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Parent-Child Interaction and Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD
Autism continuing education psychology CEUs

Section 5
Environmental Enrichment as a Therapy for Autism

CEU Question 5 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Autism
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed an article by Dr.’s Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder on Meltdowns.  This included Warning Signs of Meltdowns and Warding Off a Meltdown.

Have you had autistic children whose parents couldn’t take them on long trips because they didn’t know how to behave?  What suggestions did you give for handling those situations? 

On this track, we will discuss Family Trips.  This will include Priming, Bringing Help and Looking for Activities the Child Will Enjoy.

Wayne, age 46, and Stephanie, age 39, had an autistic daughter, Cassie, age 10. Stephanie stated, "Usually, we can’t take Cassie with us to hotels or on long family trips.  Disasters tend to happen…once, she pulled the fire alarm 3 times in the first 2 days of staying at a hotel. Then, she would sneak out of our room at night to ride in the elevators. We had to call security to track her down!" 

Wayne stated, "I don’t remember if this was on the same trip or not, but at one hotel we stayed at, Cassie wouldn’t stop jumping on other children in the pool. We always end up so exhausted at the ends of these trips that we’ve pretty much given up on vacations in general…"  Stephanie stated, "My mom’s side of the family is having a big reunion this summer, and I really want to go, because I don’t see them often, and it might be the last time I get to see some of these relatives before they pass…we’re just not sure how to make the trip work with Cassie."

I stated, "As you have experienced, children with autism often don’t know how to behave in new situations. Traveling with typical children, of course, can require extra preparation.  Traveling with children with special needs often requires a huge amount of extra preparation, but successful trips are possible." Wayne asked, "What preparations can we make, apart from calling the hotel ahead of time to warn them of a lot of complaining guests?"

Three Key Steps in Successful Family Trip

Step #1 - Priming

I stated, "First, let’s discuss priming. You may want to prime Cassie before your trip. By this I mean, go over the map and talk to her about where you’re going, how you’ll get there, and how long it will take. If Cassie’s verbal skills are limited, you may want to get brochures from the hotel and local attractions and go over all the pictures. You may want to find out what restaurants are in your vacation destination that Cassie will like. Bring as many of her favorite toys and activities as you can. In other words, prepare, prepare, prepare."

Step #2 - Bringing Help
Stephanie stated, "Wayne and I have two other children, and it’s hard enough trying to spend time with them while giving Cassie the attention she needs.  How can we find time to do all this?" 

I stated, "This brings me to my second point.  Let’s discuss bringing help. If you have a part-time or full-time regular babysitter, you may want to consider bringing him or her with you. It may be expensive, but it will give you an extra set of hands and respite at a moment’s notice. If you don’t have a baby-sitter, or yours doesn’t want to go on a trip, you might want to think about inviting one of your several therapists along. Many would love the opportunity to go on an all-expenses-paid vacation. Still, you could invite one of your relatives to travel with you to the reunion to help. An experienced extra adult may be able to avert any potential meltdowns and make the difference between a successful vacation and a disaster.

Another possibility is to arrange for help at your destination; many cities have centers for children with autism, and you may be able to contact a center to get some specialized help for Cassie while you’re on vacation. Or someone who works with your child back home may know of a person who does similar work at your destination." 

Have you found, as I have, that it can be helpful for families with autistic children to have an extra, experienced adult along on long trips?

Step #3 - Looking for Activities Cassie will Enjoy
I stated, "Third, in addition to priming and bringing help, let’s discuss looking for activities that Cassie will enjoy. You may want to check ahead of time to see if the hotel or community has activities that Cassie enjoys. For example, if Cassie likes swimming, you might check to see if the hotel has supervised pool activities. Depending on how long you’re staying, you might even find a local day-camp that Cassie would enjoy. As you know, finding a fun activity for Cassie might be even more important depending on how you will be traveling, whether by car or by a public mode of transportation like a plane or train. Does Cassie have any toys that she plays with repetitively, that you might normally restrict?" 

Stephanie stated, "Cassie is wild about play-doh…actually, she’ll play with it for hours if we let her."  I stated, "And how will you be traveling?"  Wayne stated, "By plane. That was actually something else we were worried about…sitting for long periods of time and waiting in terminals for long lay-overs."

I stated, "If Cassie can play for hours with play-doh, then it might be helpful to take several containers of it with you.  If flying, you may need to decide to have her play with this outside of the security check point depending on current restrictions. Of course, you’ll probably want to bring her favorite books, snacks…etc.  If you’re worried about Cassie not wanting to sit in one place for very long, you might want to take long walks up and down the airplane aisle.  You might even try requesting sitting in the bulkhead of the plane if you’re worried about Cassie kicking the seat in front of her. Heading off any problems in advance can be helpful."

Do you have a Cassie who has difficulties on long trips?  Might playing this track for his or her parents be beneficial?  On this track, we discussed Family Trips.  This included priming, bringing help and finding activities the child will enjoy.

On the next track, we will discuss Sibling Coping Mechanisms.  This will include the parentified child, the family mascot and the withdrawn child.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Crown, N. J. (2021). Oh no! I see a pit: Making sense of the sensory on the autism spectrum. Psychoanalytic Psychology. Advance online publication.

Hill-Yardin, E. L., & Hannan, A. J. (2013). Translating preclinical environmental enrichment studies for the treatment of autism and other brain disorders: Comment on Woo and Leon (2013). Behavioral Neuroscience, 127(4), 606–609.

Howes, A. E., Burns, M. E., & Surtees, A. D. R. (2021). Barriers, facilitators, and experiences of the autism assessment process: A systematic review of qualitative research with health professionals. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication.

Proff, I., Williams, G. L., Quadt, L., & Garfinkel, S. N. (2021). Sensory processing in autism across exteroceptive and interoceptive domains. Psychology & Neuroscience. Advance online publication.

Woo, C. C., Donnelly, J. H., Steinberg-Epstein, R., & Leon, M. (2015). Environmental enrichment as a therapy for autism: A clinical trial replication and extension. Behavioral Neuroscience, 129(4), 412–422. 

Woo, C. C., & Leon, M. (2013). Environmental enrichment as an effective treatment for autism: A randomized controlled trial. Behavioral Neuroscience, 127(4), 487–497. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 5
What are three things that can help an autistic child on a long trip? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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