Alleviate Autism Transforming parents one autistic child at a time. Tue, 15 Oct 2013 19:51:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Identifying the Symptoms: Is My Child Gifted or Autistic? Wed, 25 Sep 2013 18:36:40 +0000 high functioning - blogI hear a lot of stories out there from parents whose children were initially diagnosed as being gifted only to discover years later that their other symptoms related to obsessive-compulsive or social behaviors weren’t just quirks, they were symptoms of something else entirely. Until recently autism spectrum disorder or ASD wasn’t as readily screened and diagnosed as it is today. Schools, physicians and even behavioral specialists regularly missed important cues related to ASD and chalked these behaviors up to a byproduct of an unusually gifted or advanced mind.

Part of this misdiagnosis is the disorder itself. Autism spectrum disorder comes in many different shapes and sizes – there’s no one-size-fits all set of symptoms and behaviors that can easily put all autistic persons in a single box. Each individual has his or her own pattern of development and skills, making it very difficult to properly diagnose.

The Trinity

While each child is uniquely different in the way that ASD symptoms are displayed, there are three primary areas that diagnostic symptoms fall into within a range of varying degrees. These three areas include behaviors that are stereo-typed or repetitive, difficulty with communication and impairments related to social skills.

In most cases it is the parents who first notice different behaviors in their child, particularly when the opportunity arises to compare their child to other children of the same age group. These behaviors can be seen even from birth with some babies avoiding eye contact or focusing excessively on specific objects. Developmental delays, such as not responding to communication or play interaction with parents or other children, are also indicators of ASD.

Developmental regression can also be an indicator of ASD. Some children will develop normally until the age of 2 or 3, but will suddenly begin displaying a change in behavior. Depending on the individual, a loss of interest in communicating, skill development, exploration and even an apparent indifference to other people or social situations will begin to occur seemingly out of the blue.

Symptoms of ASD

There are specific symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder that are not typically seen in other children. While some children may be naturally shy or pull away from social situations, children with ASD can display unusual reactions, such as refraining from making eye contact, preferring to play alone or by responding in a contrary manner when others display emotions such as affection, concern or anger. Misreading facial cues, gestures and other forms of non-verbal communication is a common symptom seen in children with ASD, and is thought to be a direct cause of reduced social interaction.

Problems with communication are another red flag sign that parents and doctors may pick up on in a child with ASD. Delayed language development, use of limited words or sign language, slowed verbal skills, repetition of words or phrases and use of words in way that is contrary to their actual meaning are other typical behaviors associated with ASD. Some children communicate their own thoughts very well, often talking incessantly about a particular subject, but are unable to allow others to interact with them and add something to the conversation. ASD can be difficult to diagnose because no two children will have the exact same types of symptoms at the same level of severity – there’s no cut-and-dry pattern of behavior.

High-Functioning ASD and the Gifted Child

Despite all of the developmental issues and behaviors associated with autism, some forms of ASD, particularly high-functioning disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome, regularly confuse teachers, physicians and specialists. There are a lot of shared symptoms between gifted and autistic children, making it important to test and assess each child early to determine a course of action.

Both gifted and autistic children can display an unusual intelligence compared to other children within their own age group. Additionally, some of the unique symptoms seen in children diagnosed with ASD are also seen in gifted children, most often in the form of social behaviors, unusually focused interests on a particular subject and inattentiveness.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) also share similar symptoms and behaviors. It is important to note that some gifted children may have attention problems unrelated to ADHD or ASD, but that hold them back in the classroom and keep them from gifted program participation. Early screening, IQ testing and other specialized assessments can help prevent a misdiagnosis, which can lead to potentially damaging courses of action with regard to treatment or even a lack of treatment that could be beneficial to the child.


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Floortime Therapy: Does It Really Work? Sun, 11 Nov 2012 00:52:18 +0000 Floortime is the common term used to describe the Developmental, Individual-differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model used by psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Greenspan in an attempt to provide a unique therapy experience for children diagnosed with a wide array of developmental issues, delays and conditions. ‘Floortime’  describes the method used by parents or caregivers to reach out to the child on his or her level, engaging them down on the floor where children spend most of their playtime. DIR was first outlined in Dr. Greenspan’s 1979 book titled, “Intelligence and Adaptation.”

Dr. Greenspan, along with other researchers and in particular, clinical psychologist Dr. Serena Wieder, PhD, conducted a series of studies of the effect of DIR or Floortime on patients throughout the years, concluding that Floortime was beneficial to their patients. By focusing on the parent-child connection which is so strong in many children affected with developmental issues, Greenspan believed that the child’s natural curiosity and creativity could be readily attracted and captured.

One study in particular occurred in 2003, when Dr. Greenspan and Dr. Weider studied a particular patient named Joey, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Joey and his father participated in Floortime therapy 6 times each day over a period of 3 years and showed continuous improvement. Other studies were conducted independently of Dr. Greenspan in the US, Canada and Thailand, that also supported the benefits of Floortime, particularly in reducing the core symptoms of ASD.

How Does Floortime Work?
The idea behind Floortime or DIR is that autism and other developmental disorders are a direct result of the brain’s effect on a child’s senses, relationships and other experience in the world. DIR assumes that a child’s actions are purposeful no matter how unusual or different, and invites the parent or caregiver to follow along, mimicking the same behavior as a means of coaxing interaction to develop communication with the child. Other child-led learning methods have proven to be effective and there are many who see improvement in children who participate in this type of play-based therapy.

In addition to other more proven exercises, some schools have begun to incorporate Floortime into their overall strategy with preschool-aged children as a means of improving emotional and social development. Studies have shown that Floortime works well in conjunction with other behavioral programs such as Verbal Behavior or Applied Behavior Analysis. Families are encouraged to utilize Floortime as an at-home treatment of extended therapy, particularly for affected preschoolers or even toddlers.

According to Greenspan’s research, there are 6 unique milestones of development that are important for encouraging intellectual and emotional growth in a child with development issues. The goals of DIR/Floortime are to help the child achieve these developmental milestones:

  • Stage #1 – Regulation/Interest
    Helping the child to self-regulate behavior in order to give full attention to a person or the child’s surroundings.
  • Stage #2 – Relating/Engagement
    Encouraging interest in a person or the child’s surroundings to develop a bond and learn how to distinguish inanimate objects from people.
  • Stage #3 – Intentional Communication
    Learning how to have a two-way interaction or communication between the parent or caregiver and the child.
  • Stage #4 – Social Problem-solving
    Utilizes pre-language skills to encourage problem-solving, creativity and interaction through the use of babbling, gestures, expressions and more.
  • Stage #5 – Symbolic Playtime
    Communicating ideas or intentions through the use of symbols, pictures or words.
  • Stage #6 – Bridging Ideas
    Establishing a sense of reality and encouraging basic reasoning, logic and emotional thinking patterns to bring all of these ideas and intentions together.

DIR/Floortime challenges the child to increase their developmental milestones through intentional play-therapy in a calm and comfortable setting. Most of these therapy sessions last between two and four hours, following the child’s lead in an attempt to create a connection between the caregiver and the child. Floortime and variations of these techniques are used today by parents, caregivers, specialists, hospitals, schools and other developmental experts.

The Verdict?
While there are many parents and professionals who strongly support the use of DIR/Floortime, there are relatively few independent studies that have been completed that support its effectiveness on children with ASD or other developmental disorders. A single-subject study was recently conducted (Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008; National Research Council) using a child who had been diagnosed with autism. The results were encouraging, particularly the journal provided by the child’s mother throughout the analysis, but so far have only prompted researchers to determine that further testing was needed to draw a complete conclusion as to its effectiveness.

For those of you who have tried Floortime therapy we would love to hear from you.  What has been your experience so far to include results?  How did your child react to this form of therapy?  Did you find it easy to follow and adapt too?  Thanks for sharing!

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A Fresh Perspective! Fri, 26 Oct 2012 00:13:54 +0000 Fresh perspective…best advice to date!

This review is from: Step Ahead of Autism: What You Can Do to Ensure the Best Possible Outcome for Your Child (Paperback)

I was curious to read this book because I’m a stay-at-home dad with an autistic 5 year old son and twins that are 3 years-old. I belong to a support group and 90% of the moms have read this book and have raved about it. I wanted to read it myself, from a dad’s perspective.

After reading the first chapter I wanted to spend the next three months blogging about how finally someone understood what I was going through. It is like the author was walking in my shoes. Everything she says, I’m living. Her advice is spot-on.

And unlike the previous review- I have no expectations that my son will follow in the author’s son’s footsteps and go to Brown University. But the author doesn’t promote that kind of success at all. She teaches parents to take baby steps and continually define and celebrate their child’s successes.

I can’t begin to write about everything I loved about this book. I can’t wait to meet the author in person, hear her speak and take one of her classes. Anne Moore Burnett has the answer the autism community has been waiting for.

I am going to recommend this book to everyone and in every way I can. Bravo!!

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Wow…I’m back! Mon, 22 Oct 2012 18:38:22 +0000

Mattie, Joey and me!
Congrats Joey!

First, let me apologize for not sending out my bi-weekly newsletter for quite some time in addition to not being consistent with my blog posts and tweets!

So much has happened over the past six months…My son, Joey graduated from Brown University this past Memorial Day weekend.  He also secured a position at Columbia University in New York City which he is now living, working and applying to graduate schools for next fall.  I’ll tell you all about the many transitions (we have both endured!) in more detail in the upcoming posts.

Also, this past May and as a direct result of my book, I accepted the position of State Director of Rhode Island for Best Buddies® International.  Best Buddies is a non-profit organization whose mission is to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In addition to my work with Best Buddies, I’m continuing to counsel parents, educate college students in the field of special education, and provide workshops based on the tools and strategies in my book, Step Ahead of Autism. 

I prefaced this writing with an apology because I’m a huge proponent of consistency.  Consistency allows us to depend on what’s to come and helps us navigate unplanned transitions.  Consistency is one of main keys to successfully raising an autistic child.  A topic I will continue to discuss throughout the upcoming holiday season.

In my newsletter coming out this Thursday, I will talk about how I will be able to offer you my services and availability on a consistent basis from here on out.  I have put together a team here at and we are so excited about what will be made available to you just by a click of your mouse…stayed tuned!

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Observe Sun, 08 Jul 2012 17:45:24 +0000 To watch somebody attentively

Joey didn’t sleep

He didn’t like being awake

He fended off our touch

He had a poor appetite

He was highly sensitive to smells

All these symptoms stood out to me right from the beginning, but they were not enough for Joey’s doctors to realize that he has autism.

Medical professionals are eager to help, but a brief doctor’s visit does not provide enough time for even a specialist to properly observe and diagnose your child. That is why it is vital that you arrive with a list that mentions all of your concerns, be very specific! Ask questions!

Any given observation could be the key to unlocking your child’s best potential!

In Chapter 2 of Step Ahead of Autism I provide tips and exercises that help you make the most of the “observe” step, including specific formats to use while recording your child’s behavior to help get him or her the best medical treatment possible .

Step Ahead of Autism is the first book on autism to offer step-by-step, attainable, parent-tested exercises, techniques, and tips; important attributes every parent can develop and nurture in themselves; the knowledge and confidence necessary to meet the challenges of raising an autistic child; a strong argument for making early diagnosis and intervention the primary goals of every parent, pediatrician, educator, and caregiver. Click here for more information about the book!

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Trust Wed, 06 Jun 2012 15:43:40 +0000

Hopeful reliance on what will happen in the future.

The trusting process can help with many aspects of life. For me, not only was it a step I needed to master when raising my son Joey, but it was also something I needed to do during the adoption process. My belief that I would one day become a mother, led me to make a phone call to the adoption agency that I would never forget, the call that I received the news that I was the mother of a baby boy.

When raising a child with autism, you have to trust in your ability to make decisions. All parents must do this to help their children, but when a child is autistic they will be less able to contribute to the decision making process, making the process that much more difficult. Believe in your intuition and through nurturing it, it will become your most powerful tool as parent, and will give you the confidence you need when making these important decisions.

All parents possess intuitive abilities, in chapter 1 of Step Ahead of Autism I provide tips and exercises to help guide you towards finding and using them. I hope you will purchase the book and begin the process of becoming the parent that your child needs to realize their greatest potential.

Step Ahead of Autism is the first book on autism to offer step-by-step, attainable, parent-tested exercises, techniques, and tips; important attributes every parent can develop and nurture in themselves; the knowledge and confidence necessary to meet the challenges of raising an autistic child; a strong argument for making early diagnosis and intervention the primary goals of every parent, pediatrician, educator, and caregiver. Click here for more information about the book!

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Six days and counting… Sun, 20 May 2012 15:11:40 +0000

Joey at 3 yrs. old

Next Sunday, Joey will graduate from Brown University.  In celebration, I want to share my favorite moments, pictures, and blog posts.  The post below, Will He Ever?, offers the questions we as parents of autistic children ask ourselves at one time or another.

I learned early on to put my energies in finding the answers rather than spending time asking them.  My attitude, strength, knowledge and capabilities as a parent played just as an important role as did Joey’s perseverance.

I learned early on that if I changed the way I looked at things, the things I looked at changed.

Will He Ever?

Parked outside of Joey’s dorm room waiting to pick him up for spring break, I thought back to all the “will evers” I used to ask:

  • Will Joey ever babble?
  • Will Joey ever talk?
  • Will Joey ever eat more than the three foods he eats now?
  • Will Joey ever step out of his routine?
  • Will the melt-downs ever stop?
  • Will Joey ever have friends?
  • Will Joey ever graduate from high school?
  • Will Joey ever go to college?

Startled by the knock on the window, I jumped out of the car and hugged Joey. I helped him load two months worth of laundry into the back. We got in the car, Joey chatting away about his last six weeks at Brown when I realized I forgot what street to go down next.

“Will you ever find your way home mom?” Joey laughed as he gave me directions.

I smiled to myself, and thought—I have.

Joey's High School Graduation


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Necessary reading for passionate, involved parents of autistic children Sat, 05 May 2012 15:53:11 +0000

Carolyn Bahm "Writer, reader, mom, & perpetually curious person."

A Candid Review of Step Ahead of Autism submitted by Carol Bahm

Step Ahead of Autism comes highly recommended, and not just by me. The noted pediatrician, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, says this book can be inspiring and empowering for parents of children with autism. I agree: it’s useful both as an interesting story and as a guide for navigating this path youself.

Step Ahead of Autism describes the journey of one autistic boy and his mom through early diagnosis, treatment and successful integration into the broader world of college life. It’s also a thoughtfully prepared and detailed workbook written in a straightforward and conversational tone by a mother who’s clearly “walked the walk” of rearing a child with autism. It’s not a perfect walk, and that’s actually a good thing; the author talks about some lapses in judgment (such as complacency) and how she turned those into learning experiences. I think it will be a great tool for parents wanting to develop sharper observational skills (and wanting to know what behaviors to observe), interact more effectively and sensitively with their autistic children, communicate more meaningful information to their children’s caregivers, and be better advocates. And the text — though plainly written — is not a dry and dusty how-to list; the author wrote not only from experience but also from her heart. I was moved by something in each chapter.

I read “Step Ahead of Autism” because the topic interests me, not because I have a child with this disorder. But if I were in that situation, I would consider this book to be the calming hand of a good friend, patting me on the back and telling me to take a deep breath, realize my child is still wonderful, and roll up my sleeves to do the many things I can do to help my child. And I would rely on this book to give me the structure and focus to actively monitor and manage my child’s development.

Some of the goodies in the book include:
* A pre-screening checklist and an observation log
* A chronicling of all the medical, academic and community resources one parent relied upon to help her child — useful if you want inspiration on resources to explore
* A tip sheet of do’s and don’ts when delegating responsibility for your child to another person
* A nurse’s perspective on how to work best with healthcare providers
* A parent’s perspective on what a school’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is and how to use it to strengthen your child’s support system rather than allow it to be limited
* The story of learning “how to row a little boat” (breaking down a seemingly insurmountable task into manageable steps until mastery is achieved)
* Suggestions for developing an ongoing parental support system

I think this is a really good support tool for a parent of a special-needs child. A copy ought to be in the library of every school, city, church and hospital. It’s worth it.

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Time Management Mon, 02 Apr 2012 23:52:32 +0000 This week marks the beginning of the 2012 National Autism Awareness Month. Awareness month has been celebrated in the month of April for over 30 years. As a parent of a child with autism, I am so thankful to Autism Society, Autism Speaks, and all the organizations and individuals who have used the month of April to raise acceptance and awareness nationally, and throughout the world.

However, as I watch my Twitter feed, filled with the comments of parents with autism, I worry about the parents who have a young child with autism. I ask myself these questions:


  • Are these parents concentrating too much on what causes autism, and not focusing enough on helping their child realize their best outcome?
  • Are these parents spending too much time advocating for autism, and not enough time on the individual needs of their child?
  • Are these parents looking for the government, or a nonprofit organization to help their child, instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the parenting work their child needs?


In today’s world of social media networks, and the 24/7 news cycle, it is easy to burn up energy researching the causes of autism, or trying to make those not touched by autism aware of our struggle. I am not saying parents should not be supporting Autism Awareness month, but throughout the year, it is important to cut out as many distractions from focusing on your child as possible.

Parents only have so much energy to spend, and there is no quick answer or immediate solution to autism. Eventually your child will become an autistic adult, and what you do as he/she grows up, will directly affect how much independence your child is able to achieve. Every minute you spend providing interventions and services for your child is critical for their development. By believing in your day to day efforts, you will change your child’s life, and in the process experience a joy greater than words can describe.

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Spirit of the Season Thu, 22 Dec 2011 19:36:00 +0000 There may be a moment or two over the next week, month, or even year where you will question what you are doing for your child.  You may be disheartened by other people’s comments, actions, or reactions as they relate to your child.  You may experience doubt and feel at times you are designing a life that can never be built.  People may bring you to tears, anger you, or misunderstand you.

I’ve felt all of those feelings and more, but I kept my eye on my hopes and dreams for my child.  I knew deep inside in order for my child and family to believe all was possible… I needed to believe first.

My gift to you this holiday season is a writing my brother gave to me years ago, that is in part by Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

 Spirit of the Season

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and some true enemies;

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;

Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building could be destroyed by someone overnight;

Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous;

Be happy anyway.

The good you do could be easily forgotten by tomorrow;

Do good anyway.

Give your child the best you have, and it may never be enough;

Give your child the best you have anyway.

You see in the final analysis, it’s all between you and your child;

It was never between you and them, anyway.


To your aspirations for your child!

Have a joyous holiday,


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