Autism Awareness Month

Not only is this time of year Birthday Month for Kortni Jeane, but even more importantly it’s Autism Awareness Month! Every April Autism Speaks celebrates by sharing stories and providing opportunities to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism. And we want in on that support! Today we’re coming at you with a quick blog about autism, complete with activities and traveling tips for those mamas that are raising these cute kiddos with autism.
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WHAT IS AUTISM?
“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions that typically are characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, or nonverbal communication. In the United States today, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children. Each person with autism has a recognizable set of strengths and challenges. Those with autism learn, think, and problem-solve in various ways, between highly skilled to severely challenged. Depending on their needs, some people with ASD require support in their daily lives while others can live entirely on their own. 
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Signs of autism can appear by age 2 or 3 but some development delays can appear even earlier. ASD can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. According to Autism Speaks, early intervention typically leads to positive outcomes as kids with autism grow up and become adults. For more information on symptoms and signs, take a look here.” 
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ACTIVITIES
Play is oh so important for kids with autism. As Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” This is especially true for our littles with autism since playful activities teach social skills, inspire creativity, increase learning and understanding, improve communication, and develop fine/gross motor skills. 
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It’s not easy to get a child with autism to play. Sometimes many kids with autism get stuck in repetitive patterns and are resistant to interruptions. Other times kids with autism have a hard time focusing on one activity or cannot communicate to learn the rules or concepts during play. Ironically, a lot of the challenges kids with autism face with play can be learned/addressed through play. So we’ve put together a quick list of autism friendly activities but each activity should be chosen based on your kid’s interests, their strengths, and should cater to their senses. 
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1. Calm Down Bottles
Use any plastic water or soda bottle, fill it with a bottle of glitter glue + warm water, and additional fine glitter for an extra glittery effect! Close the bottle and shake it up! The glitter will swirl for a long time and slowly settle, which will mesmerize your kiddos with autism for long periods of time. Calm down bottles are ideal for long waits, drives, haircuts, or even meltdowns at the store. This is a great visual/sensory activity for preschoolers to preteens. 
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2. Beach Sensory Play
Set up a large bin or water table and fill it with sand, shells, water, beads, and a small structure that could work as a beach house. With all these supplies, you’ll set up a small beach world which will become a wonderful place for pretend play and sensory exploration. In this activity share your favorite beach activities, crafts, and snacks with your little one. You could even create a treasure hunt by listing all the items you’ve hidden in the sand + water at the beach and having them find them. 

3. Emotions - Paper Emoticon Cut Outs
Using colored construction paper, markers, and glue, craft lots of different “emoticons” just like the ones you’d find on your cell phone. Draw and cut out eyes, notes, mouths, and eyebrows. Then arrange the features to display the emotions: happy, sad, jealous, bored, frustrated, sleepy or any emotions you are teaching your kiddo. Write the word/emotion on the back of each face that you and your little one construct and use them to talk about their moods + feelings as they come up. 
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4. Toss Colored Rings
If you’re spending a day at the pool and there’s a shallow end to play in, be sure to bring colored rings (that sink or float, depending on your kid’s comfort levels). Toss the colored rings into the water and race to get them. As a friendly reminder, all children should be supervised in the water at all times. 
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5. Coin Rubbing
This last activity is a classic! Gather up a few different coins, place a sheet of paper over the top, and use mixed crayons to rub a  colorful pattern into the paper. Kids with autism love making patterns and colors while developing their hand-eye coordination skills. You can even ask family or friends who like to travel if you could borrow any coins they’ve collected and talk to your kiddos about these places. 
TRAVELING TIPS
Traveling can be exciting but it can also be anxiety provoking, especially for children with autism. Traveling can include changes in routine, introducing unfamiliar environments + people, and considerable sensory stimulation. Check out the following recommendations when traveling with a child diagnosed with ASD but keep in mind that not all recommendations will be a good fit for every child. 
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By Airplane:
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1. Mark it on a calendar
Weeks before travel, hang a calendar with the departure date clearly marked, and have your child check off each day until it’s time to go! The calendar will give them a concept of time in a visual way and help prepare them for the change in routine.
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2. Do not wash comfort items
Having a favorite item that smells like home, such as a blanket or a plush toy, can be soothing in a new environment.
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3. Pre-pack meals + snacks
Foods offered in the terminal or on the airplane can be a problem if your child has dietary restrictions or if they are a picky eater. It is so helpful to pack a variety of snacks and mini meals for your child. Try to pack chewy foods for a child who seeks sensory stimulation orally or any foods that are familiar to your child.
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4. Have them explain the process
Encourage your kiddo to explain the process of traveling by airplane to you, using their toys. This will help your child grasp the traveling process and expose areas where the child still has questions. This approach should be tailored to meet your child’s developmental level.
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5. Airport Security Accommodations
The TSA accommodates travelers with disabilities and has protocols to best meet your kids needs. You can even contact your local airport to see if the TSA will let you and your child do a practice walk-through of airport security. This will help your little one become familiar with the process prior to the day of travel.
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6. Boarding Early
You’ve probably heard the gate attendants call for anyone who needs assistance boarding, that means you! Go ahead and board early or last depending on your preference. Advantages to boarding early are not having to wait in line while boarding last means not needing to wait in your seat + being on the airplane for a shorter time.
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7. Ear Popping
Many kids with autism struggle with the discomfort in their ears during takeoff + landing. Practice chewing gum before flying or have your child suck on a piece of candy. Or if these aren’t good options for their needs, chewing toys can also be effective!
8. In-Flight Entertainment
Allow your child access to items in their travel bag, such as movies, music, books, coloring books, and toys. Play dough or putty is also beneficial if they enjoy hands-on stimulation.
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By Car:
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1. Know Your Route
Have an itinerary for the time in the car, plan scheduled stops along the way for bathroom breaks, meals, snacks, etc. This will help with unexpected stops and will help your child keep to their bathroom + meal routines.
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2. Favorite Snacks + Toys
Keep your child’s favorite snacks and toys well stocked. You could also buy new activities if they lose interest in the familiar ones you brought with you.
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3. Social Story about Your Trip
Write your own social story about how your car trip is going to look by using pictures and various landmarks that your child will see on the drive. Read this story to them every day leading up to the trip so they’re familiar with what’s happening around them.
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4. Practice with Shorter Trips
Need to run an errand an hour away from home? Take your child with you to help them get used to being in the car for long periods of time. If you’re going on a 3+ hour drive, practicing as much as you can will help! You can even practice going to the bathroom at various gas stations if needed.
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5. Leave Early
If your child can sleep in the car, that is always the best option! Leave so early that they’ll sleep and you should miss all the traffic as well. Some of the best trips were ones we slept through as kids!
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6. Prepare for the Worst
Road trips can go very wrong, so we might as well prepare for everything that could possibly happen. Come up with solutions for each situation you can think of so you have a general idea of what to do if things go very wrong.
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7. Reinforce + Praise
If your child is doing awesome with car riding behaviors, give them a snack or a new toy for their efforts. Let them know that you’re proud of them for doing hard things! Or after a successful outing, stop at their favorite restaurant for a treat or reward!
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Whatever may happen, good or bad, it is so great to share special moments as a family with your child. All of those good memories you’re creating are worth every preparation and every attempt. So whether you’re playing with your child with autism at home or traveling with them, keep making those memories and ask for help if you need it! 
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What part of this post was most helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below so we can keep improving for next year! Happy National Autism Awareness Month!
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xoxo
Kortni + Team
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