In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Centeranswer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: Our grandson’s pediatrician recently suggested his parents get him screened for autism. We’re so worried and not sure where to turn. Help!
- Panicked Grandparents
Dear Panicked Grandparents: There are a wide range of autism spectrum disorders, also known as ASD, and many people with the condition live very happy lives. Your first step: Get educated.
Most babies start to show an interest in the world and the people around them at a very young age. By their first birthday, typical toddlers look people in the eye, copy words, play games like peek-a-boo and engage in clapping, waving hello and good-bye and other simple behaviors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with ASD—which is a complex developmental disability that manifests in many different ways and to many different degrees—may struggle with social, emotional and communication skills.
Children or adults with ASD might…
- show no interest in objects (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
- avoid eye contact
- prefer not to be held or cuddled
- appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
- repeat or echo words or phrases said to them
- have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
- have trouble adapting to changes in routine.
Other signs include a child not responding to his or her name when called; repeating actions over and over; and having highly restricted interests.
Early intervention is important, but even with older children, treatment can result in real improvements. At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we provide thorough testing and, depending on the results, will create a customized therapeutic treatment plan, which often includes social skills groups and play therapy.
Support groups for caregivers are also very helpful. In addition to parent support groups, we have a program called GASAK, which stands for Grandparent Advocates Supporting Autistic Kids.
Also, our staff includes family advocates who often get involved in the cases, helping clients get appropriate services from their schools and other providers.
The bottom line: It’s important to determine the child’s needs and come up with a good educational and therapeutic plan. Although people with ASD may face challenges, a diagnosis doesn’t mean your grandchild won’t experience feelings of love, bonding and joy. The child is still the same loving child they were before the diagnosis. It’s a condition they have, but it doesn’t have to define their life.
Question: Now that it’s safe to be with their friends, how can I convince my kids to put their phones and tech devices down?
- Sick on the Screens
Dear Sick of the Screens: During the height of the pandemic, many families made allowances for extra time on screens and now face resistance to reestablishing more strict limits.
No parent wants technology to rule the roost, especially if it’s making your children isolated. Remember, you have the power!
- Set aside specific times at home when no one (parents included) uses technology. Cell phones, computers, iPads—all must be off. Tech-free time can be spent reading, talking, playing games, cooking, making art… anything creative or social will do.
- Establish a clear schedule. When it comes to gaming, many parents may allow 30 minutes a day during the school week and two hours a day on the weekends.
- When possible, keep all technology in a common space like the living room — not in a child’s bedroom. Avoid allowing your kid to disappear for hours behind a closed door.
- Utilize online services that filter out inappropriate or violent material. These services can also limit Internet access by scheduling times that the Internet is available and times when it is not.
The way you use tech devices influences your ability to effectively guide your children. Although your example is not the sole factor, keep in mind that as distant as some kids become from adults as they are moving through their teen years, they continue to observe you—more closely than you know.
During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971 or email email@example.com.