helpful is amplified when I work with a team. 

I would like to announce that Side by Side Therapy is expanding our services and will be offering applied behaviour analysis, speech therapy, occupational therapy, therapeutic recreation, psycho-educational assessments and respite. I have been working hard to put together an excellent team of therapists who are dedicated to our mission of empowering parents to empower their children. Check the blog in the next few weeks for some short profiles of our team members. 

Please read below for a short description of each of the disciplines and some examples of goals that might be targeted:

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA):

Boy and therapist doing applied behaviour analysis therapy in Toronto

A therapy based on the science of learning and behaviour. At Side by Side, the main goal of ABA Therapy in Toronto is to change socially significant behaviours. A socially significant behaviour is one that is stopping you from fully participating in your life.  Some examples are: communication skills, social skills, play skills, life skills and decreasing challenging behaviours (aggression, self-injury etc). applied behaviour analysis can also be used to teach academics. 

Possible goals: 

  • Responding to name
  • Sorting items 
  • Reading

Speech Therapy (SLP):

In these uncertain times, it's important to have a goal and work towards achieving something. At Side by Side, that's exactly what I've been working on! When I began Side by Side, I envisioned a group of talented therapists who would use applied behaviour analysis to improve the lives of special needs kids and their families by empowering parents to implement the strategies we use every day. 

A therapy that revolves around increasing speech, language, social communication, cognitive communication and swallowing disorders. Speech Therapy in Toronto involves work with children with autism or other special needs to increase their ability to communicate their needs and this often has an added bonus of decreasing challenging behaviours.  

Possible goals:

  • Increasing vocabulary
  • Improving articulation
  • Improving social skills

Occupational Therapy (OT):

In these uncertain times, it's important to have a goal and work towards achieving something. At Side by Side, that's exactly what I've been working on! When I began Side by Side, I envisioned a group of talented therapists who would use applied behaviour analysis to improve the lives of special needs kids and their families by empowering parents to implement the strategies we use every day. 

A therapy that focuses on teaching the skills that a person needs to fully participate in their daily activities (or occupations).  Occupational Therapy in Toronto can help address mobility difficulties and how a child accesses their environment. OTs can suggest ways that the environment can be modified to allow the child to participate. 

Possible goals:

  • Learn toothbrushing
  • Improve handwriting skills
  • Expanding variety of foods eaten

Therapeutic Recreation:

In these uncertain times, it's important to have a goal and work towards achieving something. At Side by Side, that's exactly what I've been working on! When I began Side by Side, I envisioned a group of talented therapists who would use applied behaviour analysis to improve the lives of special needs kids and their families by empowering parents to implement the strategies we use every day. 

A therapy that addresses goals from all domains of a person’s life using recreation and play as a vehicle for change. It’s about more than just playing. Therapeutic Recreation in Toronto will use recreation (play and leisure) to achieve goals and push your child to learn and grow. 

Possible goals:

  • Increasing engagement in social interactions with a peer
  • Improve fine motor skills
  • Increase time spent engaged in independent play

Respite:

In these uncertain times, it's important to have a goal and work towards achieving something. At Side by Side, that's exactly what I've been working on! When I began Side by Side, I envisioned a group of talented therapists who would use applied behaviour analysis to improve the lives of special needs kids and their families by empowering parents to implement the strategies we use every day. 

Respite in Toronto is a service available to families of special needs children.  This service offers you the peace of mind to know that while you’re having a much needed and deserved break your child is being cared for and entertained. Our respite workers are informed of your child’s specific needs and interests and will design respite sessions to highlight these needs and interests. 

Possible respite activities:

  • Play at the park
  • Swimming at the community centre
  • Cooking with your child 

Psycho-Educational Assessments:

autism aba therapy lindsey malc side by side therapy doing therapy with a therapist


If your child requires a psycho-educational assessment in Toronto to determine his or her learning needs, our psychometrist can help you. We will walk you through the entire process and will provide you with recommendations for services and strategies that your child will benefit from. We can also help you convey your child’s needs to their school.

If you would like to know more about how your child and family might benefit from any or all of these services please contact me directly by phone at 1.877.797.0437 or by email at [email protected]

Stay healthy everyone!

Lindsey

Autism: How to have great transitions – Part 2

Read time: 3 minutes

This post continues from the last post about autism and transitions. To recap: transitions happen any time you end one activity and begin another. Transitions can be big (graduating high school and starting to work) or small (ending an episode of your favourite tv show and watching something else). Transitions are often difficult for autistic kids because of the way that they are impacted by the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (communication, social skills and restrictive and repetitive behaviours). These core symptoms can negatively impact how easy it is for a child to transition.

The first 5 tips that were listed in the previous post are:

  1. Talk about and prepare for transitions before they happen.
  2. Give warnings about upcoming transitions.
  3. Use countdowns.
  4. Create visual schedules.
  5. Give options to increase feelings of control.

Here are the last 6 tips to help those with autism transition:

Kids with autism sitting in a group at school. All smiling with hands raised to answer a question.
  1. Use Natural Breaks – Using natural breaks is one method that can ease transitions naturally for those with autism.  For instance, if your child is playing with a puzzle, upon completion it would then be an appropriate and ideal time to move into a transition. Since the activity had an end point, this allows the child to feel closure and more willingness to move onto the next event. 
Child with autism playing with dinosaurs.
  1. Likes and Interests – As transitions can be daunting, especially transitions that are not preferred by your child, it is helpful to try and make the transition fun or exciting.  This playful and creative method can alleviate some of the associated stressors through distracting your child with games/activities that they enjoy. Let’s say you need to go on a long drive, and you know being in the car for long periods is a trigger for your child, try playing “I spy”. Or, how about if getting to school in the morning is a challenge try hopping on one foot all the way there. Use your imagination!  
Child with autism and parent talking.
  1. Objects or Songs – Using a physical object can help your child with autism in understanding a transition. Have your child grab their towel before bath-time, this will then alert and prepare them for the upcoming transition. Transition objects offer a visible reminder for your child to help recognize an approaching transition.   Songs can also offer concrete cues for the upcoming change such as singing or creating a bedtime song. Once the child hears or sings the song, they will then associate it with their bedtime. You can also have your child keep a favourite coping tool on hand, perhaps their special stuffed animal or blanket.       
Child with autism smiling, a closeup.
  1. Use Appropriate Forms of Rewards – Using a reward system is a very effective tool when dealing with transitions. By arranging a plan with your child prior to an event/transition with the understanding of what can be earned is a great motivator. It is important to be able to differentiate between a reward and a bribe.  Where a reward can have positive effects, a bribe can have the opposite outcome. For instance, if you plan to go out grocery shopping and agree to a reward of a chocolate bar should your child behave as expected then a reward is in play. However, if you go out to the store without an agreement  and your child has a meltdown because they want a chocolate bar, when you give in to this behaviour and buy them the chocolate, it is actually a bribe. Therefore, ensure you are making the distinction between rewards and bribes to ensure you’re using this transition tool effectively.

Additionally, rewards can be earned through using a First/Then Chart (or first/then language) which is a tool that visually explains what activity needs to “first” be done in order to “then” receive or do something the child may want.  For instance, if you have trouble getting your child to brush their teeth, you can say, ‘first’ we brush our teeth and ‘then’ we can read a book. With this sense of involvement and essentially partial control usually will lead the child to participate unknowingly.  

A sand timer, used in autism treatment to visually represent the time for a student.
  1. Slow down – As discussed, there can be numerous transitions in a day, and you may find that too many transitions are just too difficult for those with autism. It may be for the benefit of the parent, childcare worker, teacher and especially the child to slow down and even eliminate some transitions. Not every transition is necessary.  Find the transitions that can be cut out and structure your child’s day for maximum success. 
Parent or therapist doing a yoga routine with a child with autism.
  1. Deep Breathing / Calming Strategies – Deep breathing and calming strategies are not only important for children, but they are also useful for parents, caregivers and teachers alike. In learning how to use breathing and other calming strategies one is better able to self-regulation thus helping ease the anxiety surrounding the transition. In trying to teach your child deep breathing, it is helpful to have your child start with blowing bubbles and after practice, they should have a good grasp of the breathing action. Keeping bubbles on hand can help during times of need and once the action is mastered it is a calming mechanism that can then be used anytime and anywhere. 

Your child must realize that transitions are not punishments and should therefore not be associated as such. Instead, your child should understand these are necessary throughout the day in order to follow the daily schedule. Having the parent, caregiver or teacher show excitement in moving through transitions may help in easing your child’s anxiety and difficulties. With your enthusiasm alongside your well thought out plan and tons of praise and encouragement, you will see changes in your child’s ability to transition smoothly. Be aware though, there may need to be frequent tweaks to your plan and schedules as this ensures the best modifications are being made.

In keeping in mind the many factors that contribute to your child’s difficulties with transitions and maintaining flexibility and open-mindedness you will help in easing their transition and in turn, set them up for success.

Autism: How to have great transitions – Part 1

Read time: 4 minutes


This post is quite long, so it will be divided into two parts for your reading pleasure!

Toddler with autism smiling looking directly at the camera.

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.

Being able to effectively transition between activities in our daily routines is imperative to leading a successful life: at home, school or at a job. Transitions include any change, big or small, such as a change of activity (especially from a fun one to a less enjoyable one), environment or teacher.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) influences the way children process and interact within their environment and presents communication challenges, sensory issues and deficits in social skills.  All these challenges have an impact on the child’s ability to smoothly make transitions. It can be difficult for autism spectrum disorder children to shift attention or change from the comfort of their routine. These difficulties and stressors can lead a child to experience agitation, sadness or anger.  

All of these concerns need to be considered and addressed in order to help your autism spectrum disorder child thrive. The first step in dealing with transitions is dealing with the associated worry around transitions. Understanding how your child’s autism spectrum disorder is impacting their transitional issues, sensory sensitivities and concerns combined with creating a plan will better help your child to manage their worry connected to transitions.

Being prepared and well equipped to assist your child with autism before, during and following transitions is the absolute greatest support you can provide them. 

When strategies are used to help autism spectrum disorder children with transitions you can expect: a reduction in transition times; behaviours will improve during transitions; there will be less need for adult reminders and participation in school and community excursions will become easier.

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
Sometimes, creating a plan for your autistic child can feel like you’re trying to solve a calculus equation.

In the preparation of your plan, it is important to understand what transitional issues you are dealing with, including your child’s sensory needs.  By observing your child for 3 – 5 days and jotting down each time your child gets frustrated or angered you will have a better understanding of what is going on. This review should include identifying the patterns and triggers that led up to the problems transitioning.

For instance, does your child not like being interrupted to move onto the next activity if they are still working on the present one?  Do line-ups and busy hallways at school make it difficult for your child? Is there sensory stimulation such as bright lights or cold temperatures that may impact them and therefore affect the transition? Once you have identified the transitional issues then you can move towards creating a plan to account for these barriers. 

Transitional strategies are methods that can help autistic individuals manage during times of change or disruption in activities, routines or situations. As challenges can exist at any point during the transition, it is helpful to go over the techniques before, during and after a transition. This preparation strategy can (and probably should) be explained verbally and/or visually with the hopes of increasing predictability and maintaining consistency in their routine. 

Your child must realize that transitions are not punishments and should therefore not be thought of as such. Instead, your child should understand that they are required throughout the day in order to follow the daily schedule. Having the parent, caregiver or teacher show excitement in moving through transitions may help in easing your child’s worry and the challenging behaviour they exhibit. With your enthusiasm alongside your well thought out plan and tons of praise and encouragement, in time, you will see changes that are heading in the right direction. 

11 Tips to Help Those with Autism Transition

Here are 11 useful tips and strategies to use in the development of your plan; they are the stepping stones to helping ease your autism spectrum disorder child’s transitions:

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Prepare & Talk About Transitions – To help in ensuring a smooth transition, it is useful to plan out and discuss the plan with your child and support them before, during and after the transition. It is easier to deal with and manage your behaviour when you know what to expect. For instance, if you know you only have an hour at the zoo, then you should discuss this with your child prior to arriving. Knowledge is power and if your child knows what to expect the element of surprise will be removed and this will likely help with the transition. 
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Time Warnings – Providing time warnings prior to a transition is quite helpful.  This allows the child to be aware that a transition is coming up shortly and can then better prepare themselves. Therefore, half an hour before the change of an event you can start to give 30, 15, and 5-minute warnings. As these verbal warnings may be too abstract for some autism spectrum disorder children, especially when time-telling is not yet learned, it is suggested to use a concrete tool such as a clock or a timer that can visually help to alert your child of the upcoming transition.  This visual tool can be reassuring during an unenjoyable activity as it shows the child that there is an end in sight. 
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Countdowns – To go alongside the time warning strategy, it is also helpful to give final countdown notice.  So, instead of expecting your child to move right into the next transition once the final 5 minutes have finished, giving them a 10-second further countdown will continue to help with the transition.  Even though you may have provided the time warning, which may seem enough, the transition may still seem sudden to a child with difficulty transitioning. Adding in the additional and final 10-second countdown will certainly make your expectations clear. If visual tools are more effective then you can show your child a visual that has a countdown from 10-1. As you’re counting down you remove the numbers until your visual is empty and your child knows that the transition is imminent. This final countdown method can also be useful when doing unfavourable tasks such as cutting nails, bathing or brushing teeth as the child will know the end is near which helps with their coping.
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
Picture from
Pocket of Preschool
  1. Create Visual Schedules – A visual schedule is a very useful tool when managing transitions. The schedule helps to reinforce the predictability that your child requires alongside outlining the events in a way that your child can review throughout the day. As autistic children often thrive with routine and consistency this visual method helps them see things in a format that they can clearly understand and remember especially if out of the ordinary things are going to happen. Being able to understand what the schedule holds can create opportunities for the empowerment of your child as they may be able to move through the transition on their own without coaching or reminding. 
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Offer Options – Just like adults, children like choices. Having options gives them a feeling of empowerment and control. Therefore, offering two realistic choices allows your child to feel part of the decision.  For instance, when getting ready to leave the park you can ask would your child prefer to play on the slide or the swings in their last 5 minutes at the park. Achoice can be as simple as asking would they rather skip or walk to the washroom.  It is surprising how willing children are to participate when choices are offered.

Come back next week to read the second part!

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sleep Problems

Read time: 4 minutes

If reading’s not your thing, watch this YouTube video instead!

Research shows that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to experience other problems that go hand-in-hand with ASD, which are known as comorbid conditions. This research estimates that the number of children with ASD who would qualify for also having a comorbid condition is approximately 70-80%. The range of comorbid conditions that exist can affect an individual’s mental and physical health, as well as impact them neurologically and medically. Some examples of how these comorbid conditions can manifest include an atypical reaction to one’s surroundings, sleeping disorders such as insomnia, and poor muscle development.

Child with autism spectrum disorder sleeping at her desk, with pencil in hand.

It is very common for children to go through a stage where they don’t sleep through the night. This is actually a normal stage within a child’s physical and cognitive maturation. However, it is a stage that, should it be persistent, is detrimental to not only their health and development, but also their daily functioning. This can affect how they interact with others on a daily basis, especially in children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers have also demonstrated that insomnia, on its own, tends to worsen the symptoms of ASD and lessens an individual’s ability to thrive in their life.

Existing research shows that there is a strong tendency for those with autism spectrum disorder to have  problems with establishing proper sleep patterns and that they are impacted to a much greater degree than neurotypical children. Additionally, the studies also reveal that those with autism spectrum disorder are at a much higher risk of developing these sleeping disorders than neurotypical peers. The number of those with autism spectrum disorder who have trouble sleeping ranges anywhere between 44-86%. This is contrasted by the overall child population, where only 10-16% experience sleeping problems. 

Many autistic children who experience difficulties regulating emotions and behaviour are shown to also exhibit difficulties with their sleep. A past study of Asperger syndrome and other forms of autism discovered that the children who had persistent insomnia displayed greater emotional and behavioural symptoms than children without sleep disturbances. Parallel conditions are also known to disrupt sleep, some of which include gastrointestinal irregularities, stimulants, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety. 

Young girl sleeping

A study found in the academic journal Autism looked at the frequency that sleep issues in children with symptoms that are commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder occurred. The study participants were evaluated for symptoms relating to autism, problems with their sleep, and emotional and behavioural issues. It was found that persistent insomnia was over ten times greater in autistic children than those who did not have ASD (39.3% vs. 3.6%).

The autistic children were shown to develop more sleep irregularities over a period of time, with a frequency of 37.5% compared to 8.6% of the children without autism. Both groups were children aged 11-13 years. Even though only a few girls were included in the study, it was discovered that sleep abnormalities occurred less in girls than boys and their sleep problems were temporary. Those with ASD who also had ADHD were more likely to develop sleep problems.

Without question, it is clear that there is significant scientific backing that demonstrates the link between autism spectrum disorder and sleep problems. Sleep disturbances can, in reverse, negatively affect the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, such as experiencing an increase in repetitive and/or hyperactive behaviour, lack of focus/attention, displays of aggression, and an impairment in higher brain functioning. Given all these potential issues, it is important for parents to attempt to maximize their children’s sleep habits and put routines and strategies in place that will allow their children to get the most quality sleep.  

Sleep hygiene are the practices that we use to ensure that we have good nighttime sleep and as a consequence good daytime alertness. 

Some examples of good sleep hygiene for autism spectrum disorder are:

  • Avoiding daytime naps
  • Establishing a bedtime routine that offers time to relax and wind down before actually trying to sleep
  • Making sure the sleep environment is comfortable
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even on weekends)
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Avoiding blue light producing screens for an hour before bedtime

If your child is having a difficult time with sleep, contact Side by Side Therapy for a no-charge 30 minute consultation and we can brainstorm some ideas to help! 

Covid-19 Update

Please click the link below to read a message from our Founder and Clinical Director, Lindsey Malc, regarding Covid-19.

Covid-19 Resoures Page