Children in the Snow

Schools in the San Jose Unified & Cupertino School Districts will have a Winter Recess from February 15-19.

One week with no school.  Most kids love that!  But children with autism may have trouble coping.  It’s a change to their daily routine.  Worse, it’s temporary.  This could make them anxious & cause outbursts.

As the parent, what should you do?

This issue will give you some activities to enjoy with your child, when you have a break from school.

First:  Talk about the possibility of school closing before it happens. If you know a school break or bad-weather day is coming, talk with your child about what could happen, and what activities you can do instead. Use pictures if you have them. Knowing all this ahead of time can ease anxiety.

Go to the Snow

What better way to take advantage of a Winter Break, than to go play in the snow?

Snow is a great sensory experience. Its texture & temperature often fascinates children. It is a deviation from routine, but it’s one where the child has an amazing new environment to explore.

First, make sure to dress warm! Have your child practice putting on their extra clothes, gloves and boots before you leave. Then, drive out to the nearest snow area. The closest to the Bay Area is Dodge Ridge in Pinecrest, or Yosemite. Tahoe is a little farther.

Once there, encourage your child to play with other children.  Sledding is a simple way to enjoy snow play (plus it’s good exercise!).

However, your child may not show interest in typical snow activities, like building a snowman or sledding.  If so, try normal outdoor activities – playing tag in the snow, using plastic shovels to dig in the snow (like they would in a sandbox), or making a “snow castle.”

You could even paint the snow! All you need is a squirt bottle with water & food coloring in it.  This is safe for everyone, and your child can have a lot of fun “snow painting.”

Make Winter Crafts

Does your child prefer to stay indoors?  Try encouraging them with crafts.  Have them make their own snowflakes!

Three ways to make snowflakes:

  1. Fold a coffee filter it into fourths. Have your child cut small shapes from the folds. Then unfold, add glue and sprinkle glitter to make it sparkle.
  2. Visit the Make-a-Flake website. Click “Make Your Own Snowflake” to create virtual snowflakes.
  3. You can also make edible snowflakes.  Fold a flour tortilla into fourths, and then use scissors to cut shapes out of the folds, just like a paper snowflake.  Brush the tortilla snowflake with melted butter, sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar and bake at 350 degrees until crispy.

Sometimes finding the right activity takes a few tries.  That’s okay; we have many more ideas to share.

Winter Box

If you have time before a school break or bad-weather day occurs, you can put together a Winter Box. This is a special container of new and fun things to do when school is out. Movies, music, books, toys, crafting supplies. Maybe even special snacks as well.

The important thing here is: these items are ONLY used on school breaks or bad-weather days. That way the child has something to look forward to, but it isn’t a totally new experience.

Also, take out only one item at a time to avoid over-stimulation.

Work on Skills

If you have some free time, why not work on your child’s developing skills?

Sensory: Winter’s unusual changes can frustrate a child with difficulties processing sensory information. Especially if they associate the outdoors with calming activities. Still, you can use the snow for a learning experience.

Put some (clean) snow in a dishpan or plastic tub, and bring it inside. The child can safely play with it there, getting used to snow’s temperature & texture. Once they’re comfortable, they can go out & play in the snow.

Cognitive & Social: Since bad-weather days often keep a child at home, you’ll have time to help them improve cognitive skills. Try showing the child a number of people in magazines or photos online. Point to their face and ask, “What is this person feeling?” This helps them learn more about facial expressions and body language.

For more information on communication & expression, take a look at our March 2015 blog post, “Improving Your Child’s Expressive Communication.”

Child Upset? Indoor Quiet Time & Routine Activity

Is your child upset over no school? Try a combination of indoor quiet time, and some routine activity.

  1. Quiet Time – Help your child drape a blanket over two chairs to create a tent. Then place cushions or pillows inside. The secluded space will let the child rest and calm down.
  2. Routine Activity – Some household work can help calm children by giving them something to focus on. Have them push a vacuum with you, pull a wagon around the house, or roll out cookie dough.

Final Suggestion: You can use some of the school preparatory activities we covered in our August 2015 issue of “Thrive” during bad-weather days. For instance, keeping your child on their typical school-day sleep and meals routine.

If you’re not sure which of these ideas to try, consider this: The last time your child had an unexpected change to their routine, what did they respond to the most?

Recalling this may tell you what to try when Winter Break comes up.

See you next month!

Fun Activities: Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day Fun

Valentine’s Day is coming up!  For children, this holiday is a great opportunity to socialize and give gifts.  Sometimes schools will have students make valentines, cards and other crafts.

Here’s a fun way to help your child enjoy Valentine’s Day: use a Social Story!

Social Stories are visual guides which describe social situations or skills.  They’re often used to help children understand a new social interaction.

We’ve made a Valentine’s Day Social Story for you.  You can download the file free from
Valentine’s Day Social Story File – Made by A is for Apple

(You’ll need Microsoft PowerPoint to run it.)

PositivelyAutism has published additional Valentine’s Day activities here: Valentine’s Day Social Story and Activities –

We hope you and your child enjoy this coming Valentine’s Day!

Autism Tips: Daily Routines – Dental Care

Oh no, the dentist!

Let’s continue our discussion on Daily Routines – getting dressed, haircuts, brushing teeth, etc.

Last month we covered hair brushing every day, as well as the regular (but potentially upsetting) haircut visit.  This month we’ll talk about something similar:  your child brushing his/her teeth every day.  And the regular event of going to the dentist.

As before, we encourage the creation & use of a daily schedule.  Incorporating daily activities like hair brushing and brushing your teeth helps children stay calm and look forward to things during the day.

(They may not look forward to going to the dentist, of course.  But let’s face it—none of us do!)

Daily Schedule – Brushing Teeth

As adults, we tend to brush our teeth without thinking about it.  But for a child with autism, the process takes some getting used to. Fortunately, we have an excellent resource for all parents:
The Autism Speaks Dental Guide (PDF File).

This guide goes through the steps of brushing your child’s teeth.  Then, teaching them how to brush their own teeth.  And once they’re comfortable with that, the guide helps you prepare for a trip to the dentist.

Regular Event – Going to the Dentist

It’s important to find a dentist who works with individuals with autism. This Resource Guide can help you find a local dentist (at least 5 are in the Bay Area).

If your regular dentist is not on the list, don’t worry!  Just call them and ask if they’ll work with your child.  If they aren’t adequately prepared, chances are they know a fellow dentist who is.

If your child becomes fidgety when in a strange place, the guide recommends practicing for a dental visit ahead of time.  Have the child lie down in a reclining chair.  Guide them through the activities they’ll do while at the dentist’s:

  • Opening their mouth
  • Holding their mouth open for a short time
  • Putting their hands on their stomach
  • Using a dental mirror or small flashlight to look inside their mouth (you can find these in stores)

The guide contains a visual schedule for a dentist visit.  Show this to your child, and walk them through each step.  It will help familiarize the visit and give them a way to track how the visit proceeds.

Autism Speaks also has a video called “The Dental Toolkit”. The video walks you through the entire dental care process – from finding a toothbrush your child will like, to brushing technique, to finding & visiting the dentist.  You’ll find many of the tips in the dental guide covered in the video as well.

We hope these guides help you make dental care an easy & familiar part of your daily routines!

How easy was it to teach your child to brush their teeth?  Please share your stories on our Facebook Page:

Ask A is for Apple

“Dear A is for Apple,
How does the IEP Process work? How am I involved? What can I do?”

We’re continuing our “Ask A is for Apple” discussion from last month about the IEP process.  Last month we talked about how the IEP process works overall.  This month, we’ll go over where your rights as a parent come into play during that process.

The Request Stage

We mentioned that the IEP process starts when someone—you or a school—requests an evaluation of your child.  If the school asks to evaluate your child, you can say no.  If you say no, the IEP process stops right here.

If you request an evaluation, the school may take one of a few actions.  They may agree, beginning the evaluation.  They may invite you to a meeting to discuss the request.  They may decline it, or offer an alternative instead (such as a different teaching method).

The Evaluation/Assessment Stage

During the assessment, you’ll be asked questions about your family, the child’s behavior, etc.  Here’s the thing:  you can ask questions too!  Ask about the assessments, test results, school placement options, where to get the best services, etc.

IEPprocesschart2Remember, this is all geared toward the child’s needs.  If you want to ask for a specific service, frame the request in their terms.

  • “I want OT services” = No
  • “My child will need OT services” = Yes

The Evaluation Results Stage

If the evaluation’s results don’t appear to “fit” your child, you have the following options to choose from:

  1. You can request more reviews.
  2. You can request an individual evaluation.
  3. You can request a re-evaluation.

Whichever option you choose, you must make the request in writing.  Documentation is critical!

The Eligibility Stage

The group determining your child’s eligibility for special education may not agree with your position.  If so, you can disagree with their recommendation.  But again, do so in writing. 

There are 13 categories of special education.  In order to qualify for special education, the IEP team must determine that a child has one of the following:

  1. Autism
  2. Blindness
  3. Deafness
  4. Emotional Disturbance
  5. Hearing Impairment
  6. Intellectual Disability
  7. Multiple Disabilities
  8. Orthopedic Impairment
  9. Other Health Impaired
  10. Specific Learning Disability
  11. Speech or Language Impairment
  12. Traumatic Brain Injury
  13. Visual Impairment

13 Categories of Special Education –

We list them here so you know what to expect.  If your child does belong in one of these categories, but the team does not assign them as such?  Request a re-evaluation (in writing!).

The Placement Stage

As you are on the IEP team, you’ll participate in setting the short-term and long-term goals for your child’s education.  Make sure the goals match your child’s needs.

If you disagree with a placement, request more options in writing.  After you make such a request, officials must mediate your disagreement and find an agreeable position.

These are your rights in the IEP process.  You may not need to use any of them—most of the people we’ve worked with on IEPs were professionals, and took pains to find a special education program well-suited to the child.  But in case you do, now you know what they are.

Do you have a question you’d like answered?  Please email it to us at for inclusion in a future newsletter.

Inside A is for Apple

Therapist with Child and Mother

We have a question for you, our readers.  Which section of “Thrive” do you enjoy the most?

We spent a busy January gearing up for 2016.  Bringing on more therapists & supervisors.  Working to update our skills & the therapy tools available to our staff. 

Now that we’re in February, we’d like to hear from you.  How is “Thrive” helping you & your family?  Do you read a certain section more often than others?

Here’s a list of the “Thrive” sections we’ve used in the past year, for reference:

  • Main Article
  • Local Events
  • Fun Activities
  • Autism Tips
  • Autism Awareness
  • Ask A is for Apple
  • Inside AIFA

Please send your favorite section to  And please include why you made your choice—we’ll use all feedback when creating future newsletters.  Thank you!