Art therapy allows children with autism to express themselves

Patrick Fitzgerald on flickr
Most children with autism struggle with communication and social skills. Getting your child to express his or her emotions is a struggle for many parents. 

Children with autism are extremely frustrated if they cannot express their emotions. Giving these children the chance to paint or draw can ease this frustration.

Painting and other art forms allow kids with autism to express their emotions in a fun and creative way. Children use art to express what they want and need. Even children who are verbal may feel safer expressing their feelings through art.

A study by the University of Lagos examined how effective art therapy was with children who have autism.  It concluded, "multiple art therapy interventions have been identified as effective in assisting children with autism to communicate through artwork."
\Nemo on Pixabay

Art or art therapy is used to teach children with autism social and communication skills. There is a formalized field of art therapy and therapists who work with children who have autism and other learning difficulties.

Kate Lacour, an ABA therapist, describes art therapy as a "natural fit for autism." She states that art therapy is beneficial for emotional expression, social skills and sensory processing problems. 

When you have a rainy day this summer, give your child paints or crayons and see how she responds to art. Some schools found art very beneficial for work with children who have autism.

If you are considering art therapy for your child, look for a qualified therapist with experience helping children with autism.

For more information about art and autism, go to:

The Value of Art Therapy for Those on the Autism Spectrum

Painting gives children with autism a chance to shine

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Advocating for Your Special Needs Child – Make it Personal

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Getting educational and medical services for your children with special needs is usually a struggle.  Lack of money, staff and other resources are reasons given for not providing proper supports.  When your child needs services, you present your child’s case to school or medical administrators who receive many other requests for limited resources.  So, how do you make your request stand out?  Make it personal.

The people making decisions about our children are just people.  When you need a service or support for your child, your request should touch the emotions of that administrator.  You want the decision maker to form a mental picture of your child.  Your child is unique and is not another 8-year-old on the waiting list for occupational therapy.  Turn your request into your child's story. 

Joergelman on Pixabay
In addition, give the decision maker a reason to change her decision.  From an administrative standpoint she needs to justify why she is doing something that benefits your child over other children.

Look at these sample letters to see the difference personalization makes.  In this scenario, each of the parents wants occupational therapy services for their children who are on a waiting list. 

Letter A is an example of a typical letter a parent might send to a decision maker. 

Letter A

Letter B is an example of a letter using personalization.

Letter B

Letter B:
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  • Introduces your child
  • Identifies the problem
  • Explains how this problem affects your child
  • Provides a reason to give your child special treatment
  • Tells the decision maker what help you need

Other points to keep in mind when writing a persuasive letter:
  • Keep the tone of the letter friendly.  
  • Your letter should be short and no longer than one page if possible. 
  • Make sure the letter looks professional.  If you cannot type the letter, ask a friend to do it for you. Have someone check your letter for typos.

Personalization applies to more than letters.  Whenever you are advocating for your child let the teacher, therapist or administrator know your child is not just another child with autism or another disability.

In business, the term unique selling point or proposition (USP) is used to sell products and services.  Here are some famous USPs: 

  • BMW - The ultimate driving machine 
  • DeBeers - Diamonds are forever 
  • Coca-Cola - It's the real thing
  • Gillette - The best a man can get

A USP is

“a factor that differentiates a product from its competitors, such as the lowest cost, the highest quality or the first-ever product of its kind.  A USP could be thought of as 'what you have that competitors don’t'.”(TechTarget)

When advocating for your child, find your child's USP.  In letter B, the USP is Bella’s deteriorating condition and related anxiety.  Your child’s USP is anything that distinguishes her from other children looking for the same service.  Other possible USPs include:

  • Age at time of diagnosis
  • Difficult home situation
  • Other medical problems
  • Deterioration of medical or emotional health
  • Changing schools

No matter what you are trying to get for your child, you want the decision maker to picture your child and not view your child as just another name or number.

Do you know these eight facts about ADHD?

1.     Sir Alexander Crichton, a Scottish physician, first mentioned an ADHD like disorder in 1798.  Crichton described “two possibilities of abnormal inattention.”  (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity)

Portrait of Alexander Crichton via Wikimedia Commons

2.     Half of all children with ADHD will have ADHD symptoms as adults.  (WebMD)

3.     The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , first published in 1952, did not mention ADHD until 1980.  (About Health)

By F.RdeC via Wikimedia Commons

4.     Not all children with ADHD have lots of energy.  Some children are quiet and calm, but still have problems with attention.  (Psychology Today)

5.     Stimulant medications were first used to treat hyperactivity in 1937 when an “Oregon scientist named Charles Bradley noticed that Benzedrine perked up the attention levels of several children in the special school where he worked.”  (Washington Post)


6.     ADHD like behaviours were referred to as “minimal brain damage.”  (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity)

7.     Although more boys are diagnosed with ADHD than girls are, this does not mean fewer girls have the disorder.  Girls’ symptoms are often subtle in comparison to boys.  (Understood)

Brad Flickinger on Flickr

8.     Initially, Ritalin’s manufacturer marketed the drug as a type of “pep pill.”  It was used to perk up adults suffering from depression.  (Dr Matthew Smith

Special Needs Parents - How to Find a Babysitter

When you have a child with special needs, finding a competent and reliable babysitter is difficult. Friends and family members will help you out, but there are occasions when you need someone else. Here are some tips to help you find a child minder.

Ken Bosma on Flickr

Make a List of Your Requirements

OpenClips on
Before you start your search for a babysitter, make a list of what you want the babysitter to be able to do and what type of person you are interested in. 

  • Do you want someone with children of his or her own? 
  • Would you prefer a student?
  • How much experience do you want the sitter to have?
  • Do you need someone with a car?
  • Do you want your child watched in your home or at the sitters? 
  • How often will you need the child minder?
  • How much can you pay?
  • Will the sitter be an employee or independent contractor?

Figuring out your needs helps you focus on the types of applicants you want to interview and the questions you will ask them.

Get Recommendations

G Cross on
One of the best methods for finding a babysitter is through recommendations from other parents of children with special needs.  Also, ask for recommendations from teachers, special needs assistants, workers at crèches/day-care centers and your child’s health care providers.

Agency or Advertise

You can place an advertisement for a babysitter. In addition, depending on where you live, you may have access to an agency that specializes in caring for children with disabilities or special needs.

Ed & Eddie on Flickr

Check References

No matter how you find your potential babysitter, you need to get references and check them. Most people will tell the names of people who will give them a positive recommendation. You will get more from these referees if you ask open ended questions and push for specific answers. If the referee's answer is vague or general, don't say anything. Don't be afraid to stay silent for a few seconds after the referee answers a question. During a conversation some people feel awkward when there is silence and will start talking to break the silence. On these occasions you may pick up some extra information.

Jeroen Moes on Flickr

Sample questions:
    Open Clips on Pixabay
  • Can you give me examples of why you think Jane is an excellent babysitter?
  • What do your children like the best and least about Jane?
  • Do you consider Jane reliable?  Why?
  • What “special needs" does your child have?  How has Jane coped with these? Examples?
  • Have you ever been called by your child while Jane was babysitting?  What happened?

Keep in mind that whoever you decide will still need training specific to your child. Therefore, you want to find someone you can use more than once, as you will invest time training them. No matter how you find a potential babysitter you have to ensure they have a good understanding of your child’s issues and are a good fit.

Interview Prospective Child Minders

Personally interview each potential babysitter. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time and take notes. Include some hypothetical situations so you can assess the babysitter's decision-making skills.

  • Their experience
  • Any formal training as a babysitter
  • Knowledge of first aid/CPR
  • Ask what they know about your child's special needs. If your child has autism, ask what they know about autism. 
  • Find out if their availability suits your needs
  • If your child will be going to their house, ask about activities, safety measures, number and ages of other children, pets, types of food and snacks, insurance
  • Plan a visit to the crèche, day-care center or home if you are considering having your child minded there
  • What they expect for pay

Assess Training Needs

Determine the level of experience candidate has with children who have special needs, and in particular your own child's diagnosis. Then, make sure they understand your child's symptoms and how to respond to them.

digihanger on Pixabay

For example, if your child has autism, explain how autism affects your child. Make sure the sitter knows how to calm your child if he becomes upset, what triggers his meltdowns and any communication problems. 

If your child has difficulty communicating, make sure you educate the sitter on what techniques you use. If your child uses assistive technology or other devices, make sure you familiarize the babysitter with these devices.

Find Out How They Interact with Your Child

Ask the potential babysitter to spend an hour or so with your child while you are present so you can see how they interact.  Use this time to play a board game or go to a playground - you want an activity that requires interaction between your child and the babysitter.  Assuming this time goes well, schedule a time for actual babysitting.


If your child has severe needs, you will have to spend more time training the babysitter or may need someone with formal qualifications. You may also want more than one introductory visit.

Efraimstochter on Pixbay 

Do a Trial Run

The first time you leave your child alone with the babysitter should be for a short 1 to 1 1/2 hour break.  Go out for shopping or a meal - don’t go to far away. Think of this as a trial run. If anything goes wrong, you can be home in a few minutes.

Make Sure Babysitter Has Essential Information

Make sure you also leave the following with your babysitter:
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Medical information
  • Food or drug allergies
  • List of what is allowed/not allowed (video games, TV, etc.)
  • Description of calming/soothing techniques you use for your child
  • Timetable of your child’s routine
Don’t overwhelm the babysitter with lots of information, prioritize what she needs to know.

Make sure she knows you are available by cell/mobile phone and encourage her to call even just to check in.


When you get home (assuming it's not too late) ask the sitter how it went and any problems she encountered and how she handled them.

Also, ask your child how he got along with the babysitter - what he liked or didn't like.

How to Keep the Child Minder You Like

Assuming everything went well and you want to use this babysitter on a regular basis, treat her well. Remember to:
Rg1024, Mystica & Vokimon on 
  • Pay her well - your peace of mind is worth it
  • If you cancel at the last minute, pay your babysitter as she set aside her time for you
  • Make sure you and the sitter have the same understanding of what she is allowed to do regarding having friends over, making phone calls, going on your computer, etc. while babysitting
  • Be home on time and call your babysitter if you are running late
  • Make sure your refrigerator isn't empty - put a supply of snacks and drinks the sitter likes
  • Make sure the sitter gets home safely
  • Book your dates in advance
  • Make sure your children know she is in charge when you are not there
  • Treat her with respect and your children will to

What have been your experiences hiring a babysitter?

Do you have any tips to share with other parents?