autism awareness

Autism Awareness
Every Child on the Spectrum is Unique – Occupational Therapy Should Be, Too
Every Child on the Spectrum is Unique – Occupational Therapy Should Be, Too 1000 1000 PTN Chicago

Not too long ago, we as a society used to think of children as being autistic or not, disabled or not. Today, our way of thinking about autism has come a long way, and we now speak in terms of “the spectrum.” Plenty of very highly functioning people are somewhere on the spectrum, which has helped reduce the stigma around autism and improved awareness about what autism spectrum disorder can look like and who can be affected by it.

At PTN, we see every child as an individual. Being on the spectrum is neither a blessing nor a curse – it simply is – and we are eager to meet every child where they are, help them see their unique strengths and abilities, and create a plan  that will help them face the world with more confidence and joy.

In some cases, intensive therapeutic protocols are appropriate, but when possible, we prefer to utilize the least restrictive approach that provides maximum therapeutic benefit. A big part of doing that is not separating out children we work with and making them feel “other,” but instead working with them in the environments where they are most comfortable – they’re home, school, or local playground.

By creating treatment plans specifically designed for each individual child in the places they love most, we’re better able to help those children build life-long skills. Working in these sorts of familiar spaces also makes it easier for parents, siblings, and other care-takers to get involved and learn how they can be the best possible support or friend to your child.

In terms of specific therapies, every session is different, because every child is different. Our occupational therapists utilize a play-based approach, because play is how we learn best, and that’s true for our whole lives. Games and interactive activities should be  flexible and fun, never rigid. Through play, our therapists can help build skills like listening, following directions, social awareness, coordination, strength, speech, and much more. In designing specific sessions, our occupational therapists can talk to parents and observe children engaging in their daily routines to see where they’re already doing well and where they might need additional support.  .

To learn more, please give our office a call anytime. We are always happy to schedule free consultations or answer any questions you may have about our multidisciplinary pediatric therapy services.

occupational therapy and autism
How Our Occupational Therapists Support Children with Autism
How Our Occupational Therapists Support Children with Autism 1000 750 Triston Kee

Being a parent is never easy. It comes with its own rewards and challenges, and those rewards and challenges can be significantly amplified when you have a child with autism. Fortunately, many children on the autism spectrum have a legally protected right to occupational therapy through public schools, and many more can receive fully covered private occupational therapy through health insurance and federal and state programs. This therapy can be incredibly helpful for both the children and their parents.

Occupational therapy focuses on helping people perform everyday activities that are needed to get by. People recovering from injuries, dealing with mental illness, and people with developmental delays can all benefit from occupational therapy.

In the context of autism, occupational therapy can be an important tool for gaining skills that might come more readily to children who aren’t on the autism spectrum. These skills can include learning to play with other children, learning to listen to instructions, communicating basic needs, and feeding, bathing, and dressing oneself.

In our Chicago pediatric therapy practice, we regularly work with families who are affected by autism. The process starts with assessment. An initial assessment can include discussion with the parents and teachers about behavior patterns, observed problem areas, any diagnosed medical conditions, and questions and concerns. The goal is to determine where the biggest concerns lie and to create an intervention plan that will work for both the child and the family.

Meeting Children and Families Where They’re At

When working with kids with autism, we like to meet with them in environments where they feel most comfortable to help reduce stress, encourage positive associations, and make the whole process easier for everyone. We’ll often work with children in their homes, back yards, or even favorite local parks.

Specific therapies that can be helpful for children with autism often start with identifying any underlying sensory issues and creating games or routines that help address those issues. An estimated 80% of children with autism have sensory processing issues, which means that these children have trouble filtering out sounds, sensations, and/or sights that overwhelm them. (Imagine listening to thumping music all day with a strobe light blaring in your vision, and you might begin to understand why some children with autism act out.) Understanding what sensory issues may be at play makes it easier to address those issues with tools like weighted blankets, massage, and soft tag-free clothing that help children feel more relaxed and at ease in their own skins.

Working with the family is also an important part of occupational therapy for children with autism. As a parent, caretaker, or sibling, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and have trouble empathizing with certain behaviors. An occupational therapist can help by showing the whole family how to incorporate play therapy and more positive responses into their existing routines at home.

If you’re looking for occupational therapy in Chicago for your child, please give our office a call. We’d be happy to answer any questions and provide more information and resources.

autism awareness month in chicago
Children with Autism: Information & Activity Guide for Chicago Families
Children with Autism: Information & Activity Guide for Chicago Families 2048 1152 PTN Chicago


Note: Free autism screenings will be held at Chicago’s Spectrum Toy Store on April 23rd, 2017. Read on to learn more.

April is Autism Awareness Month! Besides wearing blue or your puzzle ribbon, there are a number of ways to support and educate throughout the month of April. Read on to learn more about different therapies for children with autism, activities in Chicago for children with autism, and how you can support Autism Awareness Month.

What is Autism?ptn

Autism is not a disease nor is it an illness. Autism is a developmental difference that is typically diagnosed during childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and social interactions. Many children with autism also have sensory processing and self-regulation issues.

We now know that autism is a broad spectrum with varying combinations of characteristics and challenges. These challenges might include: difficulty with social interactions, language impairments, and repetitive behaviors. With the support of therapy, children with autism can learn to manage their challenges and go on to lead productive lives.

Autism is different for every child which means every child’s treatment and therapy will be different.

Therapies for Children with Autism

Depending on where the child is on the autism spectrum, they may need one kind of therapy or a combination of therapies for a holistic approach. The treatment plan and options for each child should be individualized based upon their needs. Different types of therapies may include:

  • Speech Therapy – Children with autism struggle with communication and social interaction. Speech therapists help children learn to be effective communicators and interact with the world around them, which can help reduce frustration. Speech therapy can be very successful in helping children unlock communication and connect with others.
  • Occupational Therapy – Occupational therapy can help children manage sensory challenges that may be related to their diagnosis of autism. OT can also help children develop self-regulation strategies, work on fine motor skills, and gain independence in their daily living skills. Many children with autism crave structure and routine, so occupational therapy can assist with development of appropriate and predictable routines that can be carried out across a variety of settings.
  • Physical Therapy – Children with autism may have low muscle tone with associated strength, balance, and coordination issues. PT can aid in strengthening and balance training to improve safety and develop age-appropriate gross motor skills so children can safely explore their environment and interact with their peers.
  • Social Work (Counseling) – Our clinical social workers help children with autism embrace developmental challenges and help their families better understand behavior and needs.

Chicago Activities Guide for Children with Autism

Chicago offers a lot of fun local and community-based resources for parents and children with autism, many of which are free or low-cost. From the movies to going out to dinner in an adaptive setting, there are activities and events for the whole family. Chicago area events and resources for children with autism:

  • Sensory Friendly Films – AMC Theatres partners with the Autism Society to offer Sensory Friendly Films for children with autism. The lights are turned up, the sound is turned down, and those who need to are welcome to walk about during the film. Sensory Friendly Films are offered on the second and fourth Saturday for family films and Tuesday events for adults.
  • Autism Eats – This program started in Andover, MA with the mission to provide an autism-friendly non-judgemental dining experience for families of children with autism. The next Chicago dinner is at Fireside on April 22. You can sign up here. Follow their Chicago Autism Eats Facebook page for up-to-date info!
  • Goldfish Swim School – Children with autism are more than welcome at Goldfish Swim School. Their staff is trained to help children with autism or sensory issues learn how to swim and have fun.
  • Play for All – Chicago Children’s Museum and Navy Pier offers an event on the second Saturday of every month just for families and children with disabilities to have the museum to themselves. This event begins at 9 am and is free for the first 100 who pre-register.
  • Mornings of Fun for Everyone – Discovery Center Museum has a program that invites families and children with disabilities to come experience the museum before it opens to the public. This program is free with pre-registration.
  • Autism Family Day – DuPage Children’s Museum sets aside time every month for families of children with autism to come enjoy the museum with resources specifically for children with autism. Autism Family Day is on the third Thursday from 5-7 p.m. and costs $8.50 per person.
  • Spectrum Toy Store – This Chicago store is located at 1911 W Belmont Ave and offers toys and programs for children with autism. Elyse Sherlock of PTN says, “They sell toys that are particularly good for children with autism and also offer different programs at the location as well. One of the families I work with went recently and they loved it!”

Free Autism Screenings at Spectrum Toy Store

On April 23rd, Spectrum Toy Store will have free autism screenings. Screening will be conducted by a Developmental Pediatrician, Psychologist or Special Educator. Parents will answer questions about their child’s development in order to find out if they are at increased risk for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Screenings will take about 15 minutes and childcare will be provided. Information about Autism and resources will be provided to families. Children at increased risk for Autism will be referred for further evaluation.

Information about Autism Spectrum Disorder

Spectrum Toy Store
1911 West Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657

Sunday 4/23/17 — 11:am to 1:00pm
Register today by clicking HERE.
or call Dr. Dodds @ 312-413-1536

Did we miss any great activities or events in the Chicago area? Let us know by commenting on this post.

How Can You Support Autism Awareness Month?

Dedicating the month of April to autism awareness helps promote autism acceptance and bring attention to those who might not understand what autism means or what they can do to help. You can support autism awareness month by:

  • Wearing your Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon
  • Donating to autism organizations or programs here in Chicago or where you live
  • Learning more about autism (start here: Kids with Autism Can)
  • Participating in an educational program about autism
  • Sharing your story with others

One of the best ways to engage with Autism Awareness Month is to share your story of autism! By sharing your story, you’re helping others learn more about an autism journey along with its treatment and success stories.

How Pediatric Therapy Network Helps Children with Autism

Pediatric Therapy Network (PTN) in Chicago supports children with autism through a holistic and community-based approach. Together with their families, PTN provides appropriately customized support depending on where the child is on the autism spectrum.

Our goal is to help your child succeed and thrive where he or she is comfortable, including familiar home, school, and community environments.

PTN supports the parents and the whole family with education and resources. Spending time as a family is important for every child. Luckily, in Chicago, there are lots of fun recreational activities and events for children with autism and their families, many of which are free or low-cost.

PTN specializes in a variety of therapeutic services (physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and counseling) and offers a unique home and community-centric approach for children with autism, working within their familiar environments to help them grow into their next. If you’re looking for more great ideas for your child with special needs or if you have questions about our services, please contact us! We look forward to serving you and your child!

Special thanks to our pediatric therapists and parents of children with autism for providing information for this blog post.




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