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Autism Awareness Part 2: Supports and Resources

Autism Awareness Part 2: Supports and Resources | Des Moines Moms Blog

As a continuation to Autism Awareness Part 1: Living a Life Unknown, and driving Autism Awareness, I wanted to offer in this post a source of supports and resources that have minimized our son from the anxiety and behavioral problems that have resulted from his fear and anxiety and inability to see the world as we see it.

Whether your child falls on the autism spectrum, has behavioral struggles, or just battles anxiety, I think some of these tools can help your family support your child and offer ways to communicate and reduce living life fearfully.

Please know I am no expert in the field of autism, but with the help of many therapists and their knowledge in the field along with my own journey, these are some things that have helped my son achieve peace in what once was an unknown, chaotic world. I hope that something in this post can help your family, too!

Building Trust

Early on we had to keep our circle of friends small and really sacrifice when we did things outside of our immediate family to maintain our son’s trust in his environment and people. That meant stripping everything we wanted to do and currently had going on in our lives and learning to live and slowly introducing the world back in. It then moved to us being able to try new things or meet new people with the proper preparation utilizing the tools mentioned below. We are still very cautious when it comes to this, but it is much more manageable and a night and day difference from three years ago. We just take newness with preparation on the bigger things. Changes such as new school, teacher, new people in our home, new buildings or doctor, etc., are very much still planned with many supports and preparation. This may sound extreme, but I feel this has allowed our son and his needs to grow and foster into the stable foundation he has today.

Set Boundaries

Man, I wish I’d known this early on. But setting boundaries with friends, families, and even being realistic with yourself is so important. As a parent you are truly the only one who knows your child and his special needs, and don’t let anyone make you think differently. It is a hard thing to understand, and unless you live it daily, most likely they will not see what you see (even doctors and caregivers). You are at risk of being judged or even unintentionally may hurt a loved one’s feelings. Life with a child with learning differences is a world in itself and often requires setting new ways of living day in day out, including traditions and many other aspects of life that once were done differently.

Keeping a Strict Routine

I think most young parents do this for their littles with naps, bedtime etc., but I am finding this to be extremely helpful for school age also. I see how Easton has thrived with a teacher who has a very organized and scheduled routine at school, which has created school to be a “safe haven” also. It makes handling the changes better — and just a healthy mental environment for both Easton and mom! Having a set schedule at home, you are able to know when a change occurs that could trigger a certain behavior so you can react and prepare the next time. Often children will act out and you will see patterns of bad behavior that seem frequent or completely unexpected during times when children cannot communicate or have the words or ability to express their hearts and minds.

First/Then Model

As I mentioned earlier, words and verbal communication is not effective for Autism Awareness Part 2: Supports and Resources | Des Moines Moms Blogmany children on the spectrum, so having visual cues or a schedule to establish routine or change to your routine is key. The popular First/Then model breaks down the barrier so your child knows exactly what the next move is and is very black and white. We used real-life pictures (if we were going to Target, I would take a picture of Target and print/laminate and use that) versus generic computer generated ones because they were much more effective for us in the earlier years and gave that real-life picture. But here is the website to create your First/Then Board if you choose for the computer generated pictures.

Social Stories

Similar to the First/Then model are social stories which can be used for any scenario as well: school, church, doctor, dentist, park, friends, etc. We would take real-life pictures of the topic/people at hand and put together a personal story that would help Easton organize the events and his emotions to a new experience. You can also use this more in-depth reference on creating social stories which is great for so many topics.

Professional ABA Providers and Therapists

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) experts are therapists that are trained in mental health and applied behavior to teach ways of learning across many different fronts, and very specialized for each child. In the Iowa area I highly recommend Ruth Steiff with One Piece at a Time or Metro West Kids for these services. Speech and occupational therapy are also great resources and long-term ways to assist and re-mold those neurological pathways that never integrated properly. (See resource list below.)


Timers are always good to help with transitions because they bring a visual piece and a sound that provides the child with control in his environment. They know what to expect and provide warning to what is coming next for your child. Get your iPhone and help the child set the timer for five minutes. There are visual timers that use red lights and green lights for those kiddos who need an extra visual piece along with the auditory piece of the timer. I know a lot of parents and teachers who use them or something similar and have huge success.


Yep that’s right. Good old bribes. I think I bought every set of numbers or toy with numbers on it for Easton in the entire city of Des Moines.   Sometimes you just have to take their mind off the issue and make the experience as positive as possible. I could not explain to Easton what was going to happen and ease his fear; he did not receive nor have the ability to process words, so often his only motivator was a tangible thing that was limited to his love of numbers. The key here is to not reward bad behavior with a toy or special item but use as a reinforcer to achieve good behavior and ease fear.

Autism is a GiftA friend recently posted this picture, and boy this just gave my soul some rest. I know I myself, as a parent of an autistic child, have constantly struggled with how I can help my child cope and thrive in the world around us. As parents of a child with a learning difference, we think of any way imaginable to achieve those desires that often result in just craziness and endless attempts at “fixing the problem.”   We need to look at our child’s uniqueness as a gift and help them develop every beautiful and bold quality that God created them to have and possess. As parents we have been gifted to know our child better than anyone else and the ability to see the strengths and qualities in our children that are unique but can be used in this society as strength and an example for others.

My hope is that someone somewhere can use this post and it might make the journey a little easier somewhere along the way. I felt completely lost for quite a while navigating some of these things and would love to help, support, encourage, or just listen in any way I can!

Much love and hugs to all you moms out there!

For those moms questioning whether you need additional support or care for your child, autistic or just feel you need more support, here are some local resources that can assist:

For Diagnostic or Autism Screenings:

Childserve 515.727.8750

Blank Children’s Hospital Pediatric Clinic 515.241.8923

C.O.O.P  515.274.4006

*There are many other psycologists /psychiatrists that can test for autism but in high functioning cases once again may not truly show all the areas or be comprehensive enough to see a child’s struggles.  I highly recommend Childserve or another location that offers a clinic or team approach to autism specific diagnosis or evaluation.  (If you are on a longer wait list for a clinic approach from one of the places listed above can always do both for multiple data and opinions.)
*If outside the Des Moines area, click here for a quick search in your area.

For other parents who may notice a delay or just need additional support in determining what interventions may be needed and your child is under five, a good place to start is to contact your local Heartland AEA . For others who have a specific area and need a more intense approach, the route of individual evaluations done in the areas of speech, occupational therapy, or physical therapy, or a combo of multiple areas, would be a good start as well. (These are inexpensive and really not long waits to have done and can at least give you a starting point while on the wait list for the above screenings.)

Resources for an Evaluation or Services in Speech, Occupational, or Physical Therapy:

Childserve 515.727.8750

Blank Children’s Hospital Pediatric Clinic 515.241.8923

Metro West Learning Center 515.987.8835

Resources for ABA Therapy:

Ruth Stieff, One Piece at a Time [email protected]

Metro West Learning Center 515.987.8835

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2 Responses to Autism Awareness Part 2: Supports and Resources

  1. Sarah April 29, 2016 at 1:02 am #

    Oh my goodness this is such a well written article! We just started down the autism path about 6 months ago and I so wish I had had this awesome nugget! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Jaclyn Strawn
    Jaclyn Strawn May 1, 2016 at 2:18 am #

    Sarah, Thanks so much for your comment and would love to help in anyway in the future! Much love to your family as you journey together!

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