Tips From The Mayer Center

April 1, 2024
Autism Acceptance Month

In recognition of Autism Acceptance Month, Middlesex Health’s The Mayer Center is sharing a few tips for parents of children who may be on the autism spectrum. Autism is a developmental disorder that without support often leads to challenges with communication, socialization and learning. 

The Mayer Center at Middlesex Health’s Essex Medical Building provides developmental services to children and adolescents with developmental challenges, including autism, all at one location. The center offers Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) evaluation and treatment, speech and language pathology, physical therapy and occupational therapy in a child-focused environment. 

As a parent or guardian, how do you know when to get your child evaluated?

Early detection of autism spectrum disorder can be difficult, as it looks different for every person. The difficulties associated with autism can vary and range from very mild to significant. It's also possible for a child to demonstrate some of these behaviors without having autism. 

Angel Roubin, a clinical psychologist with Middlesex Health, says that the evaluation process for autism spectrum disorder often begins when a significant person in a child’s life, such as a parent, teacher or medical provider, notices a pattern of atypical development, learning, or social interaction style that causes question or concern. This can happen as early as the first year of life. However, sometimes, it doesn’t happen until years later.


Roubin says progression of autism is also complicated, as children may master a developmental skill and then "lose" this ability during a period of regression.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several characteristics that may indicate your child has autism, and you can view them here. It is important to remember that these are guidelines and can be influenced by other factors.

If you are concerned about your child, Roubin says the first step is to consult with your child’s health care provider. They may provide the developmental screenings, which will ultimately help with the evaluation process. Seeking a formal evaluation provides information about a child's current level of functioning and available resources.

What can parents do at home to help their child if they know, or suspect, that their child is on the autism spectrum?  

Follow through on any demands you make of your child. Children excel when they know routines and what comes next, explains Samantha Aresco, a behavioral analyst and supervisor of ABA at The Mayer Center. When you do not follow through, children tend to display higher intensity and frequency of behaviors that prevent them from adapting, adjusting or participating in different aspects of life.

Although you are following through on the demands you make, don’t be afraid to play! By presenting yourself as someone who is fun and positive, Aresco says it could help increase your child’s responses.

And as you interact with your child, Aresco recommends using “first/then language.” For example: “First eat your yogurt then you can have your cookie.”

Choices are also good! Let your child choose between two pairs of shoes, or show them items and tell them to pick one. Giving choices does not mean you are losing control as a parent. Instead, you are creating shared control over a situation, which can often lead to improved collaboration with your child. 

What can parents do as they help family, friends and others interact with their child? 

The best thing parents can do is explain to others that it is important that everyone follows the same guidelines. Set expectations for others when interacting with your child. This will help decrease various behaviors. Also, encourage others to use a minimal amount of words when your child becomes upset.    

What are two tips for parents navigating their child’s autism diagnosis? 

First, remember that all children, regardless of whether they have autism, have tantrums. It’s part of growing up! All children also have foods that they do not like, and all children like to have control when they are learning how to navigate the world. Pick your battles. 

Secondly, take time each day for yourself. If you are not calm, your child will feel that. 

What are some things that might trigger children with autism? 

Sensory overload can often trigger a child with autism. The following may trigger a child with autism:

  • Children may not like clothing that has multiple layers or colors; clothing that is stiff; tags on clothing; jackets and hoods.
  • Car seats might trigger a child.
  • Foods, such as textured food; food that is broken; and food colors may be a concern.
  • They may not like their hair being touched, washed or brushed.
  • Sounds can be overwhelming, such as loud noises and the sound of toilets being flushed. 

Aresco says it is important to pick which sensory overloads are appropriate to allow children to escape. All children have to be buckled into their car seat, or wear a seat belt, but she says maybe they can remove their jacket while in the car. 

Children with autism may also be triggered when they are denied access to items or activities, when unexpected changes in routine occur and when they visit new places.  

For more information about The Mayer Center, click here

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