Should I Give My Child an Allowance?

Artist Jason Jones 

Artist Jason Jones 

One of the things that we wish for our children is for them to be as responsible (or more responsible) with money as we are. Giving your kiddo an allowance is a great teaching opportunity, and can ease the pain point of them asking for new and different toys. No amount of allowance is too small to start teaching financial literacy. When you give your child their allowance, this is a great time to talk about principles of saving, spending, and giving. I know some families that have their child keep separate envelopes for each purpose. 

I strongly recommend that once you give your kiddo the money, you honor their choice of how to spend it.  All of their choices, including poor choices and choices that provide only short term gratification are opportunities to learn lessons about needs versus wants and short term vs long term payoffs. 

I also strongly suggest that you not tie allowance to household chores.  As important as it is to learn about honest pay for honest work, it's equally important to learn that some things are done just because you are part of a household without the expectation of reward.  

Intuiting Intent

Understanding the emotional intent of others can be daunting. This is where we get into some of the most common every day challenges that cause the biggest misunderstandings such as "laughing at" vs "laughing with" and "on purpose" vs "by accident".

This we begin a "theory of mind" curriculum, which will work towards developing an understanding of the motivations and intentions of other people. Neurologically, this relies heavily on a class of neuron called "mirror neurons" which activate when we watch another person and play an important role in decoding facial expression. 

We will be working on understanding the mirror neuron system, as well as learning strategic ways to gather information using contextual clues. 

See you in group!

Self Advocacy

image by Jason Jones

image by Jason Jones

School is back in full swing and the honeymoon period, if your child had one, is probably over. One of the most important skills your child can learn for success in relationships, school, and work is how to be an effective self advocate. Self advocacy means awareness if your strengths and challenges, identifying your goals, understanding the balance of rights and responsibilities, and effectively communicating these to others.

This week we will be learning about effective self advocacy with peers, teachers, and family members. We will be discussing points such as:

-Finding the balance between courteousness and assertiveness.

-Understanding and using a chain of command.

-Knowing your rights and responsibilities.

-Clearly communicating concerns and needs.

-Asking for help.

See you in group! 

Meet Kendall


I wanted to introduce our wonderful new staff person, Kendall. I met Kendall this summer when she worked with me at our summer camp and was immediately impressed with her instinct for offering supportive, nurturing guidance. She will be with us for all Saturday groups. Here is her introduction...

My name is Kendall Sirica and I am a junior at Ellington High School.  I play tennis in the spring, compete in mock trial during the winter, and take pictures of nature throughout the year.  After high school I plan on majoring in psychology with a minor in special education. 


image by Jason Jones 

image by Jason Jones 

Last week in groups we learned techniques for making small talk, and this week we will be mastering the art of story telling. I know from groups that the kids have so many stories in them, but often struggle to tell them in a way that connects rather than alienates the listener by getting bogged down in details and tangents. The good news is that the brain is hardwired to tell and enjoy stories. when we hear a story, we try to relate it to our stored memories. According to Leo Widrich of, "That's why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust."

This week we will be learning how to tell interesting stories that connect with our audience and make us more interesting, persuasive, and fun to be around. Here's a sample:

1. Pay attention to your audience. If you are telling a story about Minecraft, you will lose an audience that doesn't know play going into too much detail. You can keep their attention by focusing on the universal what was funny? What did you enjoy most? What scared you, etc.

2. Be mindful of the line between embellishments and lies. If you are telling a true story, a certain amount of license is accepted when it comes to exaggeration but too much strays into lies. If your story is interesting to you, be confident that it is interesting enough to tell truthfully. 

3. Have fun with language. Rather than overdoing it with superlatives (amazing, huge, etc.) Try using interesting synonyms.

What is 'Theory of Mind' and how does it affect our kids?

What is 'Theory of Mind' and how does it affect our kids?

The first thing that springs to mind when we think of mind reading might be psychic fairs, palm readers and telepathy, but if we think about it, we engage in our own sort of mind reading every day. Though we aren't able to see exactly what others think, we can gauge people's inner thoughts and feelings through various means such as empathy, reading body language or thinking as objectively as we can about the inner lives of others. This is called Theory of Mind. 

The neurotypical among us can understand and predict others' behavior to some degree by working out their desires, beliefs, emotions, intentions and perceptions. By doing this, we can acknowledge that the way we see the world is not the only way the world can be seen. We come to realize as we grow up that our experience of reality is only one part of the wider reality that includes us all.

People on the autism spectrum tend to find this more difficult. They can find it tough to recognize that others have their points of view, thoughts, plans and emotions. Understanding our kids' deficits in this area will enable us to help and support them in making social progress.

Theory of Mind and the Autism spectrum

People on the spectrum can have difficulty comprehending that others don't know something or that others different views or opinions. They can find it tough when someone doesn't have a response to their question or if a matter is subjective.

Understanding that their peers, classmates or workmates even have thoughts and emotions can be a problematic concept to grasp for someone on the spectrum, meaning they can unintentionally come across as uncaring or selfish. 

If our child's actions are cruel or hurtful at times, it's helpful to remain mindful of the fact that it may not be their intention to hurt others. Their actions can come from a lack of comprehension about the effect they have on the people around them.

The limits of the Theory of Mind of those on the spectrum can be seen from a very young age.

As infants, children on the autism spectrum have less interest in faces and shared attention than their neurotypical peers.

By 2 years old they can usually understand the desires of others, but not quite as easily as neurotypical children. Another notable difference is their preference to play with objects as they are, rather than pretending the toy is something else. A neurotypical child may pretend a block is a car, but a child on the spectrum generally won't.

3 years old is when Theory of Mind increases rapidly in NT kids. The test psychologists use is called the Maxi test. The child tested is told a story about a little boy called Maxi who hides some chocolate in a cupboard then leaves the room. Maxi's mother then comes in and moves the chocolate to a drawer, leaving the room before Maxi comes in again. The child is then asked where Maxi will look to find the chocolate. Kids with a developed theory of mind know that Maxi will still look in the cupboard, unaware that his mother has moved it, whereas kids without a theory of mind will assume Maxi will look in the drawer.

NT kids will get better at this over time, about 20% of those tested at 30 months being successful, increasing to 50% at 44 months. The success rate for ASD kids tends to stick at 20%, regardless of intelligence level or age.

As kids get older this inability to know when others don't know things can cause problems. If your child gets delayed on their way to school or work because of a traffic jam, for example, they might not realize that they'll have to explain this to their teacher or boss. Rather, they'll assume that their boss or teacher already knows the reason for their tardiness. This could lead to strained interactions and misunderstandings.

A limited theory of mind means that those on the spectrum will also find it difficult to understand sarcasm, irony, white lies and metaphors, which is likely to limit their social success.

4 ways parents can help

1. Invest in some learning materials

The University of Cambridge, UK, has developed a comprehensive DVD and CD-Rom resource for teaching those on the spectrum about emotion. Learning about 412 human emotions through games, videos, voice clips and voice stories, your child can get a much needed boost for their Theory of Mind skills in a fun way.

2. Role playing and acting

Role playing can be a great way to develop empathy and understanding in our kids. Putting themselves in someone else's shoes allows them to get outside themselves and their own minds, something that would normally be very difficult for them. 

If you're not sure where to start, don't worry - there are plenty of resources available to guide you. You might want to try Foundation Role Plays for Autism by Andrew Nelson or acting out one of your child's favorite story books.

3. Become their Theory of Mind coach

Psychologists have suggested that parents, teachers, family members or friends can become a Theory of Mind coach for a child on the autism spectrum. By going through your child's day with them, you can explain and describe the behaviors and emotions of others. Helping them to pick up on the nuances of facial expressions, tone of voice and body language will allow your child to gain a greater understanding of how they can interact with others successfully.

4. Find a social skills group

A group specially geared towards those on the spectrum can be a great help in boosting your child's social interactions. The facilitators are likely to use a range of different activities and exercises to increase your child's awareness of the thoughts and feelings of those around them, helping them to develop the Theory of Mind skills that will pave their way to success. 

10 steps to successful summer transitions

Artist: Jason Jones

Artist: Jason Jones

Whatever age your child is, they can struggle with the disruption that summer brings. As the predictable routines of school come to an abrupt halt and our kids are thrown into a whole new state of affairs with totally different rules, expectations and activities, it is no wonder that they struggle in keeping it together.

Though teachers, therapists or other professionals involved in your child's care and education can go some way to easing the transition into the summer, as parents of those on the autism spectrum you are best placed to to be proactive in making sure their summer is a success. 

Here are ten tips guaranteed to make the summer easier:

Talk to this year's teacher

Your child's teacher is likely to have spent plenty of time and effort in implementing techniques to help your child learn in a way that suits them. Through work systems, pictorial communication strategies, visual timetables or other methods, your child will have learned the expectations of them that exist in the classroom, both educationally and behaviorally.

Moving from a structured environment into the free-for-all that summer can sometimes be is tough for a child on the autism spectrum. Liaising with your kid's teacher to learn about any strategies and materials used will enable you to carry these techniques into the summer, which will ease the transition for your child.

Meet next year's teacher

Though the beginning of the summer brings the largest upheaval in schedule, the end of summer can be just as tough, for different reasons. If your child is uncertain what the fall will bring when they return to school, they can become anxious and fearful about the beginning of term.

Meeting next year's teacher and preferably visiting the classroom they will sit in the next academic year before school ends can do wonders for a child's feelings of security during the summer. It will be particularly comforting to many children on the autism spectrum to have an image of the teacher and classroom to keep those memories alive during the long break.

Help your kid maintain their friendships

For most kids on the autism spectrum, friendships are not easily won and just as tricky to maintain. Keeping your child in touch with their schoolmates over the summer might not be the easiest task, but it will ease the transition back into school in the fall, as well as keeping familiar faces around during the summer.

Seeing their friends out of the usual context of the classroom and playground can be jarring, though. Inviting friends round to your home can work well once your child knows what is expected of them and what activities they can do together. Setting up clear rules and guidelines will help your child deal more effectively with any anxiety they may be feeling and enjoy their friend's company.

4. Set out a plan for the summer

A visual overview of all the summer's activities, including vacations, day trips and other planned activities can be a great help for those on the autism spectrum. Listed chronologically, preferably on a calendar, a run-down of the summer and an idea of when they will return to school will decrease anxiety and help them get a better sense of time. 

Photos of your vacation destinations are ideal as they help to ease the transition into unfamiliar environments.

5. Rearrange the wardrobe

We all know that many on the autism spectrum can attach to specific items of clothing and refuse to consider alternatives. Removing tempting favorite jumpers and woolen clothing from wardrobes and drawers and moving them into storage can prevent overheating and the health problems it causes.

6. Consider sensory sensitivities

Summer is a time that comes with a whole load of different sensory experiences. Putting on sunblock, jumping in the pool, wearing less clothes or the heat on the skin can be problematic for some on the autism spectrum.

A great time to apply sunblock without a fight can be during a favorite TV show that engrosses them. Children who find it uncomfortable wearing lighter clothes may enjoy a weighted vest. Some kids may prefer to sit in the shade or go inside for some periods of the day to avoid sensory overload.

Try to be mindful of how planned or impromptu activities can affect your child's senses. Refusal to engage in activities can sometimes be a means of protecting themselves from overstimulation.

7. Focus on bedtime routines

Lack of sleep can cause anyone to get grouchy. Try to maintain the same bedtime routines that were in effect during the school year, if you can. It might help to establish a set pattern of activities before bed e.g. bath, read, sleep, which can ease transitions into different bedtimes or unfamiliar places such as hotels.

Blacked-out curtains might be necessary in the summer months to ensure your child gets a good night's sleep, particularly if they are sensitive to light.

8. Map out the day

Particularly if your child's activities for the day are mapped out at school, consider doing the same at home. Even if your plans for the day are flexible, mapping out mealtimes between activities can be a great way to provide structure, much needed for those on the autism spectrum.

For extended periods at home, you might consider providing structured activities, workbooks or educational tasks to keep them occupied and up to speed with their academics.

9. Use social stories

Summer can be full of unfamiliar social activities. Pre-empting these by providing social stories can help your child achieve a greater degree of social success.

Home made books or comic strips that detail different social situations and the expected behaviors that apply can give your child that extra bit of understanding they need to navigate new scenarios.

10. Give your child a private space

Sometimes all the excitement and disruption in routine can just be too much. Wherever you might be, try to provide an area where your child can just chill out for a while. Whether they need to regather their composure or rebalance after overstimulation, having a private place for them to express and gather themselves can be invaluable.

Whatever the age of your child, remember that the disruption of summer can be a time of growth and development when we recognize our child’s differences and empower ourselves and our families by learning how we can embrace them