What does ‘Autism Awareness’ mean to OTs?

Got-Autism asked our guest blogger, Alex Lopiccolo what Autism Awareness means to him. He decided to team-up with fellow-OT, Elizabeth Tenace to come up with this response…

Early intervention is key to helping children on the spectrum improve their daily functional goals to interact with people and their environment. For Autism Awareness, we would like more parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms that a child on theKidsPlayTim1 Autism Spectrum may exhibit. Then parents could ask their Pediatrician to do a screening and, if needed, get testing done to get their child a diagnosis. The sooner a diagnosis is received, the faster therapy services from insurance companies may get covered.


Possible “Red Flags”…a person with ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to bealone
  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests (trains, washing machines, etc.)
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel

Many people on the Autism Spectrum display characteristics such as the inability to socially connect with others. They may also have repetitive behaviors that disrupt their functional life. They do this when they are overstimulated, anxious, or to change their arousal level. They may lock out joints, grind their teeth, flap their hands and play with their ears. But typical people have similar behaviors too! They change their arousal level by shaking their leg, twirling their hand, stroking their beard, or chewing gum. Many people have habits or behaviors to help with concentration and cope with their anxiety.  We help people on the spectrum replace their atypical behaviors to more socially appropriate ways of meeting their needs.

Another thing that “Autism Awareness,” means to us is understanding. Often people on the spectrum as well as their families feel isolated by the diagnosis. People with ASD often All About me Family Counters1_Got-Autismhave difficulty making friends because they may not understand social nuances such as body language and “unspoken” social rules (ex: conversational turn taking, friendly teasing,  sarcasm, etc.).  Often “neuro-typical” people become uncomfortable, frustrated, or impatient with people with ASD. Their knowledge frequently comes from movies, television, and books, which often give an unrealistic portrayal of people with ASD.

By providing more information we can help people improve their understanding of people who are on the spectrum. This can be done, and is being done in a variety of ways. Depictions of people with ASD in media such as books are becoming more accurate and varied. More information is easily accessible to the general public from children’s picture books to well produced documentaries. Parents and teachers can also facilitate understanding by helping children with and without ASD talk to each other and ask questions. Steamroller

All in all we all have a little Autism in all of us. Some are more severe, some are less.  Learning how to interact with and respect people regardless of differences can help everyone make more friends.  We therapists are here to help you and your family.



Written By: Alexander Lopiccolo, COTA/L and Elizabeth Tenace MS, OTR/L

Sensory Processing Disorder & Your Child

Many children and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may have auditory defensiveness/sensitivity.

What is SPD?

This is a condition where someone is highly sensitive to sounds that most people can tolerate, filter out or modulate. It puts their Central Nervous System (CNS) into a fight, flight or freeze reaction which makes their bodies feel like they are in danger. The person’s adrenalin will spike from the sounds. Crash Pas_Got-Autism

As a result, they may act out in a negative behavior response in public, school, home or at work. This may also result in a more stressful/upset day because the CNS is thrown-off from its typical self-regulated path to a more stressful and emotional path for the rest of their day.



What are some calming techniques? 

There are many different ways to help with sound hypersensitivity. Many Pediatric Occupational Therapists (OT’s) are trained in Therapeutic Music programs. These programs have the patient wear high definition headphones with specially recorded music to exercise the inner ears and the auditory centers of the brain to help the child regulate the sound. And there are some other benefits too! If interested, ask your OT about which Therapeutic Music programs they use.

wilbargerAnother technique OTs are trained in is the Wilbarger Protocol for Sensory Defensiveness. The Wilbarger-Therapressure-Brush is used for a specific brushing and joint compression protocol that may also help regulate a person’s CNS to decrease the hypersensitivity to sound.

Are there products that can be useful?

If your child is not seeing an OT, you can get them noise cancelling headphones to Plane Platinum Headphones_Got-Autismhave in the classroom, on an airplane, out in public or at home while someone vacuums, uses a blender, flushes a toilet, etc. These headphones block out extraneous background noise and dampen loud noises, but allow conversational level speech to be heard. 10549

I have children dampen sound to help them get used to it at a lower intensity vs. canceling all sound out, unless they’re performing a concentration activity (homework, paper work or learning a new skill by themselves).

Privacy Pop Tent_Got-Autism











Another idea is to create a special space for your child – somewhere they will feel
secure and can relax and be themselves. A Privacy Pop Bed Tent is a great place a person can seclude themselves and get away to block out sound and visual distractions while relaxing with no worries.

Also try bean bags or hug chairs where the body will sink in and feel loved. The deep pressure it provides may help relax the CNS and be the key to calming down after that frightening sound.Hug CHair Lounger_Got-AUtism

Now you have many therapeutic tools to look to for helping anyone with auditory sensitivity, it’s time to see which ones work best for you or your loved one!



Alex Lopiccolo is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Consultant, Jin Shin Practitioner, Wilbarger Therapressure Brushing Protocol Practitioner, Therapeutic Listening Program Practitioner who explores Sensory Integration inspired therapeutic activities. Alex, his wife and baby live in Edmonds, Washington. His favorite activities are spending time with his family and exploring the Pacific Northwest.


Related Products:
Music Therapy
Bed Tent
Wilbarger Brushes
Hug Chair
Bean Bags