motor skills
How ASD Affects the Development of Motor Skills

As children grow and develop, they learn important motor skills. Many children and adults with autism experience difficulty with both fine and gross motor skills.  


To understand the effect of autism on motor skills, it’s essential to understand autism spectrum disorder.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain development disorder that changes how a child interacts and communicates with others. There is no cure for ASD; symptoms show up during childhood, and the disorder continues to affect the person throughout their life.


Scientists still don’t know what causes ASD, but it has been found that the disorder affects the development of motor skills.

Motor Skills and Autism

Medical research shows that children with ASD struggle with posture and coordination. Some find it hard to keep their balance or even run. However, difficulty mastering motor skills is not the main symptom of autism.


Children and adults diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome also have motor skills issues.


Children with autism are usually affected by a range of motor skills issues.

What Types of Motor Skills Issues Do Children With Autism Have?

Children with autism often experience delays in developing their gross and fine motor skills. If your child has ASD, you will notice the following symptoms and issues as they grow:


  • They have a low muscle tone.
  • They may stumble a lot while walking.
  • They may find it hard to write or draw.
  • Your child finds it difficult to use a swing or to jump and hop.
  • Your child will be less active, and they will display low muscle tone.
  • Their hand-eye coordination will be lacking, so they will find it difficult to play catch.


You will want to prompt your child to mimic you to help enhance their motor skills. Teach them to try and copy what you do, such as jogging or hopping. Follow this up with fine motor skills like hand movements and writing.

You must consider your child’s age and choose appropriate movements so they don’t overexert themselves.

At What Age Do Motor Issues Start?

Motor issues are noticeable in infants who are a month old. If your baby is reluctant to move their arms, it may be a symptom of ASD.


Track their development for the following issues:

  • Their head may still flop backward when they turn four months old.
  • They can’t sit or stand on their own at the age of 14 months.


There are other signs that an infant may have ASD, including the inability to grasp small objects or clap their hands together. If you suspect your infant may have ASD, make an appointment with your doctor to assess them.

How Do Doctors and Researchers Measure Motor Skills?

It is crucial to have your child assessed while they’re still young so they can receive the correct treatment.


The doctor will ask you a series of questions, including the following:


  • When did your baby smile for the first time?
  • Did your baby make sounds and have different facial expressions at 9 months old?
  • Do they have a range of vocal sounds?

When doctors and researchers test motor skills, they assess whether a child can perform basic motor tasks.


For instance, they will check your child’s ability to run, skip, hop, and jump. They will also check if your child can hold a crayon or pencil and if they can transfer an object from one hand to the other.


In recent times, researchers have investigated new methods of testing motor skills issues using the following tools:


  • Sensors and infrared motion sensor cameras.
  • Gyroscopes and accelerometers to determine the extent of arm and leg movements.
  • Pressure sensors inside small mats to establish gait issues.
  • Virtual reality technology.
  • Electromyography technology for electrical muscle activity tests.


If your child’s assessment results point toward ASD, your doctor will suggest a treatment plan.


How Are Motor Problems Treated?

The treatment plan will include physical and occupational therapy, during which your child will learn motor skills training techniques.


It may also include the following therapies:


  • Cognitive therapy
  • Kinesthetic therapy
  • Sensory integration therapy


Doctors believe that special sports programs and music therapy are also beneficial as ASD treatment options. More research is needed to establish the effectiveness of these therapies.

Some doctors swear by applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, which helps children develop their motor skills using a few defined steps.


These steps include setting long-term goals and dividing them into several short-term goals. This process makes it more attainable for a child to enhance their motor skills.


Research shows that ABA treatments produce mainly positive results, and as such, many healthcare professionals recommend them. Along with ABA therapy, you can use everyday activities to make motor skills learning easier for your child.

Tips for Everyday Activities

Daily activities include taking walks or dancing to your child’s favorite music. You can also try engaging your child in building a puzzle or painting a picture. If your child loves making things with their hands, you can allow them to dig a sand pit or set up a fort.


Since getting dressed is a daily activity, you can help your child do it on their own. If they struggle with buttons, use colored stickers to match them with the buttonholes. Buy your child socks with colored heels and toes to make it easier for them to pair.


If your child finds it difficult to grasp jacket zips, you may want to add key rings to zips to simplify the task.

Using Cutlery

Make dinner time easier for your child by purchasing cutlery that shows where their fingers need to go. Stickers can also do the trick. If their lack of fine motor skills causes them to make a mess while eating, use a plate guard.

Again, consider your child’s age. If it’s safer for them to use their fingers instead of utensils, allow them to do so.


If your child is diagnosed with ASD, you may be overwhelmed. But rest assured that the techniques mentioned above will allow your child to develop their motor skills at their own pace.


The most important thing to remember is to be patient throughout the process, even when it seems the treatment plan is not working. You will see progress, even if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want it.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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child running
Elopement and Autism

Elopement, or “running away” is a common behavioral issue in children with autism and one that can be both dangerous and frustrating for kids and their caregivers alike. However, the first step to stopping this behavior is understanding it and why it happens. Take a look below.

What Does Elopement in Autism Mean?

Elopement is a common action for children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who run or wander away from caregivers or secure locations. They are typically running toward something or away from something and can do so seemingly without reason. Many times, children will get lost or may end up in potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations, especially if they are too young to look after themselves.

This action can be a traumatic situation for a child and their caregivers. This is why it is important for parents and all caregivers to understand eloping behavior, why it happens, and how to mitigate the risks when it does.

Why Do Children With Autism Elope?

Children with autism may elope for a variety of reasons. Some children elope to get to desired items or places. For example, a child might elope to get a favorite toy in a store. Other children with autism may find it hard to cope with certain everyday situations and may elope to get away from different stressors. For example, a child may elope to get away from a noisy birthday party.

Other children elope because they enjoy running or being chased by a caregiver, so they may elope when a caregiver is distracted. Every child is unique and has different reasons for eloping, but overall research indicates it is a common behavior among children with autism.

If you are caring for a child who engages in eloping behavior, the first step is to start a journal and begin logging instances of elopement, including what he or she may have been running toward or away from. Identifying common triggers can help you be more prepared to prevent elopement in the future.

How to Prevent Elopement

One of the first questions that parents have when their child with autism starts eloping is: how they can prevent it from happening. Here are some of the tips that can help prevent this type of behavior:

  • Put locks on doors and windows that your child cannot unlock. If you use a key to lock windows and doors, ensure the key is easily accessible to adults in case of an emergency.
  • Install alarms so you are alerted if your child has opened a door or window.
  • Have your child wear a device that allows you to track her location. Some devices will alert you if your child has left a certain perimeter.
  • Monitor your child frequently. During busy times when you may be more easily distracted, set a timer to remind yourself to check on your child.
  • If your child has siblings, make sure that they also know how dangerous elopement can be so that they can help encourage your child to refrain from this behavior.
  • Give frequent praise or rewards when your child doesn’t elope.
  • Talk to your child about their elopement and help them understand why it frightens you when they run away and try to get to the root cause of the issue encouraging this behavior.

One of the first and most important things for parents to do is to start applying strategies to stop elopement entirely. Then, they need to learn how to reduce harm when their child does elope in the future.

How to Reduce Harm When Your Child Elopes

Even with plenty of preparation, parents will quickly realize that kids who are prone to eloping will always find a way to engage in this behavior. This is why it is also important to know how to reduce harm when your child does elope. Here are some of the top tips to keep in mind:

  • Remain prepared for an elopement so you can act quickly and confidently.
  • Notify all caregivers and teachers of your elopement plan so you can be ready to take action when something happens.
  • Identify people such as neighbors and family who agree to help you search if needed.
  • Prepare materials that include your child’s name, communication abilities, ways to calm your child if she is upset, a current picture, caregiver contact information, and places your child has commonly eloped to in the past. Distribute this information to individuals in your search party as well as public authorities as needed.
  • Keep track of where your child is most likely to elope so you can check those spots first.
  • Teach your child to recite his or her name, telephone number, and address, or keep this information attached to your child during times when elopement is likely to occur.
  • If elopement is a regularly occurring issue for your child, seek assistance from a psychologist or behavior analyst with experience in treating elopement to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

Many parents find that CBT, or cognitive behavior therapy, is a great tool for helping children with autism understand behaviors such as eloping so they can work on correcting these tendencies and engaging in less-dangerous behaviors when the urge to elope arises. 

As most parents already know, when a child runs away, time is of the essence, so the more prepared you are to act quickly, the better off you will be. Having a well-organized plan for when elopement happens is essential to making sure your child stays safe.


Nothing can be as frightening for parents as losing track of a child, and it can happen to any parent. However, parents of children with autism who engage in eloping behavior need to take extra precautions, particularly if this becomes a repeat issue. Having a detailed plan, working with your child, and seeking professional help are all great ways to help keep kids with this tendency safe.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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Autism and Self Harm


Issues with self-harm are a common but often under-recognized issue within the autism community. This is why it is important for individuals with autism and their caregivers to have a general understanding of self-harm habits and how to help someone with autism who may be engaging in self-harm.

What is Self-Harm?

The NHS describes self-harm as an action when someone intentionally damages or injures their body. Self-harm is most often described as a way to express or cope with emotional distress and can come in many different forms.

While self-harm is not a symptom of autism, there are certain symptoms or situations related to autism that can lead some people with ASD to engage in self-harming behavior.

Different Ways People Self Harm

Different people have different tendencies when it comes to self-harm. Here are some of the most common ways in which people tend to harm themselves:

  • Cutting themselves with a razor or other sharp object.
  • Biting themselves.
  • Picking or scratching at their skin to a point where they experience pain.
  • Burning their skin on purpose.
  • Hitting themselves or walls to feel pain.
  • Pulling their hair from their head.
  • Poisoning themselves.

Self-harm can come in several different forms and is always done with the intent to cause pain or bodily injury. What is frightening to many is that self-harm can become a pattern and nearly addictive to many, and it’s been proven to be prevalent in the autism community.

How Common is Self-Harm For People With Autism?

Self-harm can impact anyone. However, some studies suggest that autistic people are more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors than non-autistic people. Studies also suggest that autistic women are more likely to self-harm than autistic men. Adults with autism are also shown to deliberately hurt themselves much more often than other adults do.

Self-harm can cause serious bodily injury and may be a precursor for suicidal behaviors if left untreated. Research into the habits indicates that self-harm in people with autism typically arises from emotional pain or an inability to cope with pain, rather than being a type of repetitive behavior.


Self-Harm and Suicide  

Self-harm can be a coping mechanism for some individuals, without suicidal intent. However, evidence shows that those who have self-harmed in the past have a higher risk of suicidal thoughts. They are also more likely to attempt suicide.

In fact, teens with autism are 28 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers without autism.

Self-harm can carry a significant risk to a person’s physical and emotional well-being. If you know someone who is self-harming or who has stated they have suicidal thoughts or intentions—it is important to get them to seek professional support and treatment as early as possible.


How Does Someone Get Help From Self-Harm?

Parents, loved ones, and caregivers of individuals with autism should be diligent when looking for the different signs and signals associated with self-harm. They should also help that loved one seek professional help right away if they are engaging in self-harming behavior. This type of support or intervention should always address the underlying causes of self-harm.



Going to counseling is a proven option for anyone engaging in self-harming behavior. There are plenty of therapists who work specifically with individuals with autism and those that specifically work with individuals who engage in self-harming behaviors.

Other recommended therapies include:

  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Psychodynamic therapy

Some people with autism have found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps them to understand why they self-harm and how to reduce this behavior. It does this by:

  • Tackling self-criticism
  • Improving self-esteem and confidence
  • Teaching practical strategies to cope with difficult feelings.

This is one of the most relied-upon and trusted forms of therapy for those with autism and not only can help with self-harming behaviors but other tendencies as well.

Strategies and Advice

Talking to trusted friends or family members is another way that individuals with autism can get help with their self-harming behaviors. Having a support system is very important for those who self-harm. There are other strategies that people engaging in this type of behavior can try as well. This includes:

  • Learning to recognize triggers– This includes keeping a diary to help understand what feelings may lead them to self-harm.
  • Wait before self-harming- Encourage individuals who self-harm to wait and gradually build up the gaps between each period of self-harm, as a way to practice control over the situation.
  • Practice techniques to manage and help regulate emotions- This includes calming exercises, and writing down feelings and distractions.
  • Learn more about mental health- This can include getting help with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Recognizing and understanding the problem is essential to recovering from self-harming behavior and preventing it from becoming a pattern later on in life.

Advice for Parents

Knowing a child with autism is engaging in self-harming behavior can be devastating to any parent. Here is some advice for parents navigating this difficult situation.

  • Show support and try to be non-judgmental. Ask your child how they would like to 
  • be supported in this situation.
  • Encourage honest and open communication.
  • Relate to your child as a person and try to not just focus on self-harm.
  • Have empathy and understanding about what they are doing, knowing it is likely a coping mechanism for something else.
  • Consider and address what may be causing their underlying distress such as social situations or their school environment.
  • Let your child be in control of their decisions and get them medical attention if needed.
  • Encourage them to speak to a professional about self-harm.
  • Remind your child of their positive qualities and the things that they have going for them.
  • Discourage any online content that may appear to promote self-harm.

While these tips can be of great help, there are also things that you should avoid, such as:

  • Attempting to force your child to change without addressing the underlying issue.
  • Ignoring signs of self-harm or injuries.
  • Overly focusing on injuries in a way that makes them feel ashamed.
  • Acting or communicating in a way that threatens to take control away.
  • Labeling self-harm as attention-seeking.

Parents may also want to attend their own support group for parents of children with autism or seek professional help to assist them in navigating these difficult waters.


Self-harm is a very scary, and very real, issue among individuals with autism. While no one ever wants their loved one with autism to engage in self-harm activities, it is important to understand this behavior and to be able to look for signs of self-harm so that you can intervene properly.        


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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Understanding the Effect of Eye Contact on Children With Autism

Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine recently completed an interesting study on autism. They found that a specific region of the brain is linked to reduced eye contact in children and adults with autism.


Keep reading to learn more about the effect of eye contact on children with autism and ways to establish eye contact.

Autism and Eye Contact

If you have a child with autism, you will notice that they have difficulty making eye contact with you. Scientists now believe that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show less dorsal parietal cortex activity when making eye contact.


They discovered this by analyzing the brain activity of 17 adults with ASD and 19 adults without ASD during their interactions.

What the Study Revealed

Researchers used innovative technology to create images of these interactions. They did this by placing a cap on the study volunteers. This cap helped to focus a single light into the brain to record activity during eye contact.


Those with a severe ASD diagnosis showed even less dorsal parietal cortex activity when compared to those with a mild diagnosis.


The study is necessary to understand the lack of eye contact behavior in infants. It also showed that a lack of eye contact doesn’t always mean autism.


However, eye contact behavior is important to observe while your child is still young.

Why Is Eye Contact Important?

As your child grows and develops, they learn language and communication skills. As a parent, making eye contact with your baby or infant helps them to vocalize and engage with you. Eye contact is a crucial part of teaching your child to communicate.


Adults understand the rules of eye contact with one another. It is an easy way to express interest and attention to a conversational partner and pick up social cues.


However, eye contact is often stressful for children with autism, especially when forced by one or both parents.

When Eye Contact Is Stressful

Don’t try to force your child to make eye contact with you. Children with ASD become stressed when forced to communicate in a way that is uncomfortable for them.


If your child focuses on another object while you are speaking to them, let them be. It is not wrong for them to communicate with you in a way they are comfortable with.


It may also be helpful to read some of the books written by adults diagnosed with ASD. In it, they explain how stressful it is when they’re forced to make eye contact with others.


A lack of eye contact also doesn’t mean your child is not listening to you. As soon as you notice that eye contact is difficult for them, try to engage them in other ways.

Other Ways To Show Interest

You must be patient when teaching your child to indicate that they’re interested in a conversation without making eye contact.


When it is clear that they cannot pay attention while looking someone in the eyes, help them to follow these steps:


  • Allow them to face you without making eye contact.
  • Teach them to comment on a conversation to show that they are listening.
  • Help them to communicate their interest by teaching them to say, “I’m listening, even though I’m not looking at you.”


Even if your child continues to struggle with eye contact, these steps will help them be more comfortable expressing interest in a conversation.


There are also several ways to encourage eye contact if your child is trying to do so but struggling.

Encouraging Eye Contact With Sensitivity

You should approach eye contact with your child with the utmost sensitivity. Remember that ASD is a developmental disorder. It affects your child’s communication, and symptoms often intensify with age.


Your child will likely face challenges at home, school, and any other place they need to communicate.


You may want to use the following techniques to encourage eye contact. But, if you don’t have the patience to see these techniques through, call in the help of an expert instead.


First, instead of always sitting or standing while talking to your child, ensure you are at a face-to-face level with them. If your child can see your face, it is easier to look at you.


You can also set up a fun activity like blowing soap bubbles or planting flowers. After digging the holes for the seeds, pause for a second. Your child will likely look at you to see what to do next.


Don’t treat a lack of eye contact as an offense. Instead, encourage a spontaneous connection between yourself and your child by doing something playful.


For instance, you could build a puzzle with them and put one piece in the wrong place. Or put their boots out to wear in summer. This is likely to get a reaction, but not always the first time.


You must also consider your child’s nature when putting together activities. If they find it difficult to shift their attention between you and the activity, you should play simple games like hide and seek and tag.


When you succeed and your child makes occasional eye contact with you, encourage them to keep making eye contact.

Signs That You Should Encourage Eye Contact

You may notice that your child is more inclined to listen to you speak when he’s looking at you. There are several ways to encourage more eye contact:

Asking for a Glance

You may be able to elicit a glance from your child by pausing when they ask you for something. Your child may give you a quick look to see if you’re listening to what they’re saying.


If they do make eye contact with you, use positive reinforcement by praising them. Next, aim to lengthen the duration of the eye contact. You can prolong eye contact by waiting a few moments before handing your child what he wants.


You should also set an example by always making eye contact with other people in the presence of your child.


Children with ASD pick up on adult behavior – if they see that you’re not interested in looking at the people you’re speaking to, they won’t be either.

Use Your Child’s Interest


One of the best ways to keep your child engaged and to encourage him to look at you is to talk about their favorite topic.


If your child loves movies or toys, keep the conversation going about upcoming blockbusters or new action figures. You might find that the more interest you show in the things your child loves, the easier it will be for them to make eye contact with you.

Visual Supports

 As soon as your child is more comfortable making eye contact while talking to you, you can use visual supports to encourage them.


Instead of pausing and waiting for a reaction, you can use your hands to direct your child’s eyes in your direction. For instance, if they’re looking away, try to point out a path from your child’s eyes to yours to guide them.


While it’s good to encourage eye contact in children with ASD, it is crucial to remember that they don’t interpret eye contact the same way as others.


Through practice and patience, you can help your child overcome some of their aversion to eye contact. If you’ve tried for a long time without success, consult your doctor and seek the help of a psychologist or therapist if needed.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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Carolina Lemseyan
Interview with Carolina Lemseyan, BCBA

1. Tell us a bit about your job as a BCBA. I am currently working with different ABA Agencies from
NJ, PA, NC and TX providing BCBA services to students attending cyber charter schools, directing
weekly Parent Training sessions and Supervision to RBTs in the home setting, and completing
Initial Assessments mainly with Spanish Speaking families in need of ABA services. Working
remotely allows me to have the time and focus on finding novel science-based resources and
design detail-oriented behavior protocols for skills acquisition and behavior reduction goals. The
ongoing communication and collaboration with caregivers and RBTs lead to a collaborative
2. What drove you to the BCBA profession? I have been working with children and adolescents who
present developmental challenges for the past 13 years. I obtained my Master’s Degree in
Psychology in Argentina in 2009 and since then, the desire to continue helping families and
expanding my knowledge encouraged me to complete the Post degree in Clinical
Neuropsychology and Communication Disorders in Spain. In an effort to continue developing
professional skills, I obtained the BCBA Certification in the United States. The responsibility of
“walking together” through this long, challenging, and grateful journey when accompanying
each family is what keeps me motivated in this passionate field. The empathy, commitment and
proactivity are main values in my daily work.

3. How do you balance your career and family? When I find myself working on a weekend, I do my
best to also find and enjoy time with family and friends in contact with nature.

4. How has Golden Care helped you in your career development? Golden Care Therapy has an
extraordinary teamwork that provides support and feedback in a timely manner. I always find an
answer when I have clinical and/or administrative questions, no matter the time of the day. I
enjoy the monthly townhall meetings with presentation of different topics and discussions, and
the possibility to collaborate between colleagues.
5. What advice do you have for prospective Golden Care candidates? I would encourage
prospective candidates to join such an amazing team. Ongoing supervision, several resources
available, and clear detail description of the procedures in place guide the daily work.

6. What do you find the most challenging in your work as a BCBA? I see every challenging situation
as an opportunity to have the strength to continue learning and growing. When an aggressive
behavior decreases concurrent to a the emerge of vocal words to request needs and wants
across people, settings and situations I confirm the power of ABA and the need of our field.
7. What drew you to Golden Care originally? And how has Golden Care changed since? The great
reviews from other colleagues working at the company and the opportunities to work with
Spanish speaking families addressing not only the language barrier, but also considering their
cultural background, where I also come from.

8. What’s the one thing you’d tell your younger self? I would tell my younger self to be brave
enough to take risks, live new experiences and take advantage of each opportunity.
9. What does the day to day of your job look like? I spent time observing and interacting with
clients and their families, RBTs and other providers; attend meetings with the teamwork; review
data and graphs to monitor the integrity and fidelity of treatment; design behavior intervention
plans and skill acquisition protocols; search and review updated literature and resources in the
field; attend seminars; and complete initial and re-assessment reports.

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Interview with Michelle Warendorf, BT

● Tell us a bit about your job as an ABA THERAPIST.
● What drove you to the ABA Therapist profession?
● How do you balance your career and family?
● How has Golden Care helped you in your career development?
● What advice do you have for prospective Golden Care candidates?
● What do you find the most challenging in your work as an ABA Therapist?
● What drew you to Golden Care originally? And how has Golden Care changed
● What have you gained from working at Golden Care?
● What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
● What’s the one thing you’d tell your younger self?
● What is the favorite part in your work as an ABA Therapist/ of working for Golden
● What is your proudest moment at Golden Care/ in your work as an ABA
● What is one thing that you wished people knew about your job?
● What does the day to day of your job look like?

Working as a Paraprofessional for almost 15 years, I decided to enroll in an ABA masters
course to allow me to sit for the BCBA exam. Receiving my degree while my own children were
in college proves you are never too old. I left the public school system and began working at
Golden Care – which was one of the best decisions I could have made. Each person I came in
contact with at Golden Care could not have been more welcoming, caring, helpful and
professional, which is still the case today.
Each day is a different opportunity to assist your client to become a stronger individual. Some
days are extremely trying and exhausting, while most are fulfilling and rewarding. My proudest
moment came last year after working with a young boy for 1 year. He had made such wonderful
progress and his social skills had truly blossomed, that his parents and I mutually agreed he
could “graduate”. This was certainly one of my proudest moments while at Golden Care which
has in addition strengthened my confidence in my work and knowledge of ABA.
The flexibility Golden Care has provided me with has allowed me to take time to care for my
elderly parents and continue providing clients with the services they need as well. I, without
hesitation applaud Golden Care Therapy for the support and opportunity to be myself in the
constantly changing career of ABA.

Michelle Warendorf

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Hugging Sensitivities in Children with Autism

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have certain behavioral challenges when it comes to sensory situations. For some children with autism, this includes feeling particularly sensitive to hugs. Here’s what to know about hugging and children with autism.


Why Children With Autism May Not Like Being Hugged

Many children with autism may have sensory processing disorder which makes them very sensitive to certain senses, including touch. This is why some children with autism simply do not like being touched in any manner.

Many children with autism, even those with high-functioning autism, have difficulty learning to engage in everyday human interaction. They may avoid interactions or eye contact or even resist parental attention, hugs, or cuddling.

There has been more research into the reasoning behind this, but many times it results in people with autism being defensive against touch. The good news is, even if you have a touch-defensive child, there are other ways for children with autism to communicate through physical touch and fill in that emotional void some children may be feeling if they don’t like hugs.


Alternatives to Hugging

While traditional hugs may make certain children with autism very uncomfortable, there are certain alternatives to hugging that you can try. Here are some of the most popular ones.

 Starfish Hug 

 This cute little idea was introduced on the popular kid’s show Sesame Street by Julia, the first Muppet with Autism.

To do a starfish hug, simply place your hands, and palms together, while spreading out your fingers and touching fingertips. It gives the sense of the ritual of hugging and the emotion behind it but limits the amount of actual touching.

Elephant Hug 

 The “Elephant Hug” is a move where move your arms by your nose like an elephant trunk while touching each other’s fingertips. It is another fun move that will incite a child’s sense of imagination. 


 These types of hugs are less overwhelming while still allowing the healing sensation of touch and the comfort that a hug can bring during a difficult time.

 High Fives

High fives are another fun and easy replacement for hugs. When you want to comfort or encourage a child with autism, who gets uncomfortable and overwhelmed by hugs, swap out the ritual with a high-five. It’s easy, quick, and involves only a moment of touch.


Plus, it’s an easy, high-energy way to show encouragement to children who are overwhelmed by long hugs.


Handshakes aren’t just for formal situations, many people with autism feel more comfortable with the act of shaking hands instead of hugging. Shaking hands only involves hands instead of the entire body and can be a more acceptable form of touch.


What To Do If Your Child is Feeling Hug Deprived? 

 While many children with autism feel averse to hugging, some children with autism like to be hugged. Some children can swing the opposite way and want so many hugs that they feel hug deprived when they aren’t getting enough.

If you feel as though you can’t keep up with a child’s daily hug quota, here are ways to make children feel like they are being hugged, even when you can’t physically wrap your arms around them.

Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets have become a popular resource for kids and adults of all ages as these blankets provide an even, allover feeling of “touch” or pressure that can help increase comfort and soothe anxiety.

If your child with autism feels instantly soothed and calm by the feeling of a hug, then weighted blankets are a great option and an easy way to help teach kids to self-soothe. When purchasing a weighted blanket, make sure to pay close attention to the weight.

There are special weighted blankets just for kids that are lighter than adult blankets. Certain adult blankets may be too heavy for children and be uncomfortable or suffocating for little ones. This is why you should only use children’s weighted blankets for children.

 Teaching Self Hugging

Self-hugging is another technique that can help children learn to soothe themselves whenever they need a hug. It’s simple, tell your child that whenever they feel lonely or like they need an extra hug simply wrap their arms around themselves for a nice big hug.

Encourage kids to take a nice, big soothing deep breath while they do this. They can also pat themselves on the back, close their eyes or even rock back and forth to comfort themselves.

Cuddling With Pets or Stuffed Animals

If you can’t be there to give your child with autism a hug, then you can encourage them to cuddle with pets or stuffed animals. Stuffed animals are the perfect toy for your child to hug and snuggle up with as they can easily squeeze and hug their stuffed animals as much as they want.

If you have a pet, you can also teach your children to gently hug their pets when they need a little affection from someone. However, before encouraging your children to go and hug their pets whenever they need, make sure that you are teaching them about animal boundary language and to interact safely with your pets when they need love.

Using Other Senses to Distract

If your child is particularly in-tune with their senses and wants hugs as part of that—you can also teach them to use their other senses to distract from the need to get a hug. Here is how to encourage kids to use other senses to distract from feeling like they aren’t getting enough hugs.

This may be using touch to rub a favorite blanket, listening to a song they love or singing to themselves, looking at a picture of someone or something that soothes them, petting their pet, or anything else that uses their senses.



Hugging can be a hot button for many kids with autism. It can also be something that children with autism get particularly attached to. No matter which way your child leans, it is important to have tools in your arsenal to help your child have more balanced feelings about hugging. 


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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mental health
Is Autism a Mental Health Diagnosis?

Put simply, autism is not a mental health illness. It is often an erroneous assumption and misdiagnosis that arises from the fact that autism and mental health problems share similar symptoms.

Read on to learn the correct diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Is Autism a Mental Health Diagnosis?

Autism is a developmental disorder. It is also a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines developmental disabilities as conditions that may lead to physical, cognitive, or behavioral problems.

The symptoms are present at birth or during the child’s developmental period and persist for the rest of their lifetime.

Autism and Mental Health Problems

Just like ordinary folks, people diagnosed with autism may have good cognitive performance. But they are more prone to developing mental health challenges. Studies show that 7 in 10 persons with autism experience mental health problems.

Some of the common mental health problems affecting persons with autism include:

Reasons for Mental Health Issues in Those With Autism

There’s limited research on why people with autism develop mental health issues. But some of the touted potential reasons include:

Negative Attitudes from Other People

Non-autistic people look at autism through the lens of annoyance, disappointment, and shame. They may not understand or accept the unique differences of people with autism.

In severe cases, autism presents disruptive antisocial behavior where affected people may repeatedly flick their fingers, scream, hit, or injure themselves. They may also invade other people’s personal space, bringing panic and discomfort. This sort of behavior attracts stigma and discrimination from non-autistic people.

Differences in Interacting With the World

People with autism may experience sensory overload from what they smell, hear, touch, taste, and see. These sensory processing problems may lead to mental health struggles.

For example, bright lights may overload their senses, causing them to feel stressed. A noisy place may also activate their auditory hypersensitivity, leading to meltdowns.


Rarely is autism the first medical diagnosis. In most cases, children with autism receive several other diagnoses first. For example, they may go through tests for mental disorders such as ADHD.

The assumption is the child’s symptoms are not interrelated challenges. So, the misconception is that autism-related behaviors are individual problems. And they point to another mental health problem.

Unfortunately, children with autism portray certain behaviors, like mental health symptoms, which often lead to the misdiagnosis of autism as a mental health problem. Misdiagnosis makes it challenging to get the needed support. The affected end up feeling stressed, depressed, and anxious.

Barriers to Support

For people with autism and mental health issues, accessing care is always a weary battle.

Here are some of the fundamental obstacles to receiving support:

  • It is difficult to get an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis as an adult. That’s because there’s no set procedure for diagnosing autism in adults. So, adult autism specialists are hard to find.
  • Social care and mental health specialists may lack adequate awareness to determine the needs and support of people with autism.
  • Social care services may not be confident enough to offer support. They will instead refer you to specialized services that may be expensive or difficult to access. Such obstacles can affect your mental health.
  • You may have autism, but you’re gifted and coherent. So, care professionals may believe you don’t need social support.
  • In some cases, people with autism may not receive the healthcare they need due to difficulties in communicating with their physicians. These challenges can stem from anxiety or difficulties in verbal communication. Many people with autism also dislike using telephones and voicemail.

Supporting Someone With Autism and Mental Health Issues

Young people with ASD may have difficulty communicating their emotions to others. If you’re concerned about the mental health of your autistic friend, it’s a good idea to chat with them.

Use the following tips to have a more productive conversation:

Talk in a Calming Environment

People with autism may experience sensitivities to a wide range of stimuli. They may experience hypersensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, or powerful smells. Such sensory sensitivities are distracting and won’t promote a positive conversation.

You can accommodate their sensory issues by conversing in a calming environment, like a quiet coffee shop.

Ask Closed Direct Questions

Something like “Have you eaten today?” is a closed direct question that people with autism can quickly answer. But open-ended questions like “How was your day?” are harder for them to answer.

Find Out How They Prefer to Communicate

Consider asking your friend how they wish to communicate. Do they prefer to write a text? Maybe they want to talk on the phone? Or do they prefer to have some time beforehand to go through their answers?

Find out their preferred method of communication so you can adapt to their needs.

Give Them Time to Answer

People with autism often take more time to think about the questions they’re asked and how to respond to them. You may misconstrue their silence and assume they did not hear you and repeat the question.

Instead, be patient and give your pal more time to answer back.

Direct Them to Professional Help

Help your friend improve their social skills by engaging them in conversations. Also, encourage them to look after themselves.

You can also suggest that they seek specialized help from various services and agencies, like the following:

  • National charities
  • Local support groups
  • Social media and forums
  • The local council

The Bottom Line

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects learning, thinking, and behavior. But since people with autism are more prone to developing mental health problems, they’re often misdiagnosed as having a mental health illness.

Due to a lack of awareness, people with autism often get judged by the public, which makes them feel less confident and traumatized. Therefore, if you have a friend or a child with autism, it’s important to learn how to address their needs. You should be friendly with them, encourage them, and direct them to specialized care services if needed.

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Diagnosing ASD with the DSM-5

As a parent of a child with autism, feeling judged by others is a common occurrence. Many people may not understand the unique challenges that come with raising a child with autism. And this can take a toll on both you and your child, leading to feelings of isolation or frustration.

In this article, we walk you through the diagnostic criteria for a child with autism according to the DSM-5. We’ll also give you some tips on how to handle judgment from others.

What is the DSM-5?

“DSM-5” stands for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was developed by the American Psychiatric Association. The manual is a reference material used by medical practitioners to identify and diagnose mental and behavioral conditions, including ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

DSM-5-TR Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis

For a child to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, he or she must have shown the following:

  • Difficulties and/or differences from what’s typical in ‘social communication’
  • Restricted, repetitive, and/or sensory behaviors.

They must have had the characteristics from early childhood, even if these aren’t picked up until later in childhood.

Difficulties in Social Communication

Signs of difficulties in social communication can include:

  • Rarely using language to communicate with other people
  • Not speaking at all
  • Rarely responding when spoken to
  • Not sharing interests or achievements with parents
  • Rarely using or understanding gestures like pointing or waving
  • Using only limited facial expressions to communicate
  • Not showing an interest in friends
  • Having difficulties making friends
  • Rarely engaging in imaginative play.

Restricted, Repetitive, and Sensory Behavior or Interests

Signs of restricted, repetitive, and sensory behavior or interests can include:

  • Repeatedly lining up toys in a particular way
  • Frequently flicking switches or spinning objects
  • Speaking in a repetitive way
  • Having very narrow or intense interests
  • Needing things to always happen in the same way
  • Having trouble with changes to their schedule or when changing from one activity to another
  • Showing signs of sensory sensitivities like becoming distressed by every day sounds like hand dryers, not liking the feel of clothes labels, or licking or sniffing objects.

Severity Levels

Autism spectrum disorder can be categorized into three different levels of severity, as shown in the table below:

  1. Level 1: Support is required
  2. Level 2: Substantial support is required
  3. Level 3: Very substantial support is required.

These levels are determined based on the severity of the child’s social communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors.

Severity Level Social communication Restricted, Repetitive Behaviors
Level 3

“Requiring very substantial support”

Severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills cause severe impairments in functioning, very limited initiation of social interactions, and minimal response to social overtures from others.


An example is a child with few words of intelligible speech who rarely initiates interaction. When he initiates interactions, he makes unusual approaches to meet needs only and responds to only very direct social approaches


  • Inflexibility of behavior
  • Great distress or difficulty changing focus or action
  • Extreme difficulty coping with change
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviors markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres
Level 2

“Requiring substantial support”

  • Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills
  • Social impairments apparent even with support in place
  • Limited initiation of social interactions
  • Reduced or abnormal responses to social overtures from others.


An example is a child who speaks simple sentences, whose interaction is limited to narrow special interests, or who has markedly odd nonverbal communication.

  • Inflexibility of behavior
  • Difficulty coping with change
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviors appear frequently enough to be obvious to the casual observer. It also interferes with functioning in a variety of contexts.
Level 1

“Requiring support”

Without support in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments, including:


  • Difficulty initiating social interactions
  • Atypical or unsuccessful responses to social overtures of others.
  • May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions.


An example is a child who can speak in full sentences and engages in communication but whose to-and-fro conversation with others fails. Their attempts to make friends could also be odd and unsuccessful.

  • Inflexibility of behavior causes significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts.
  • Difficulty switching between activities.
  • Problems of organization and planning hamper independence.

Asperger’s Syndrome and the DSM-5

For many people, the term “Asperger syndrome” is part of their day-to-day vocabulary and identity. It is understandable that there are concerns around the removal of Asperger syndrome as a distinct category from DSM-5.

However, everyone who currently has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, including those with Asperger syndrome, will retain their diagnosis. No one will ‘lose’ their diagnosis because of the changes in DSM-5.

Dealing With Judgment From Others

Here are a few tips to help you handle judgment from others regarding your child with autism.

  • Educate others: Often, people who are judgmental towards children with autism simply do not understand the condition. You may want to educate them about what autism is and how it affects your child. This will help them understand where you’re coming from.
  • Explain your child’s behavior: Sometimes, your child’s behavior may seem strange or unusual to others. You may want to explain why your child is behaving in a certain way and how it is related to their autism. This can be helpful at places you frequently visit with your child.
  • Be patient: It can be frustrating when others don’t understand or accept your child’s condition. However, remain patient and understanding and don’t take people’s comments or criticisms to heart. It’s always best to keep a cool head so you can keep your child safe.
  • Seek support: If possible, you should seek support from other parents of children with autism or from support groups. You will find comfort in knowing that others are going through similar experiences.

The Bottom Line

Handling criticism from people concerning your autistic child can be difficult at times. As a parent, you may feel frustrated or isolated since your child is unique. However, taking time to understand your child’s condition and educating your peers can help reduce the judgment surrounding having a child with autism.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions for Children with Autism

Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBI) is a set of highly effective early intervention programs for children with autism. Let’s take a closer look at what this term means and how NDBIs can support your child’s development. 

What are Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions for Children with Autism?

The term Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Intervention (NDBI) was coined in 2015 by Laura Schreibman, director of the Autism Intervention Research Program at the University of California at San Diego, in an attempt to unify recognized autism interventions under an umbrella. 


NDBI combines effective treatment methods known to enhance motivation, engagement, and learning in children with autism, such as: 


  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)
  • Classroom Pivotal Response Treatment (CPRT)
  • Enhanced Milieu Teaching (EMT)
  • Incidental Teaching (IT)
  • Project ImPACT (Improving Parents as Communication Partners)
  • Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism in Toddlers)
  • Social ABC’s
  • Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement and Regulation (JASPER)  


All of the techniques listed above are based on the principles of developmental psychology and applied behavior analysis (ABA)

How are NDBIs implemented? 

NDBIs rely on a range of behavioral strategies, such as modeling, shaping, and differential reinforcement. These methods are based on teaching simple skills and building in complexity over time. Additionally, skills are taught in a developmental sequence, where early skills are considered to be prerequisites for the development of more complex behaviors. 


To illustrate, an NDBI may focus on teaching a nonverbal child with autism to initiate joint attention with others by using nonverbal communication, pointing, gesturing, imitating sounds, and making eye contact, which may eventually allow the child to learn spoken language.

Natural setting

In contrast to traditional interventions that tend to prioritize the acquisition of isolated skills in a structured setting and subsequently work on their generalization in daily life, the core assumption of NDBIs is that therapy requires exposing the child to natural social interactions. This is why these interventions are implemented in natural settings, such as the child’s home, as part of daily routines and play.

Elements of NDBIs

NDBIs rely on the following elements to support the development of communication and other skills in children with autism: 


  • Face-to-face interactions that occur on the child’s level
  • Following the child’s lead to guide activities and increase motivation and engagement 
  • Taking into account the child’s interests when selecting teaching materials and activities
  • Using positive affect and animation, where the therapist smiles, uses expressive gestures, and varies the tone and pitch of their voice to convey positive emotions and engage with the child in an enthusiastic and lively manner
  • Modeling appropriate language, for example describing and commenting on the child’s actions or using open-ended questions to encourage communication
  • Responding to communicative attempts in a positive and supportive way
  • Using communicative temptations, that is, creating situations that encourage communication and interaction with others
  • Providing direct teaching episodes, such as modeling, feedback, and reinforcement, to support learning 
  • Taking into account the child’s age, abilities, and individual needs when planning activities
  • Following the child’s lead to create a more engaging and naturalistic learning environment
  • Creating frequent opportunities for teaching in the natural environment, for example, the child’s home or classroom
  • Delivering interventions in a way that is natural and integrated into the child’s everyday interactions with adults
  • Providing reinforcers that are directly related to the activity being performed, for example, offering a sticker to a child who completes their work on time
  • Placing a strong emphasis on the child’s social and interpersonal development, in addition to improving academic learning and other skills
  • Emphasis on teaching functional skills that help improve the child’s quality of life and encourage independence
  • Coaching parents on the techniques they can use to promote learning, engagement, and connection through daily routines.

How Can NDBIs Support Children’s Development? 

The NDBI techniques are used to teach children with autism developmentally appropriate skills, regardless of their age and functioning level. The hope is to create a positive and supportive learning environment that is tailored to the child’s needs and abilities. 

Areas of implementations

The NDBI approach can be effective in promoting growth and development in multiple domains. Some of the areas where NDBI models are successfully applied in treating children on the autism spectrum include: 

  • Early language development
  • Nonverbal interactions
  • Basic fine and gross motor skills
  • Peer interactions
  • Play skills
  • Social-emotional skills
  • Emotional regulation
  • Adaptive behavior, including self-help skills and daily living skills
  • Improving challenging behaviors

Why are NDBIs so effective? 

There are several reasons why naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions are effective in supporting the development of children with autism:


  • NDBIs are child-centered. In other words, interventions are tailored to the child’s individual needs, interests, and abilities. This personalized approach can help promote motivation when it comes to learning new skills.
  • NDBIs prioritize a naturalistic approach. They are based on the child’s preferences and incorporate everyday routines and activities, which makes learning more relevant and meaningful.
  • NDBIs focus on social engagement and interaction, which are critical areas of development for children with autism. 
  • NDBIs are evidence-based. They are supported by extensive research, which helps ensure that the interventions are effective and appropriate for the needs of each child.

13 Features That Are Common to the Intervention Approaches Classified as NDBIs

In her article entitled “Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions: Empirically Validated Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder” Laura Schreibman defines the features that NDBIs have in common: 

  1. Teaching incorporates the three-part contingency of antecedent, behavior, and consequence
  2. The use of a manual to guide implementation
  3. Accuracy assessment of the intervention implementation
  4. Individualized intervention goals
  5. Ongoing progress measurement
  6. Child-initiated teaching
  7. Setting up the environment in a way that promotes interaction and learning
  8. Prioritizing natural contingencies over external reinforcement
  9. Use of prompting and prompt fading to teach communication, social, and other skills
  10. Helping children to learn to take turns in social and play situations
  11. Modeling skills that children are being supported to learn
  12. Imitating children’s actions in order to motivate further communication attempts
  13. Using methodical approaches to broaden the repertoire of skills and interests.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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