Child at Pingree for Autism Awareness Month.

April is Autism Awareness Month

Every April the Pingree Center runs a large fundraising campaign to raise money for scholarships and also participates in a number of awareness activities.  This year is very different because of the pandemic COVID-19 and its effects in Utah and worldwide.  We will be postponing the Do Your Blue fundraising campaign and our autism awareness activities for many reasons related to the pandemic including the need to social distance, many people finding themselves furloughed or laid off, and the need to close the Pingree Center and shift to in-home services.  We are all adjusting to our “new normal” with no clear idea of when it will end and what it will look like when it ends.  Despite needing to postpone our activities, we still want to raise awareness of autism and celebrate the amazing individuals we serve at the Pingree Center.

For those of you not familiar with autism, it is a spectrum disorder, meaning it presents in many different ways depending on the individual.  We often say that if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.  Meaning that you can’t assume that the way autism presents in one person is the same for anyone else.  Autism affects social communication and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.  Deficits in social communication include both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication.  Some examples of types of verbal and nonverbal communication affected include the use of gestures, facial expressions, verbal language, or social interactions.  Some individuals with autism are non-verbal, some have limited language, and some have full verbal communication abilities.  Some individuals don’t use gestures or facial expressions when interacting with others.  Restricted and repetitive behaviors could include flapping their hands, jumping up and down, or having very intense interests that they are interested in more than most people.  There are many individuals with autism who have very significant behaviors including aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, meaning they engage in behaviors that hurt themselves in some way.   Some individuals with autism have a specific skill that they are very good at.  For some it can be math, remembering dates, or having a photographic memory.  The spectrum also includes a wide range of intellectual ability, verbal language, and overall functioning level which means very different education and treatment needs based on these factors.

The pandemic has had a major impact on our families because of the areas of functioning affected by autism. We have all experienced significant changes and stresses in our lives due to COVID-19.  Many have made the shift to working from home, essential workers are still interfacing with clients and patients, those with children now have their children home from school and are trying to work in addition to helping their children access schoolwork.  These stresses are compounded by the fear of you and family members contracting COVID-19, exposure to our clients, and just living in a new reality with an uncertain end.  If you have a child with autism, that adds another level of complexity during this time.  Kids with autism often thrive on routine, and with schools closing and all “typical” activities and schedules significantly disrupted, it can trigger increased meltdowns, aggressive behaviors, and self-injurious behaviors.  For some children who require Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment, it can be difficult for families to have the resources to continue their treatment and education independently at home.  The other undesired outcome of not receiving services at this time is a regression in the skills the child has learned and mastered.  It is important for children to not only learn new skills but also maintain their existing skills.  When they are not receiving education and treatment for a period of time, there is a good chance they will have a regression in their skills.

While we had to close the Pingree Center to help minimize the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, we still have resources that can help you manage these stresses whether you are a current client or your child has been attending a public/private/charter school and is now home all day. The Pingree Center staff have been amazing and shifted to providing services as an in-home model instead of center-based.  We have offered in-home services for all of our families who would like it.  We have also been able to work with some school districts and families outside of our current Pingree clients to provide services to them as well.  One of our families shared that after the Center closed their child had been banging his head against the wall, had put multiple holes in the walls and significantly injured himself before they accessed our alternative services.  Another family shared that they were drowning with the increase in behaviors and were really concerned someone was going to get hurt until they received help.  We don’t want this difficult time to affect children and their families this way, we want to help.  We want to make sure we serve our clients and the broader autism community during this difficult time.

 

How the Pingree Center can help

We have highly trained and skilled staff available to provide treatment for your child in the home setting.  A few hours a day of treatment can make all of the difference to help manage behaviors and continue to help your child make progress while not in school.  It is also a great opportunity for parents and family members to participate in treatment and learn some of the teaching techniques that can help their children throughout the day.

The Pingree Center has always been known for high-quality services and we want to help any families who need it during these difficult times.  If you are interested in getting help from a member of our amazing team, call us or fill out our contact form.  The Pingree Center has also been posting resources on Instagram and Facebook for families to help them during the stay at home order and while schools are closed.  Many of these resources can be beneficial for any child, not only children with autism.