WHY BEING COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS THOSE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM IS SO IMPORTANT – BY SAVANNAH SLONE

April is Autism Awareness Month and, as a mother to a child with autism, I wanted to share my perspective on compassion and how it relates to how you treat those on the spectrum.

Autism spectrum disorder is currently present in 1 out of every 68 children in the U.S (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html). These numbers have increased exponentially over time and will most likely increase, if the pattern continues. With rates having increased 30% since 2012, we need to increase autism awareness so that children can begin receiving the help that they need as early as possible.

My now three-year-old son was developing normally until he hit a regression at 15 months. He became more serious and rigid and began toe walking, flapping his hands, spinning in circles, and lining up his toys. He lost his 10-word vocabulary and his interest in other children. This happened basically overnight and inspired me to do some research. With a concern of autism, I discussed his behaviors with his doctor. She recommended looking into getting a diagnosis and beginning early intervention services.

After my son received his diagnosis, at 21-months, he began speech, occupational, and ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. He has since made incredible progress and mainly only struggles with social issues, transitions, and a slightly lesser vocabulary than his fellow three-year-old peers. He is now in an autism specific preschool program and absolutely loves it.

While my son has made amazing strides, I worry over the possibility of another regression in the future. I also fear how his “normally” developing peers will treat him in the future. According to a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network, “A total of 63% of 1,167 children with ASD, ages 6 to 15, had been bullied at some point in their lives” (https://www.iancommunity.org/cs/ian_research_reports/ian_research_report_bullying). Knowing that the majority of children on the spectrum have been bullied breaks my heart for my son.

The most effective way of lowering this tragic statistic is through educating our neurotypical children on what autism is and what an affect their words can make on a person. “Autism”, as defined by Autism Speaks, “refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences” (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism). According to Psychology Today, children with autism are 28 times more likely to attempt suicide (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/aspergers-diary/201303/new-research-autism-and-suicide). If those with autism felt more accepted, I have no doubt that this statistic would be lower.

One form of educating your kids about autism is through children’s books on the topic. Below is a list of seven titles to read with your children.

1. “My Friend with Autism” by Beverly Bishop
https://www.amazon.com/My-Friend-Autism-Enhanced-Coloring/dp/193527418X

2. “My Brother Charlie” by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete
https://www.amazon.com/Brother-Charlie-Holly-Robinson-Peete/dp/0545094666

3. “Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters With Autism” by Fiona Bleach
https://www.amazon.com/Brother-Charlie-Holly-Robinson-Peete/dp/0545094666

4. “Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism: An Insight into the Autistic Mind” by Max Miller
https://www.amazon.com/Hello-Name-Max-Have-Autism/dp/1496922980/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491247470&sr=8-1&keywords=Hello%2C+My+Name+is+Max+and+I+Have+Autism%3A+An+Insight+into+the+Autistic+Mind

5. “I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism” by Pat Thomas
https://www.amazon.com/See-Things-Differently-First-Autism/dp/1438004796/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491247497&sr=8-1&keywords=I+See+Things+Differently%3A+A+First+Look+at+Autism

6. “Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book” by Celeste Shally
https://www.amazon.com/Since-Were-Friends-Autism-Picture/dp/1616086564/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491247507&sr=8-1&keywords=Since+We%27re+Friends%3A+An+Autism+Picture+Book

7. “All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism” by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer
https://www.amazon.com/All-My-Stripes-Children-Autism/dp/1433819171/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491247517&sr=8-1&keywords=All+My+Stripes%3A+A+Story+for+Children+with+Autism

By talking to your children about autism, and other developmental disorders, they will understand that they ought to be treated with respect as equals. Raising compassionate kids can truly save lives.

10 BIRTHDAY GIFT IDEAS FOR THE CHILDREN IN YOUR LIFE

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Kids have too much stuff. There, I said it—someone had to. Kids have way too much stuff and it’s weighing down their imaginations and ability to think for themselves. With television, video games and other forms of technology becoming more and more present in the lives of people of all ages, there needs to be a more well established balance. When your child, sibling, niece, nephew, or best friend’s kiddo has an upcoming birthday, it is an opportunity to nurture what children are losing: the ability to simply be a child. Below are ten ideas for birthday gifts that the children in your life will adore.

1. Gift Certificate

Gift certificates are one of the best gifts that can be given. A gift certificate is a gift of a memory, rather than a dispensable item. Give them a gift certificate for your local zoo, roller-skating rink, restaurant, or any other fun spot that you or their family can take them. By giving the gift of fun and memories, you avoid adding to the clutter of too many toys and encourage the child to make time for play.

2. Gardening Tools

Giving a gift of gardening tools is wonderful! You can pair them with flower seeds, veggie starts, or a book about gardening. This is a gift that teaches children a sustainable skill, while simultaneously encouraging them to get outside and work with their hands. Gardening teaches hard work, patience, and offers a worthwhile (and tasty) reward as the season progresses.

3. Box Subscriptions

Box Subscriptions are always a good idea!  Children love to get mail and open packages.  There are several great subscriptions available for children. Some focus on art, science, clothes, and cooking. Our favorite is the Get it Going box which delivers activities to promote kindness. Boxes are filled with “Top Secret” challenges making the doing part of kind deeds more fun. Check out other subscription boxes at crate joy.com

4. Art Supplies
One of the best ways for children to get creative in play and express themselves is through art. A gift of paints, crayons, colored pencils, or other art supplies are always great “go to” present ideas.

5. Baking Supplies

Cooking is a skill that ought to begin from an early age. Cooking is rewarding and highly enjoyable, so a baking bowl, whisk, and set of measuring cups is the perfect gift for any child. Pair baking supplies with a kid-friendly cookbook like one of these: http://dailyparent.com/articles/the-15-best-cookbooks-for-kids/.

6. DIY Science Kit

Many kids love science and learning through cause and effect. Being able to put something together themselves or witnessing a reaction is tons of fun! Check out this list of DIY science kits for children: http://nontoygifts.com/top-11-diy-science-kits-for-kids/. Another great resource is the Science & Discovery Toys section on the Toys”R”Us website: http://www.toysrus.com/products/science-and-discovery-toys.jsp.

7. Musical Instrument

Learning a musical instrument is exciting! It takes patience, practice, and hard work, but leaves them with a creative skill that can become a lifelong hobby or, perhaps, even a career. A musical instrument can be paired with an instructional book, DVD, or prepaid series of classes at a local music shop.

8. A Gift From the Heart

One of the most special gifts that can be given are those from the heart. A handmade card or self-composed and performed song, dance, or poem are all very thoughtful. Another idea is a book of photos of you and the child. Regardless of what it is, a gift that you make will be memorable and kind.

9. Books

Children, or adults, for that matter, cannot have too many books. Reading expands the mind and encourages analytical thinking, as well as empathy for people different than oneself.

10. Journals
A journal is a simple, yet thoughtful gift. This can be given on its own or along with a special pen. You can personalize it by giving a list of journal prompt ideas. For journal prompt inspiration, check out this link: https://www.journalbuddies.com/prompts-by-grade/elementary-writing-journal-prompt-ideas-for-kids/.

Let us know which of these birthday gift ideas you went with, in the comments section below.