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

Parents take heart: extra time effort and therapy bills make a difference for special needs kids

summer shoesFor many parents, the end of the school year is a jubilant time of celebration and planning fun and relaxing summer activities and vacations with their families.

But for families living with children who have special needs like autism or Aspergers Syndrome, it can be a time that creates more than just a bit of anxiety at the prospect of spending more time together during the day. Often summer time translates to lots of additional work and effort on the part of parents to manage their children’s activities and guide behavior. Add therapy sessions into the mix and suddenly the summer schedule can become quite exhausting!

These are days when parents need encouragement the most. We need to be reminded that all the work and effort and therapy bills do make a difference for our children.

In that spirit, we wanted to share one of our favorite stories that we think really reinforces the notion that all that we do is NOT in vain. Carly Fleishmann is a young girl living with autism. She is non verbal, and until she was 11 years old, she did not communicate. But, through the relentless dedication of her parents and therapists, she has broken through and has made an amazing connection with the world around her using electronic communication tools. And the things she says – the insights that she is giving to what is really going on inside the mind of a person living with autism – is astonishing!

“People look at me and assume I am dumb because I cannot talk.” — Carly Fleishmann

Learn more about her story at her website: Carly’s Voice
Also, this news story: Girl with Autism – that aired last year on ABC’s 20/20 tells more about Carly’s incredible story!

What does your summer routine look like with your special needs child home from school?

Got-Autism offers communication skills therapy tools and resources that include assistive technology, ABA and language therapy, interactive software, games and electronic devices.

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Photo credit:  Alex of Gothenburg via flickr cc

Living with Autism and Finding Hope on the Football Field: Anthony Starego

How did an orphan with autism, who was once labeled “unadoptable,” find himself on NBC’s TODAY Show and ESPN’s College Game Day program and the sports section of USA TODAY a few weeks ago?

The short answer is a family and community who believed he was capable.

By the time Ray and Reylene Starego took him for their own when he was three years old, Anthony Starego had lived in a revolving door of 11 different foster homes.

Since that time, these passionate football fans have raised a son who is now an 18 year old high school football kicker. They shared their love, tradition and rituals of Rutgers University football with Anthony from a young age, who embraced it with intense enthusiasm. Through this shared passion, they have provided him with a way to tap into his unique talents, allowing him to reach a place where he could leverage his strengths and have success, despite significant developmental challenges.

This young man’s story is about a dream. It is about overcoming odds and assumptions and exceeding expectations. In 2006, at the age of 12, Anthony was inspired by a Rutgers player, Jeremy Ito, who kicked a game-winning field goal against University of Louisville. Witnessing that exciting moment made such an impression on him that he informed his father that he wanted to be a kicker.

Considering the multi-sensory issues that Anthony lives with, Ray hesitantly cautioned his son that football is a sport where the close physical contact that made him uncomfortable is unavoidable. Anthony was not swayed.

He began practicing. And as it turns out, Anthony’s need for routine, rituals and repetition in his life – all characteristics of autism lent themselves very well to the job of a football kicker – whose success is dependent on the ability to perform consistently over and over without getting distracted by high emotions.

In October, practice paid off when Anthony was called to the field for his team, Brick Township High School, with 21 seconds left in the game. He kicked a game-tying field goal against football powerhouse Toms River North. It was the first field goal of his varsity career.

Now, his parents aren’t ruling anything out.

Learn more about this inspiring young man by watching this very moving video tribute produced by ESPN.  Kick of Hope

Anthony and his family are featured on the TODAY Show.

High School Kicker with Autism Makes Winning Play

How One Kick Changed a Rutgers Fan’s Life