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

Play Date Gifts That Last

~~ By: Alex Lopiccolo, COTA/L, CPT, NC aka Mr. Alex

You want your child to interact with the world around, make friends and get to know how to be a part of society. Just because he’s on the Autism Spectrum should not prevent him from enjoying a play date or mingling with other kids. Got-Autism guest-blogger Alex Lopiccolo provides some valuable insights on how parents can guide ASD kids on play dates.

When two children on the Autism Spectrum have a play date there can be little to no peer interaction.  They may not even make eye contact or be on the same topic.  The parent(s) may need to lead the structured play date just like a therapist would during an Occupational Therapy session.  But that doesn’t mean kids with Autism cannot have play dates.


Children with Autism may not understand the concept of many toys and you may need to guide them on how to share and play together as a team.  As the Wonder Pets would say, “What’s going to work? TEAMWORK!”  With Candy Construction, they can use Teamwork to construct a house, railroad, maze, automobile or plane, make a candy pie or anything they agree on with their creative imaginations. Once again, they may need some guidance to get started. Give two or three choices and/or guide a conversation by cueing the kids to ask each other what they would like to do.

Candy Construction3_Got-Autism

Another way to have children work together to build a specific design from the booklet. If they need it, an adult can direct them to take turns finding pieces and placing them in the correct place according to the chosen design. Most children are attracted to candy so you can also use it for a Q & A game of what’s their favorite candy then build the conversation from there to see what things they can bond with.

Manners & Social Skills

Something else that is difficult for children with ASD is manners and other social skills.  I need to give verbal prompts every session when teaching children on the spectrum social nuances and manners. The two keys to teaching these skills are frequent repetition and fun learning experiences.

Blunders Board Game_Got-Autism

When children with poor social skills are on play dates with children that have typical social skills, they may be seen as mean or rude when they don’t say anything or when they run into others, walk over toys, don’t say please, or burp in someone’s face without knowing or saying “excuse me”. By playing the Blunders board game, children can learn how to work through these real life scenarios.

Adults can also help any kid to recall other instances of when they or their friends might have had to work on manners. By playing this game during a play date, it may also give a neuro-typical child some idea of how their friend sees the world. This is a great game for the Special Ed, Speech Therapy, Art Therapy, Family Counseling, Occupational Therapy, Play Therapy or your household during family time.



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.