What to Do When Your Child on the Autism Spectrum’s Routine Is Disrupted by the Coronavirus

As we all know, the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — has affected our society, increasing our levels of anxiety and contributing to what some would describe as “chaos.”

Now that social distancing and self-quarantine are very real parts of our world right now, many children will be home for weeks to come without a real end date. If you’re a parent of an autistic child, this upcoming change in your schedule is likely triggering your own anxiety.

Autism is a neurodivergent way of showing up in the world, associated with characteristics like passionate interest in specific topics, difficulty with typical communication methods, sensory sensitivities and using repetitive motions (called stimming) to regulate overwhelming experiences.

The change in the routine due to COVID-19 may upset or throw off your child. It’s a transition and transitions can be difficult and frightening for many kids on the spectrum — and you may be facing resistance from your child. So, how do you, as a parent, help your child with this upcoming change in routine and more time at home?

I have a few ideas on how we are going to get through this, one day at a time:

1. Keep it the same… as it’s becoming different.
In times like these, it’s very easy to change the routines, change your general rules about screen time, bedtime, wake time, snacks or whatever else. I urge you to maintain a similar schedule from day-to-day. Set a wake-up time, a time for lunch (perhaps the same as your child’s school schedule), screen time and bedtime. If you can, try to mimic your child’s school schedule by having periods of time during which certain activities will take place.

It’s very easy for our children to be entertained by an iPad, television or computer, but stick to time limits. Create a visual schedule with times or durations for each activity and follow it throughout the day. Build downtime for you as well as your child so you aren’t overwhelmed either.

With that said, stick to your new or revised routine so that your child can rely on the familiar amidst the unfamiliar. Making a change to your routine takes another element of your child’s life and makes it even rockier. Don’t feel bad and don’t offer too many exceptions to the rules or special treats to make this time easier for your child. That can make this situation confusing and anxiety-provoking.

2. Keep it positive.
As you are staying open to your child’s difficulty with this change in schedule, try to embrace the extra time you have with your child and try to do something fun together. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed for having to be the parent, the teacher and the therapist right now. Use this time to bake together, play a board game and prepare meals together. If you can, try to make the most of this time that we do have in our homes with our families. It’s truly unusual and there are two ways to make sense of this — either it’s not good or it can be OK (maybe even fun!).

3. Keep anxiety out of the mix.
If your child is sensing your anxiety about the change in routine and about the thoughts you are having about the coronavirus, it’s time to take some deep breaths, incorporate yoga, meditation or walks into your day to help you manage your anxiety.

Turn off the news and avoid discussing the latest numbers of people diagnosed, the shortage of disinfecting products or anything else in front of your children. If your child asks questions, answer just the question and don’t expand. Don’t offer statistics, numbers and don’t share your fears. A little bit of a response to the question may be enough to satisfy your child.

As humans, we are creatures of habit. Many of us thrive on routine and familiarity and dread a change. I am sending all parents everywhere good health vibes, prayers and patience while we figure out our new normal over the next few weeks!

Image by GettyImages

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by Dr. Liz Matheis, The Mighty

Designing the Perfect Home Playroom for Children with Autism – A Complete Guide

Children thrive when they play. Playing is an integral part of development and it helps promote the emotional, cognitive, physical and social well-being of kids.


If you have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), playtime is also incredibly important, but how children on the spectrum play may look a little different.
ASD may affect a child’s ability to copy the actions of others, explore their environment, and imagine the thoughts and feelings of others.

Children with ASD can learn those skills needed to play and ultimately thrive later in life, but it may require some facilitation from parents. One way to encourage healthy play is to create a dedicated playroom or space.

Image by: Product Diggers

by Stacey Rubin

3 Ways to Teach Social Skills at Home

Your child may also become easily frustrated because other children are not as interested in certain topics, games, or other children don’t want to talk about that topic for very long. Possibly, your child may not notice the body language and facial expressions of a peer who has lost interest, and ultimately walks away. When your child feels rejected, but doesn’t know why – they may become very angry, yell or become aggressive towards the children whose behavior or actions aren’t understood. The other children don’t understand your child’s internal experience and begin to label him as angry or weird. To a parent, that’s heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, you can’t go to school with your child and mediate these peer interactions (even though you’ve thought about it!), but you can use a few strategies to help build your child’s social awareness in an effort to make social relationships a little bit easier.

Role Play
To help your child understand what a disinterested peer looks like, act it out, or be exaggerative in your response to him when he tells you a story at home that is now going on for a long period of time with no end in sight. Your tolerance is higher and your patience may be greater because, after all, this is your baby. However, friends are not that patient.

See if your child asks you what’s wrong or why you’re making that face or slouching in your seat. Use this as a time to tell your child that his story is too long. You may feel like a ‘bad’ parent for saying something like this, but if you don’t, his peers will – and they likely won’t be as nice about it!

You can also role play other signs of disinterest, such as looking around the room, starting a conversation with another person, or walking away. Let your child know that it’s time to end a story or conversation and do something else. For example, she can ask her peer a question to keep the conversation going, “What did you do this weekend? What’s your favorite cartoon?” or “Do you want to play tag with me?”

Image by: Shield Healthcare

by Dr. Liz Matheis

How can I get my toddler with special needs to eat healthier?

Q: I have a child with special needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder). How do I get him to try new foods when he has issues with texture? When I try to get him to eat different types of veggies or fruits he will gag. His weight is normal and he is tall for his age but I worry because he doesn’t seem to eat enough. Thank you.

A: Know that every mother worries that her child may not be eating enough, but you may want to shift your focus from quantity to quality.  What is the quality of the foods that he eats? Does he eat some fruits and vegetables and the bulk is carbs? Is he able to handle some sources of protein.  If so, you are in good shape. Or is he eating primarily from one general food group?  This may limit the nutrients that he needs to keep his insides healthy.

Think about the array of foods that your son eats – what does his menu look like from day to day? Does he have an array from foods that he can tolerate?  If there is a particular texture that he enjoys, then try to bring in new foods and textures using that as your stable texture by which to introduce new ones.  By that I mean, if your son likes the texture of applesauce, then you may want to introduce a new food, such as carrots along side the applesauce.  Your son already has a good association with the applesauce and may be more accepting of the carrots if they sit beside the applesauce. You may even encourage him to dip the carrot in the applesauce!

Also, if he likes the texture of applesauce, how about introducing him to a similar texture, such as tomato sauce, a cream of broccoli/mushroom soup or yogurt? Many mothers have been able to sneak in extra vitamins and minerals by pureeing healthy vegetables and adding them to tomato sauce that is served over pasta! You can find these type of recipes in books such as Deceptively Delicious   or The Sneaky Chef.

Another mommy-strategy is to alter the texture of some fruits and vegetables by baking or cooking them. For example, if your son is turned off by a hard apple, how about baking it so that it’s softer and easier to chew and swallow? If a hard carrot is too much work or is just not appealing, how about boiling up some carrot coins? Also, if he likes a particular condiment, such as ketchup, mustard or a particular type of salad dressing, add a dollop of that next to the new vegetable and let him experiment with the flavor by using a familiar one that he likes, and just happens to be sitting right there on his plate… or at least nearby!

Another thing to keep in mind as well is that your son may not be interested in a new food/texture right away. He may need 10-15 exposures (that is, just placing it on the dinner table or on his plate) before he is interested in trying it. Don’t turn it into a power struggle – expose him to the new food/texture and let him explore it. He may poke at it, smoosh it between his fingers or squeeze it in his hand. Just watch and try to stay neutral about it.  You may want to ask him how it feels in his hand and wait to see if he progresses to placing the new food/texture in his mouth as another form of exploration. He may surprise himself and you and actually like it!

It’s very easy to get frustrated or impatient if you find that your efforts are not well received by your son, but know that it will take time for your son to accept a new food/texture. Try to avoid threatening, bribing, begging, or demanding that he try a new food. Let it be his choice, which also puts him in a position of control.  Introduce a new food/texture once every 3-4 weeks and keep exposing your son to the new food several times during that time. You may find it helpful to maintain a log of which new food you have introduced, when, how often, the way you prepared it, and your son’s response to it.  Keep this log and refer to it as you will begin to see patterns in your son’s preferences. This may be helpful in deciding which new flavor or texture to introduce next.

Image by: Pexels

by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D

“It’s a Spectrum” Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Everyone knows that autism is a spectrum.  People bring it up all the time.

“My son is on the severe end of the autism spectrum.”

“We’re all a little autistic– it’s a spectrum.”

“I’m not autistic but I’m definitely ‘on the spectrum.’”

If only people knew what a spectrum is…  because they are talking about autism all wrong.

Let’s use the visible spectrum as an example.

Picture

As you can see, the various parts of the spectrum are noticeably different from each other.  Blue looks very different from red, but they are both on the visible light spectrum.

Red is not “more blue” than blue is.  Red is not “more spectrum” than blue is.

When people discuss colours, they don’t talk about how “far along” the spectrum a colour is.  They don’t say “my walls are on the high end of the spectrum” or “I look best in colours that are on the low end of the spectrum.”

But when people talk about autism they talk as if it were a gradient, not a spectrum at all.

People think you can be “a little autistic” or “extremely autistic,” the way a paint colour could be a little red or extremely red.

But autism isn’t that simple.

by C.L. Lynch

To Medicate or Not To Medicate My Child, That is the Question

This is a question that parents struggle with once they receive an ADHD, Autism or Anxiety diagnosis for their child. For some parents, it is out of the question. For some, they are open to the idea, while others may want more than just medication.

What is the ‘right’ thing to do? Is there a ‘right’ thing? The answer, unfortunately or fortunately, is no. There are several variables to consider when deciding the appropriate course of treatment for your child and your family, as this decision is a family affair.

What is the impact on my child’s daily functioning?

​This question refers to how much your child is affected by poor focus, hyperactivity or impulsivity, anxiety, difficulty with transitioning, going to school each day, and ability to participate in daily routines, etc. That is, is your child able to establish and maintain friendships? Is your child able to take in class lessons and learn? Is your child distracting himself or others in the classroom? Is your child able to get to school each day? Is your child able to transition from home to school? From school to activities? Is your child able to complete homework? Is your child able to participate in leisure activities such as birthday parties or family gatherings?

Is your child able to participate in a family dinner at home by remaining seated and following a conversation? Are you able, as a family, to go out for dinner, to the mall, to the movies? Is your child able to play with another child in their home without breaking things/toys? Is your child clumsy or accident prone?

Your decision will be based on how severe the level of impact is on your child’s ability to participate in daily activities and events as an individual, and for you as a family.

Are there other strategies I can use before trying medication?

Yes, of course there are. You can begin to implement behavioral strategies, routines, boundaries and consistency from day to day. For example, you may create a space for your child to complete homework that is not at the kitchen table, as your kitchen is likely the Grand Central Station of your house, as it is in many. It is also helpful to implement a no phone or IPOD/IPAD rule in your house while homework is being completed. You can create a visual schedule of morning, after school and bedtime routines. You can also create a list of household rules and consequences and make sure to implement consequences consistently using a calm demeanor. You may want to implement a ‘quiet time’ each night that is electronic free where your child and family can begin to wind down and decompress before bed time.

You, the parent(s), are also part of the treatment. Parents often find it helpful to work with a therapist for Parent Coaching to prioritize areas of need within the home and assist parents in maintaining a consistent parenting style and finding the strategies specific to their home. If you are an organized person who is able to begin and complete a task without hesitation, you are likely going to struggle in understanding why your child just can’t sit down and complete 3 math problems, or why she just can’t go to school and work through her fears. I’ve seen many parents become frustrated despite being very sympathetic towards their child. However, by providing you, the parent, with small short-term goals for your child and for you as a family, you will experience success as a whole and work towards finding a balance between what your child needs to succeed and what your family needs to function.

Executive Functioning Coaching is another form of support for you and your child where a therapist can offer strategies to help with organization, prioritization, homework completion, scheduling and more. Work is done with the child and parent to identify learning style, natural tendencies and preferences in order to help the student develop self-awareness and ultimately internalize the strategies that work. The goal is to develop a sense of accountability as well as confidence for the student.

There are many strategies to choose from, but the ones that you’ll be implementing will be based on the areas of need for your child and for you as a family. Start small and expand the behavioral expectation as your child is experiencing success.

by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D.

How to Best Support Your Child with a Learning Disability

As a parent, we’re often troubleshooting challenges as they happen. So when you suspect your child may have a learning disability, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and how to obtain the resources to best support your child. To help streamline your next steps, we spoke with Dr. Liz Matheis, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders. Check out her interview below:

What are some of the common learning disabilities that you see amongst the tween and teen age groups? 

Often, learning disabilities can go unnoticed in children who are shy or anxious or withdrawn. For tweens and teens, I’m finding learning disabilities in math, reading, reading comprehension, and written expression. The learning disabilities are also comorbid with ADHD and anxiety, which can distract a learning disability diagnosis.

What are the steps that parents should take if they think their child may have a learning disability? 

I encourage parents to gain feedback about their child’s progress based on baseline and mid-year assessments completed by the public school. By the middle of kindergarten, parents can have a good idea of how their child is progressing in terms of academics, behavioral and social progress, and where he/she is in comparison to same aged peers.

If the child is struggling in reading, writing, spelling or math, parents can request Basic Skills Instruction. I believe that after 3 months of consistent instruction, the parent will be able to tell if the child is making progress. Basic Skill Instruction provides repetition of lesson as the idea is that the child may need the skill presented several times again in order for it to become learned.

If the child is not making progress, I encourage parents to reach out to the Guidance Counselor and request an I&RS plan (Intervention and Referral Services Plan). Strategies are documented and the time line is 4-8 weeks. I recommend that parents schedule a follow up meeting in 6 weeks to assess the efficacy of the plan.  If a child has a learning disability, the progress will be limited, thus indicating the next level, which is…

Photo from: Pintrest

by Dr. Liz Matheis and Phase2Parenting

Books to Teach Lessons

More than ever, we are inundated with children’s books about persistence, social-emotional learning (SEL), empathy, kindness, mindfulness and learning disabilities, just to name a few.

How does a parent sift through the quality ones and delete the fair to middling ones from your Amazon cart?

Before I started writing this blog, I logged into my Amazon account to view all of the great books that I purchased over the last few years that left a long-lasting impression on the children that I enjoy reading with. It was a difficult decision to pick just a few; there were so many to choose from. The majority of my book recommendations teach a valuable life lesson to youth and come highly recommended from one of my favorite teachers, Nancy Siegel.  They are not ranked in any defined order; I love them all equally.

The Junkyard Wonders
By, Patricia Pollaco
Theme: Finding out who you are, believing in yourself and trying to find your place. Learning to accept who you are.
This book is about persistence and working through your hardships. The main setting is in a classroom; the students in the class are referred to Junkyard Wonders by their teacher.

The Hundred Dresses 
By, Eleanor Estes
Theme: Teasing, bullying and perspective taking.
An enduring book about the moral dilemmas of childhood, empathy and standing up for others. It takes place mainly in school and classmates tease a young girl for being poor.

A Walk in the Rain with a Brain 
By, Edward M. Hallowell
Theme: All brains are different. We all have strengths; we all learn differently. Self-Awareness. Recommended for children that are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
This book discusses the anatomy of the brain. The main character in the story, Lucy takes a walk with a “brain,” and they talk about how all brains are created differently. An empowering book for people with ADD/ADHD.

​ISHI, Tips From A Solid Friend
By, Akiko Yabuki
Theme: Friendship
This book is a little gem for all to read. A perfect gift for your favorite teacher or your best friend. Ishi shows you how to be a good friend and what to look for in a good friend.

I Am Peace, A book of Mindfulness 
By, Susan Verde
Theme: Finding peace from within.
This book is perfect for reading before bedtime. The calming words and illustrations are sure to put you and your child in a restful state of mind.

What Do You Do With A Problem?
By, Kobi Yamada
Theme: Facing problems and figuring out ways to overcome big and little issues.
This book is about a persistent problem, and the child is not sure how to deal with it. The longer the issue is pushed under the rug, the bigger it seems to get. But when the child finally decides to face it, the problem turns out to be something entirely different than it appeared.

Photo from: Pexels

by Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Julie C.
"Dr. Matheis has a remarkable ability to understand the unique needs of her patients and address them constructively. She builds strong, meaningful relationships with patients and their families, encouraging trust and collaboration. When working with my son who struggles with autism-related anxiety, she created an environment in which he was able to calm down and open up to her in ways I had not seen before. She was able to reach him and helped him work through his crisis/problem. Most importantly, she empowered him to move forward."
- N.L.
"Dr. Matheis is amazing. She has tremendous resources and loads of energy. She is not willing to accept anything less than the most effective results for her clients. She made me feel as if my son was her top priority throughout the entire process. I would, without reservation, give her my highest recommendations.  Thank you, Dr. Matheis!"
- Anonymous
"Dr. Matheis has an amazing ability to read kids and connect with them. She has been an invaluable resource for our family over the past several years and has helped us with everything from educational consulting, to uncovering diagnoses as well as family therapy. Working with Dr. Matheis never feels clinical and most importantly, our children love and trust her. We can not thank you enough Dr. Liz!"
- Anonymous
"My teenage son had been seeing Dr. Matheis through his senior year of high school, as he was only diagnosed with ADHD at 16 years old.  Dr. Matheis came highly recommended from our pediatrician and she has done wonders for our son as well as our family, navigating new ways for him to deal with his diagnosis without the use of medication.  She taught him ways to organize himself and even when something did not work for him, she patiently continued teaching him new ways to keep himself on track.  She has also helped us as parents to understand how his mind works so that we did not continue to blame his lack of focus on him, rather on his unique way of thinking.  Thank you Dr. Matheis!!!!"
- LG
"Dr. Liz is the best! Our family was directed to her by our Pediatrician to assist with figuring out severe mood changes, severe anxiety, strange new fears and food aversion that had come onto one of our children literally overnight. After just a couple of visits, she suggested that the issues may actually be rooted in a physical issue and suggested we immediately take our child to be swabbed for strep, because Dr. Liz suspected PANDAS (a pediatric autoimmune disorder brought on by strep). The same Pediatrician that suggested Dr. Liz would not do the swab (they do not believe in PANDAS and we no longer go there) but I took my child to my doctor who did the swab and it was positive for strep. When our child went on antibiotics, within 24 hours all symptoms went away and our child was back :-) Dr. Liz then recommended a PANDAS specialist who helped us and our child is in complete remission and is happy and healthy. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Liz for her knowledge of all things, even the most remote and unusual and for helping us so much! Thank you!"
- Anonymous
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Anonymous
"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
- June I
"My son was admitted to an Ivy League school when only 2 years ago, you assessed him and saw his struggles, his Dyslexia. We are grateful that he no longer has to carry that deep feeling of inadequacy or shame that must have kept him so self conscious and from reaching his potential. He has the PERFECT program for him. He has A's in high math and economics. He became a Merit Scholar, a Boys State legislature, the HEAD captain of the football team and help a job ALL while studying and managing his classes and disability. I am PROUD of you, a young doctor, who knows and sees the vulnerability of children and helps them recognize "it's NO big deal" God bless."
- Anonymous

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