Autism Awareness Month wrap-up

Throughout April, PACTT has been sharing autism resources on Facebook and Twitter. Here's a wrap up of everything that was posted, in case you missed it:

* Have you ever stared blankly at your (fill-in-the-device-here), wondering whether there's an app to help with routines, or sensory sensitivity, or teaching social skills? Here's a nifty wheel that pulls many of them together.

* Did you know that PACTT has its very own Pinterest page, with a collection of fun resources?

* OCALI. Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence has an abundance of FREE online resources and trainings on all things autism: (

* Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET). TARGET has detailed info sheets on effective teaching practices for individuals with autism. They also have quick videos of effective tools and strategies: 

* PACTT's Transition Timeline is a quick way to help get a student's post-school planning on track. /transition-resources/

* Looking for sensory-friendly options for movies, museums, or sporting events? This blogger shares some useful tips and tricks:

* A playlist of TED talks about autism:

Navigating the autism blog-o-sphere

Every now and then, I use this space to share resources for parents, professionals and whoever else might pass through. This is one of those days! (So, no awesome student pictures today, but keep reading anyway, ok?)

- Paula

There are a LOT of autism blogs out there in the world. A LOT. Go ahead - google "autism blog" and see what comes up -- it's good stuff and not-so-good stuff and everything in between. My search yielded 10 pages of results. I'm not sure how anyone can process that much information, or even begin to weed through it.

Soooo ... I'm going to do it for you! Today, I'm going to introduce you to my first new favorite blog. And, I'll keep weeding through the pages, and next time I find one worth sharing, I will. Meanwhile, you send me your favorites, and I'll share them with everyone else. Deal?

Drumroll, please? If you (and I mean you - parent, teacher, sibling, innocent autism bystander) only read one blog this week/month/year, make it this one: Snagglebox ( She's a mom of two boys with autism. She's down-to-earth, she's realistic, and she has a ton of great perspective and useful information.

Here are a few of her latest entry topics:

So, there you have it. Do you have a favorite blog or blogger? Email me or add it to the comments here. Maybe it'll even get featured in a future post!

Thanks for reading!


OT Corner: Planning for winter

In this OT Corner, Lill shares resources for dealing with the tricky transition from warm weather to the layers of a winter wardrobe:

Transitions are tough, but they're even tougher for our students with autism. It seems like no sooner have they adjusted to the no-jacket, yes-sandals, beach-going summer fun, than it's time to don the boots, hats and gloves of winter.

So, what can we do to help make it just a little easier?

Make it part of the routine: So many of our students thrive on structure and routine. So, start adding things to their get-ready routine. One of our students had his very own "ready for recess" schedule, that listed everything he needed to put on that day - hat, coat, gloves, boots, scarf - weather depending, of course. He knew he had to check the schedule, and the teachers had the flexibility to add / subtract picture symbols for whatever he would need that day.

Make it fun: If I put on my hat, gloves and coat (which I'm not particularly fond of doing) for the first time this season, then get in the car and go to the doctor, it's not going to make me want to do it again. Reward the behavior with something positive, while you're teaching it - time on the swing, fun with bubbles, etc. Caution: Make sure it's something that's not SO rewarding that it'll trap you into three months of begging / meltdowns because you can't always drop everything and go to Target.

Don't give up: Remember, not everyone gets it the first time. Be sure clothes are familiar and comfortable. Set reasonable expectations - many of our students have a higher tolerance for cold than we do. That wool hat might push them into heat-overdrive ... until it's cold enough to make a difference. Try different fabrics / styles. And, in the end, we've found that when it gets cold enough, even the most intolerant student will finally keep those gloves on!

More ideas: We came across this page from The Autism File with some more great tips for helping children (and adults) with autism to adjust to Mother Nature's changes. 

If you have ideas we've missed, add them to the comments below and let us know! 


To stim, or not to stim?

We all have things we do to keep ourselves calm, alert, or engaged. How many of us fidget with a pen or paperclip during stressful meetings, tap a toe, or ...? Our students with autism do the very same thing ... but their "stims" are usually more obvious, and at times can be less socially acceptable. But we all need to regulate ourselves, right? We need strategies for keeping ourselves calm and relaxed. So how do we as parents, teachers, and caregivers decide the difference between reinforceable and replaceable behaviors?

I came across a really neat blog today ( and had to share this perfectly logical chart:

The blogger, Anabelle Listic, is a 27 year-old artist living is Seattle and is a film and digital photographer. Anabelle has autism and is profoundly visual. And she has a wonderfully unique perspective. (Her website is - if you have time, check out her awesome photography there, too!)

Most of the time, our participants can't tell us why they do things, or what they need. We often have to play detective, or employ a great deal of trial and error, to figure it out. For me, at least, it's eye-opening to be able to hear perspectives on autism from the people who LIVE it each day. Thank you, Anabelle!

OT Corner: Sensory Processing Difficulties

"It's like a traffic jam in your head, with conflicting signals quickly coming from all directions, so that you don't know how to make sense of it all."

-- Author and parent Nancy Peske, describing her son's sensory processing issues

This description is in the first of a three-part series on sensory processing disorders, presented by Child Mind Institute. (You can read the entire article HERE.)

It's rare to find one of our students who doesn't have some kind of unique sensory need. As we know, there's no one solution for everyone, and we know that sometimes we need to try lots of things before we find one that works. Luckily, we also have an Occupational Therapist with all sorts of creative solutions! 

Have a sensory-related question? Tap into Lill's 13 years of experience at PACTT. Email questions or ideas to, comment directly on this blog post, or use our Contact form.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Halloween Tips and Tricks

'Tis the season for crunchy leaves, trick-or-treating, darker evenings and colder weather. For some of us, fall is a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of summer. For others, the change in seasons throws our natural rhythms temporarily out-of-whack.

For individuals with autism, changes in seasons can be confusing. They can disrupt schedules, limit favorite activities (What do you MEAN I can't swim outside in October??), and mean a wadrobe swap that we neuro-typicals even have trouble adjusting to.

The Autism Society of America has shared a useful list of tips for helping to create a successful Halloween for kids on the autism spectrum. Check it out here: Halloween Tips.

Did they miss anything important? Tell us in the comments below!


Doctors and dentists and respite, oh my!

Finding the right people to work with your child on the autism spectrum is tough. We often get phone calls from people both within and outside the PACTT family, asking for help in the search for service providers who have shown success and knowledge in the area of autism.

Yes, I've started compiling a list over the years of folks we've encountered with whom our parents have found strong allies. Doctors, dentists, special recreation providers, private therapists -- I can only imagine how overwhelming it can be for parents to find just the right person.

My best resource for things like this has always been our parent community, a small - but determined - group of parents, intent on getting the very best services for their children. But that's certainly not a comprehensive list.

Enter, stage left: 

According to its "About" page, MyAutismTeam is trying to do this on a large scale. Parents can sign up for a free account, build their "teams," and recommend specific providers. It's a nationwide parent-to-parent database, and could be a fantastical idea (IF, and only IF people participate).

Don't worry - I'm going to keep on adding to my lists, as I hear more about stellar resources from our parents and friends; if you have someone to add (physician, psychiatrist, dentist, etc.), send me their name and save someone else the trouble of searching far and wide for their nearest autism-friendly WHOever.

But check out, too. The more local providers on there, the better the resource for everyone (and feel free to give PACTT a shout-out while you're there!).


Sensory overload, or "When Life Stinks"

So many of our students experience sensory moments in ways completely different from the rest of us. It's easy to pick out the folks who are hypersensitive to sounds or light -- but how easy is it to realize that they might be bothered by something we can't even smell? 

From the Autism/Asperger's Digest May 2011 edition:

About one-third of people on the autism spectrum are hypersensitive to smell. Imagine what your world would be like if you were constantly bothered - even sickened - by scents that we neurotypicals filter out! The headaches, the nausea, the inability to attend or focus on what you're doing. What daily irritations the world would bring!

Author Lindsey Biel, a regular columnist in the AADigest, offers a plethora of sensory-smart smell strategies that can help you, your child or your student enjoy life more.

Download a .pdf version of the article, or check out their website. The Autism / Asperger's Digest has a wealth of fantastic information, and several free downloadable articles available here

How far we've come ...

I found a reference today to a movie I'd long since forgotten: Produced by Kartemquin Films, "Refrigerator Mothers" takes us back to a time when autism diagnoses reflected more on parenting styles than on neurological differences.

The movie's IMDb description, reads:

Refrigerator Mothers paints an intimate portrait of an entire generation of mothers, already laden with the challenge of raising profoundly disordered children, who lived for years under the dehumanizing shadow of professionally promoted "mother blame." Once isolated and unheard, these mothers have emerged with strong, resilient voices to share the details of their personal journeys. Through their poignant stories, Refrigerator Mothers puts a human face on what can happen when authority goes unquestioned and humanity is removed from the search for scientific answers. 

I had the opportunity to see a viewing of this film at the 2002 Autism Society of America conference, surrounded by parents, professionals and other caregivers. I remember thinking how hard it was to believe that doctors and scientists would make such wild assumptions about families. My heart went out to the mothers in the film, whose lives were turned upside down - not only by their children, but by the professionals who were supposed to help.

For people new to autism, or who are interested in a historical perspective, I'd highly recommend sharing this movie - though you might also want to share a box of tissues. It's listed on Netflix, but it's also available online for free at:

An aside:  I marvel each day at the warmth, compassion, and endless patience of our parents and families. If you ask me, it's obvious Dr. Bettelheim never met any PACTT parents, or his theory quickly would have been disproven! - Paula


New "Wretches and Jabberers" documentary features two adults with autism

"Wretches & Jabberers" is the newest documentary to star two individuals on the spectrum, in which the self-labeled "Wretches" use their AAC devices to communicate with the rest of us "Jabberers."

From the Autism Society of America website:

"AMC Theatres (AMC), a leading theatrical exhibition and entertainment company, is partnering with the Autism Society and Area 23a, an event-based distribution company, for a unique, national theatrical run of the feature documentary WRETCHES & JABBERERS to commemorate National Autism Awareness Month in April.

WRETCHES & JABBERERS is a poignant narrative directed by Academy Award® winner Gerardine Wurzburg that follows two men with autism, Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, who embark on a global quest to change attitudes about disability, intelligence and communication."

Chicago is one of 40 cities to participate in the limited-release viewings. The Chicago showing is scheduled for Saturday, April 9th at noon at the AMC South Barrington (175 Studio Drive, South Barrington, IL).

For more information on the film, or on the Chicago-area showing, visit the Autism Society of America website at

PACTT teachers present at national conference

Last week, PACTT teachers Sarah Aldrich and Lauren Mucha presented a poster session at the national Council for Exceptional Children conference in Nashville, TN.

The topic of the session was "Community Employment for Students with Severe Autism," and discussed the components of a successful transition program with an emphasis on community employment.

Congratulations, Lauren and Sarah, on a successful presentation!

Folks we know: A parent's perspective hits the shelves

From the Gravity Pulls You In publisher's website:

"View the universe of autism--its marvels, chaos, and life-changing impacts--through the eyes of the contributors to Gravity Pulls You In. In 33 essays and poems, mothers and fathers raising children on the autism spectrum explore their lives in the context of autism's gravity, discovering what's important and what they find centering."

Flip through Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum, and one of the contributors' stories might start to sound familiar - that's because it's the voice of Ellen Pinkham, a member of our PACTT family. In her essay, and throughout the book, parents of children across the spectrum share common (and uncommon) struggles - but most importantly, showcase the uniqueness of the experience of each of our children and families.

The collection, edited by Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman, is available on and (for a discounted price) through the Woodbine House website.

Congratulations, Ellen!

What -I- learned at my IEP: Autism Resource Center

At one of our IEP staffings this week, Dr. Louis Kraus brought me information about a new online Autism Resource Center. Rush University Medical Center is working on compiling a clearinghouse of information and resources for parents, educators, therapists and caregivers alike ... So if you're, say, looking for a dentist who specializes in autism, a place to do hippotherapy, or a summer camp - they've got listings all across the Chicago Metro area. I haven't had much time to explore, but from my cursory glance this afternoon, it seems like a worthwhile project.

Check it out at:

- Paula