Tag Archives: autism

My Motor Mats movement path, boy completing a crab walk on a black motor mat

Making Time for Movement Breaks

There is no doubt that movement is an essential part of the learning process but finding the time for movement breaks in an already packed school day can be hard.  However, with the ever growing body of research linking movement to academic performance (Petrigna et al, 2022)  finding the time for movement breaks becomes essential. So, how do you move? Here are some quick ways to add a little extra movement to the day: 

Add Extra Movement Opportunities Into Transitions

Movement paths (sometimes called sensory paths or motor paths) offer great opportunities to build in movement breaks during naturally occurring transitions, like changing classes.  The simple addition of movements like hopping, balancing on one foot, or turning in a circle offers an enriched movement opportunity that activates different sensory channels helping the brain get ready and be more receptive to upcoming learning activities.  

Add Movement To Academic Lessons

Reach those kinesthetic learners by incorporating movement into academic lessons. Readily available activities, like the ABC’s of Movement cards or the Drive Thru-Menus makes this easy to do!  Teaching literacy skills? Use visuals from the ABC’s of Movement to add an ‘Alligator March’ to letter A concepts or the ‘Penguin Waddle’ to letter P concepts.  Practicing spelling words? Try spelling each word while performing Angels in the Snow from the Drive-Thru Menus Body Challenge Exercises.

Don’t Just Take A Break, Take A Movement Break

During the school day there are naturally occurring breaks, such as transitions or when students finish up at different times. Fill these moments with meaningful movement opportunities. Use cards from the Move Your Body Fun Deck to add motor movements to transitions. The fun deck offers easy to grab, quick visuals with a variety of different movement activities; pick three for the day, display them on the board, and do each one a few times between activities for a quick brain reset! Use the Minute Moves or Focus Moves Bundles to establish Movement Routines. The Bundles are designed to provide easy-to-do, evidence-based routines to enhance academic skills. Another option is the Year of Mini-Moves for the In-Sync Child, which offers a weekly schedule of different movements that can be easily incorporated into the day.  

Create Accessible Movement Spaces

Getting outside often offers a plethora of opportunities for movement breaks but for the student who has gross motor challenges the opportunities can be limited.  Having a variety of activities available will help ensure students of all abilities are able to access movement opportunities.  For students who have difficulty with standard catch and throw ball games, offering alternatives like Magicatch, Beanbags, or Pezzi Activa Balls offers inclusive approaches.  For students who have difficulty accessing standard playground equipment, the availability of  parachutes, bubbles, or movement based games like Trunks can provide alternative movement activities at recess. 

Movement is a critical component of the learning process that can get overlooked during a busy, academic filled, school day.  Building movement breaks into already existing routines and schedules can help students move and succeed! 

Petrigna L, Thomas E, Brusa J, Rizzo F, Scardina A, Galassi C, Lo Verde D, Caramazza G and Bellafiore M (2022) Does Learning Through Movement Improve Academic Performance in Primary Schoolchildren? A Systematic Review. Front. Pediatr. 10:841582. doi: 10.3389/fped.2022.841582.

Making April Autism ACCEPTANCE Month

Claire McCarthy

April brings the beginnings of warm weather. It brings more time spent outside and the return of the birds who went south for winter. It also brings Autism Awareness Month. Fundraisers are held for local and nationwide autism related organizations. Facebook and Instagram are full of memes, posts, stories, and quotes about autism. This is all great, but what happens on May 1st? What happens when the posts get buried under cute animal videos and the fundraising moves onto the next mission?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think awareness is wonderful. However, most of the world is very aware of autism now. They know organizations exist for it. There are plenty of tv shows and movies that portray autistic characters. We see autism in the news. What we need to be striving for is Autism Acceptance. We need to be striving for a world where autistic individuals are valued as community members, coworkers, and friends. A world that values and honors autism 365 days a year instead of 30.

To begin the move towards Autism Acceptance, there are some key terms we should know.

  • Neuro diversity: a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits
  • Neurodivergent: people who have diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, OCD, dyslexia, etc.
  • Neurotypical: individuals of typical developmental, intellectual, and cognitive abilities
  • Ableism: discrimination in favor of able-bodied or neurotypical people

Most of us on this blog are familiar with autism. For those who may not be, it is defined as “a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior”. It is deficit based. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the challenges seen in an autistic individual. However, let’s flip that around with a quote from NeuroTribes and define neurotypical: “Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. There is no known cure.” Makes one think a little, doesn’t it?

To continue on a path of autism acceptance, we also need to target the myths around autism. One I hear all the time is, “S/he can’t be autistic. S/he speaks so well.” The DSM-5 and DSM-5-TR say nothing about verbal communication deficits in regards to autism. “Accompanying language impairment” can be added to an autism diagnosis, but having typical spoken language skills does NOT mean an individual is not autistic.

Another common misconception is that every child who receives an autism diagnosis must receive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services and must be eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) when they reach 3 years of age. Yes, ABA is one of the few evidence based autism specific teaching methods. This research dates back to the 1960s when autism rates were 1 in 2,500 people. This research was done on individuals that would be considered “low functioning” and often had accompanying Intellectual Disability. Autistic learners needs to be seen as individuals the same way that neurotypical learners are seen.

That last paragraph brings me to another issue that gets in the way of autism acceptance- functioning levels. Parents and therapists are so quick to get caught up in levels. Many people think that a functioning level can tell you all about the autistic individual. One of the problems with levels, though, is that it makes it harder to see past the diagnosis. When someone is diagnosed with “high functioning autism” people have a hard time understanding their challenges, honoring how hard that individual works day to day to appear high functioning, and sees less need for services. When someone is diagnosed with “low functioning autism” people don’t see their competence, assume lower intellectual capacity, and lower their expectations for the individual.

What can we do as therapists, parents, family members, and friends to change from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance? A simple place to start is to change our vocabulary. Try to ditch “red flags” or “symptoms” and replace them with “characteristics” or “learning profile.” Don’t be afraid to use “the A word” in your every day life. Talk about individuals being autistic the same way you would talk about someone wearing glasses or having black hair. Encourage children to ask questions about themselves or others. Using statements such as “don’t stare” or “mind your business” inadvertently tell children that what the autistic child or adult is doing is “wrong” or something to be ashamed of.

Along the lines of observing behaviors, remember that all behaviors serve a purpose. A tantrum or “noncompliance” is not the child being difficult or trying to upset an adult. They are letting us know they have had enough, do not understand what we are trying to do, or do not understand why we are trying to do something. Self-stimulating behaviors should not be a target in therapies. These are physical needs to self-regulate and make sense of a neurotypical world. The more an autistic individual suppresses the need to stim the more the individual will need to eventually “get it out” and it will likely be in a way that is not fun for them or others such as self-injurious behavior or a meltdown.

Some people may be reading this and thinking, “But what about all of the challenges? What about those who may never be able to live independently or have challenging behaviors day after day?” This blog is in no way saying that these challenges should be ignored. In fact, that would be just as ableist as saying the positive characteristics of autism should be ignored. What needs to be thought about is that we are not out there to “cure autism” or “teach a child to look typical.” We are out there to make an autistic person who has challenges become an autistic person with as little barriers in their life as possible.

One of the best things we can do is to listen to autistic voices. Autistic adults and children can teach us more about autism than any study or textbook can even begin to. Families who have loved ones with autism are also a wonderful resource. If it hasn’t been said clearly enough, the best thing to remember is that autistic individuals are just that- individual. They will all have different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in regards to THEIR autism. Autism Acceptance begins with understanding that and valuing each individual for exactly who they are.

26th Annual Conference: Community Resources for People with Autism

Therapro was delighted to return to the Community Resources for People with Autism 26th Annual Conference on April 15th, in Agawam, MA. This year’s conference, which is dedicated to providing information and networking opportunities for families and professionals, drew a sold-out crowd of 650 attendees. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. was this year’s guest speaker, providing three lectures entitled: “Autism and My Sensory Based World.” Additionally, a panel presentation closed the day with discussion about the daily challenges and successes of individuals living with autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Grandin is a renowned author and speaker on topics related to autism. She is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Throughout the day she spoke on a personal level as an individual who is autistic as well as on a professional level sharing information about therapeutic treatment strategies that are currently in use. Dr. Grandin explained how the autistic brain works, specifically highlighting in a fascinating way, how her brain categorizes experiences.

Therapro’s exhibit was popular with parents of children and adolescents diagnosed with ASD as well as with professionals. Fidgets of all types were popular, including the all-time favorite Rapper Snappers, Fidget Pencils, Bendeez, and Tangles. The Fidget Kit, which offers a variety of fidgets in one pack sold out quickly. Chewy necklaces were sought out throughout the day. Senseez Vibrating Pillows were a big hit. The Sensory Connection books and Drive-Thru Menus were hard to keep in stock. Books and products that address building social skills were praised: Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond, Building Social Relationships, and Mind Your Manners.

Visitors to our exhibit engaged in interesting discussions about weighted blankets, sensory sensitivities, and favorite self-regulation strategies. Many were familiar with Therapro and expressed their thanks for great products. One mom told me that “Therapro has made a big difference in my son – thank you!” Her 9-year-old son, who has ASD, loves Stretchy String, which he calls his “string of life!”

This conference was inspirational because it provided professionals and caregivers with insight from an individual who lives with autism daily. Dr. Grandin’s ability to share her life experiences was moving. I had the opportunity to meet and speak directly with her. She expressed her gratitude for Therapro distributing her favorite of the books she has written, The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s.

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L