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Monday, 17 December 2012

Talking to Children about the Shooting

December 17, 2012

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Connecticut, many of you will be working with children and families who will have questions, concerns, and fears you need to deal with.  And, it is important that you deal with these issues forthrightly and appropriately.  We have surveyed members of the Exchange community and they have recommended  these resources, which you may refer to in guiding how to respond: 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Connecting Children to Nature

Re-Posted from Exchange EverydayDecember 11, 2012
 "One of the great gifts we can give children through their frequent interactions with nature is a sense that they are connected to something larger than themselves," writes Vicki Bohling-Philippi in an article that forms the basis for the Exchange Out of the Box Kit, Using the Power of Nature to Help Children Heal.

"Nature is a constant in human life throughout history and geography.  The same songbirds children see in the spring will winter somewhere else around the globe. Helping children find those connections, perhaps by looking at pictures of the places our birds go in the winter, is a great way to help them realize how interconnected life on our planet really is....

"Developmental psychologist Martha Ferrell Erickson, a leading authority in parent-child attachment, recently spoke of a child s innate attachment to nature as an additional key to health and well-being throughout childhood. This natural connection is often evident when a fussy baby is taken outside and quickly calms to this literal change of scenery. But just as early bonding establishes the foundation of trust between parent and child, the earlier a child develops a bond with the natural world, the more likely that child will feel trust and comfort in nature versus fear and dread."

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Need to Sleep

REPOSTED from Exchange Everyday
The Need to Sleep
November 29, 2012

Never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done, and let them howl.
-Agnes MacPhail
"Sleep is not something to be left for when you've run out of other, more interesting, things to do.  Sleep is a functional activity of the brain, during which stereotypical, well-defined processes occur.  These include the restoration and repair of brain tissue, the release of certain hormones, and the reinforcement of learning and memory.  Not getting enough sleep has the negative effects on these processes.  In the extreme, it can be fatal."

hese are the observations of Dennis Rosen, in The Optimist (November 2012).  He concludes...

"Most adults need eight
hours of sleep; teens need between eight and nine, and younger children need even more.  By taking this seriously... we stand to reap substantial benefits in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


On behalf of each SRCC staff member we thank you,  our families, for partnering with us last Friday.  You early pick up of your children ensured that every SRCC staff member could attend the training session, discussion and dialogue with the team from Hilltop Children's Centre in Seattle.

It was a wonderful day of learning and being together and catching a vision for the way forward in our work with children.

We are so thankful you made it possible.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Hilltop Children's Centre visit

Read all about our Hilltop Visit here.

And THANK YOU for helping make it happen!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Spontaneity in the Classroom

October 29, 2012

You're alive. Do something. The direction in life, the moral imperative was so uncomplicated. It could be expressed in single words, not complete sentences. It sounded like: Look. Listen. Choose. Act.
-Barbara Hall

"Spontaneity in the classroom provides myriad opportunities and possibilities for learning, building relationships, and collaboration," proposes Judith Pack in her article, Spontaneity and the Pursuit of Beautiful Opportunities, in the new Exchange Essential article collection, The Spirit of Teaching

"There is no limit to what can be learned and enjoyed.  The teacher does not have to center her curriculum around holidays or ... to rigidly follow the seasons, the calendar, or the schedule in order to ‘make’ interesting things happen.  They happen because all inhabitants of the classroom are keen observers: curious, intelligent, and open to all that is around them, indoors and outdoors.  They connect home with school and take time to investigate.  The teacher provides materials and, along with the children, creates an environment that fosters inquiry, comfort, friendship, and creativity.

"Teachers need to resist the mandates to standardize and dehumanize what takes place in the classroom
Spontaneous events that are pursued by bringing engaging materials, good conversation, and time for investigation into the classroom create a true learning environment that is a joyful place to be."

Friday, 19 October 2012

Play is Deep Learning

October 19, 2012

I Think I Can... I Think I Can... I Think I Can.
-The Little Engine that Could
"Watch children at play and you might suddenly realize that they are not just frivolously wasting time or mucking about," notes Paul Bailey in his book, Think of an Elephant (London: Watkins Publishing, 2007).  "Child's play is deep learning: a self-directed state of deep connectedness and personal engagement.  It is also an enthusiastic and absorbing state of relaxed attention — healthy qualities often missing from adult life.  Play is a creative learning exchange between mind, body, and circumstance into one integrated and healthy whole.  Awash with symbols and mental imagery, children at play are learning in a way that can be wildly creative, insightful, and visionary....

search shows that the more animals play, the bigger their brains grow.  Moreover, brain imaging techniques show that social play seems to rewire our brain, increasing the activity of connections between our brain cells.  Play also helps develop our logical reasoning, our ability to learn, and our behavioural flexibility."

Friday, 12 October 2012

Great link for outdoor fun!

Families in nature

Kids who spend time in nature have improved memory, problem solving, and creativity — and they're physically healthier too. Yet our research shows that 70% of Canadian kids spend an hour or less outside each day. Let's change that!

Inspired Teaching Moment

Re-posted from Exchange Everyday
October 12, 2012

One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a package of garden seeds.
-Dan Bennett
Great moments in early childhood classrooms are seldom scripted in advance.  In her motivating new book, Heart-Centered Teaching, Nancy Rosenow captures one such moment from her own childhood:

"When I was in 'nursery school,' my teacher was an exceptionally warm and supportive person.  She would often read to us from Robert Louis Stevenson's classic book,
A Child's Garden of Verses.  On most days she would stop reading after she'd come to a page about something in nature, and say: 'Let's go outside to have our own adventure.'  We had plenty of green space around our school, and I remember often searching under bushes and plants, looking for 'treasures.'  One day, to my horror, I found a dead baby bird under a leaf.  I remember being stunned and running to my teacher's side. Her response has stuck with me to this day.  She gently walked back with me, knelt down by the dead bird and put her arm around my shoulder.  'Yes,' she said to me, 'It's very sad to find a dead baby bird.  It hurts us when things die.'  Then she lifted me up to peer into a bird's nest above our heads.  There I saw a circle of tiny birds... all very much alive.  'We must never let the fear of death keep us from enjoying the wonders of life,' she told me.  I am grateful even now for the sensitive way she handled the situation.  She didn't deny my feelings, and yet at the same time she helped me learn to cope with them.  My ability to define myself as a 'realistic optimist' was strengthened early on because my teacher used a lesson from nature to teach me a lesson about life."

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Screen Time in the Early Years

ExchangeEveryday - Repost

September 25, 2012

"Many kids use and understand media devices and platforms better than we do.  But their technological abilities are often ahead of their emotional maturity and judgment," advises James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, in Work & Family Life (September 2012;  Steyer shares research results the impact of screen time on preschool children:
  • A landmark study at the University of Washington showed that for every hour per day that preschool boys spent watching violent TV shows, they had three times the risk of developing behavioral problems at age 7.  This was true even when they were watching cartoons on commercial channels, which often have more violence than adult shows.
  • For each hour of TV young kids watch, they have a 10 percent higher chance of attention problems at age 7, including restlessness, trouble concentrating, and impulsive behavior.
  • Visual images may over stimulate and rewire preschoolers' developing brains.  Learning to read and write takes time and patience. Kids who are used to the fast pace and instant gratification of screen media may easily get bored.
  • More than two hours daily of screen time also increases the odds that kids will be overweight.  They are exposed to a barrage of ads for high-caloric, sugary foods — and when they are sitting in front of a screen, they are not running, jumping, and moving around.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

ExchangeEveryDay - RePost on Nature

The Importance of Nature
September 19, 2012

The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.
-Lou Holtz
"A growing body of research attests to the importance of access to nature -- even if only a small patch of trees on marginal urban land -- for human health and well-being,"writes Louise Chawla in the Bernard van Leer publication, Living Conditions:  The Influence on Young Children's Health (  Some research findings cited by Chawla:
  • Studies show links between access to nature and ability to sustain concentration, delay gratification and cope with stressors.
  • Ethnographic observations of children's play show that games are more imaginative and creative in natural habitats.
  • Play in nature has been found to promote physical agility and social confidence.
  • Natural environments tend to encourage play that is gender-neutral or that brings boys and girls together.
  • Natural play fosters a deep sense of connectedness to the larger universe of living things.

Friday, 7 September 2012

First Geothermally heated and cooled child care in Richmond

City unveils new $4.8-million geothermal system

City officials cut the ribbon Thursday on Richmond's first district energy utility, which will harness geothermal energy to heat and cool more than 500 homes in its first phase.
The new $4.8-million utility is powering apartments in the city's redeveloping West Cambie neighbourhood of Alexandra.
“Richmond is committed to being a sustainable community and that requires finding new ways to meet our energy needs, while also reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie, in a news release.
The city owns and operates the Odlin Road facility, which is set to offer energy to three major new housing developments in the area.
The utility is already supplying the energy that will be needed to heat and cool the new Remy and Mayfair developments, which, when occupied, will include more than 500 new homes and a major new daycare.
Construction is expected to begin soon on the new Omega development, which will also be a client of the new utility. The utility is designed to be expanded as needed to service other clients in the neighbourhood.
The facility costs $80,000 to operate annually at full capacity. According to the city, this cost—along with the construction cost—will be recovered over time through user rates, making the utility self-financing.
This utility uses technology to extract heat from the ground through an underground network of vertical pipe loops and more than 350 wells. Water is pumped though this network where it's naturally heated by the earth. The water is then re-circulated into the utility, where pumps distribute it to heat exchangers inside the residential buildings.
At full capacity, the utility will avoid the production of 200 to 600 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city.
Officials are now looking at developing more district energy utilities for redeveloping areas of City Centre. Such projects aim to make a dent in city council's goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020, and by 80 per cent by 2050 from 2007 levels.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Art Auction 2012

After many delays and venue challenges the 2012 Art Auction is now confirmed for October 27th at the Signature Sandman Hotel on St.Edwards Drive in Richmond. We are excited about this new venue and the art projects are in full swing..... we are also planning a little surprise so make sure you bring your chequebooks or credit cards!!  

Tickets will be available next week at $15/ticket - only 200 available so get yours soon!

Some previous Art Auction Items:

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Prediciting Obesity not just about food

Brian Fung - Brian Fung is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He has written previously for Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, and Talking Points Memo.

Study: A Childhood Need for Immediate Gratification Predicts Adult Obesity

By Brian Fung
Share2 Aug 17 2012, 7:43 AM ET 21 Mastering self-control at an early age correlates with decreased obesity as an adult.
PROBLEM: In what has become known as "the marshmallow test" of delayed gratification, researchers in the 1960s developed a novel way to measure self-control among children. Having recruited preschoolers from a university daycare, scientists presented each child with one marshmallow. They were then told they could either eat the one they had or wait an unspecified amount of time and be rewarded with an additional marshmallow. Various follow-up studies on delayed gratification have been performed on the results since the project's conclusion. This particular study attempted to determine what correlation, if any, existed between the self-control of the children at age 4 and the rate of obesity among the now adult participants.
METHODOLOGY: Researchers sent surveys to 306 participants in the original gratification study in two follow-up mailings. Of those, 164 responded with a report about their own height and weight. The average age of all respondents was 39. More than 94 percent had graduated from college or held advanced degrees. Slightly more than half of respondents were women.
RESULTS: According to the self reports (which should naturally be treated with some skepticism), researchers detected a correlation between a child's level of self-control 30 years ago and lower body-mass index among the respondents today. Women generally reported a lower BMI than men, but how long the children were able to hold off gratification had an even stronger link to weight than did sex. For every minute that a child postponed gratification, the researchers noticed a 0.2-point decrease in BMI among the grown participants.
CONCLUSION: Those who were most able to resist instant gratification as children had the best likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight as adults, even 30 years separated from their experience.
IMPLICATION: The dietary choices we make as adults have an acute impact on our waistlines, but our propensity for delayed gratification appears to stem at least in part from our character as youths.
SOURCE: The full study, "Preschoolers' Delay of Gratification Predicts Their Body Mass 30 Years Later," is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Unneeded Toys

I am reposting this article from Exchange's a hot topic in our centres right now as we become more and more convinced that we need less "stuff" less plastic, pre-determined toys and more real items and fewer of them so that children use their own imaginations.  What do you think?

"The United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children, but buys 40 percent of all toys sold worldwide.  Obviously, American kids can’t possibly extract all the play-value out of that many toys, most of which end up piled somewhere."

This was the insight of Carlo Rotella in his Boston Globe article, "Clear the clutter; get rid of unneeded toys." shared with by World Forum team member Jean Dugan.  Rotella continued...

"That got me thinking about how drastically a family could cut back on its toys.  So, an exercise: You’re marooned indefinitely on a desert island with your kids, who are under 12.  You can bring five toys.  There are trees to climb, waves to swim in, so there’s no need for specialized sports equipment — and nothing that requires electricity, since there won’t be any.  What to bring?  I consulted with my in-house experts, who are 9 and 11, and we came up with the following:

  1. A medium-size ball.  You can make up an infinite number of games to play with it, and it’s useful for all ages.
  2. A board game.  We considered Monopoly, which would assuage our homesickness for city life, and chess, which would provide a perpetually escalating challenge as the kids grew older.  But we chose The Settlers of Catan, a cousin of Monopoly that goes beyond real estate into agriculture, herding, mining, and town-building, and features more trading and negotiation.
  3. Legos.  Not one of those kits they sell now — the ones that come with assembly instructions for achieving a single preconceived outcome — but a freestyle assortment you can use to make whatever you want in the older spirit of the toy.
  4. Playing cards.  You can play all sorts of games with cards, but my daughters are partial to poker.
  5. A stuffed animal.  The girls insisted on bringing their number-one bears.  And the bears are versatile toys, providing comfort, sociability (they have their own personalities, which adds to the size of our island community), and opportunities for imaginative play....

"So, five toys for a desert island.  I don’t think that reducing to just these five would really cause much of a hardship.  And if it’s this easy to imagine cutting back on toys, why is it so hard in the real world?"

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


A very cool story about a community moment over a vase of flowers at Bowling the link here  community.

Have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Curiosity and ECE Practice

A speech to some of our future employees :)

Richmond / Delta Continuing Ed ECE Grad - June 26, 2012

Good evening Trustees, fellow Instructors, Program Administrators, Families and our honoured guests – the ECE class of 2012.

I am delighted to be here to share this momentous evening with you.  A moment in your life that you have worked hard for, made sacrifices to accomplish and are rightly anxious to celebrate.

As someone who has walked parts of this journey with some of you, I rejoice in the ways you have embraced your learning, have asked hard questions, have thought deeply about philosophy, best practices, curriculum ideas, guiding and caring……. The ways you have learned to dance and sing and tell stories and set up learning invitations for children, how to work with families, how to observe and record, how to be safe and serve good snacks.

When we think back through all the courses, all the individual classes your dedicated instructors developed and delivered to you, it forms an impressive list of topics.  Add to that the hours you have spent with mentors in the field doing practica and all the things you learned in those placements….another set of impressive checklists of topics covered.

As your teachers and mentors we may stand back and feel a sense of accomplishment ourselves.  That we were able to impart sufficient knowledge to you such that you stand here tonight to proudly graduate from the ECE program.


BUT it is nothing more than a long list of pre-requisites and assignments and observations and workbooks and evaluations ….. a whole lot of head knowledge that will perhaps start you on your journey as an ECE.

Very soon you may come to a dead end, an unsatisfying and dull place, a place of rules and rigidity, a place of boredom and frustration……


Unless you take from this program a deep and profound curiosity.

A curiosity about yourself. About what it will take for you to be that extraordinary version of yourself that changes lives. Changes your own life by your deeply reflective thinking about your work, your relationships, your vision and your values.

A curiosity about your work.  About what it takes to be an educator who delights in the daily gifts offered up to you by the children and families and colleagues you work with.  A curiosity that sees around barriers, that seeks to see strengths before dwelling on weaknesses, that seeks creative collaboration and reflective dialogues to grow your work.  A curiosity that leaves you hungry to go deeper and be more present and raise the bar for best practice.

A curiosity about families.  About their hopes and dreams for their children.  About the treasures they bring to you in their different cultures, traditions and celebrations.  A curiosity about how to nurture their children together in a supportive partnership of respect and communication.  A curiosity that allows you to wonder with them about the joys and the challenges they face and we face together.

A curiosity about children, about a child.  A deep curiosity about what a child is thinking and feeling, about their theories, their questions, their strengths.  To be curious with them about the world, their world.  It’s a big and complicated world and for you to be their trusted adult and guide to authentically wonder about the world with them is a gift, a joy, a sense of profound safety and a way to grow and learn.

The course work is necessary.  It had to be done.  There is “stuff” to know and remember and do.  But if in that work you have not learned to be deeply curious or, worse still, you have buried or lost your curiosity in course work and assignments….. I urge you in the days and weeks ahead to find it, to rekindle that fire in your heart that pointed you in the direction of this course.  Reconnect your head with your heart and then connect them both to the work of your hands and feet.

This is important work you have chosen, work that changes lives, work that could and should change yours.

Do this work with all of yourself and remain forever curious……and that will make you an extraordinary educator and the world will be blessed because you came to this place and did this work.

Congratulations ECE Class of 2012.

Friday, 1 June 2012

We just blew your fees

There was much excitement this afternoon at BGR when the bark blower truck arrived to replenish the wood chips on our playground....... $1300 worth of wood chips as it turns out!!

The children were an attentive audience and asked interesting and insightful questions and comments....
"Where do all these wood chips come from?"
"How many do you think there are?"
"How long will it take to blow them in?"
"Those guys must be very strong to hold that pipe"

The teachers used the time to chat about all these things and to ask the children how we might take care of our playground now.......they certainly showed they know where the wood chips should stay..... we will see how long that lasts!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Richmond Review BEST of Richmond 2012

Best Daycare
1. Core Education & Fine Arts Jr. Kindergarten,  160-10811 No. 4 Rd.,
2. With Our Own Two Hands, 3871 Moncton St.,
3. Bowling Green Road Children’s Centre,  110-6100 Bowling Green Rd.,

Nice - thanks for voting!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Right Way to Teach Math

Re-posted from Exchange Everyday.......
May 21, 2012

In his article, "Math in Early Childhood," which forms the basis for the Exchange Out of the Box Training Kit by the same name, Francis Wardle talks about the right way and the wrong way to teach math to preschoolers...

"Studies show that children who play with unit blocks in early childhood do better in algebra in middle school.  But it’s important to note that the outcome of playing in the block area is not demonstrated until middle school!  Math standards during the early years will automatically focus on low level, rote skills: memorization, repetition, and adult views of math knowledge.  What makes this most destructive is that young children are operating within Piaget’s preoperational stage, which means they cannot think logically.  Thus, bureaucrats creating standards and assessment often include things that children this age simply cannot even do....

"Math knowledge and dispositions are not created in a vacuum.  Math is about manipulating things: objects, shapes, concepts, and relationships; reproducing and documenting the world; and constructing, building, and estimating.  The Reggio Emilia philosophy and the Project Approach understand this clearly.  Thus, we must provide a myriad of opportunities for young children to have direct, concrete experiences in the real world.  What is the value of discussing the speed of light if you don’t understand light?  Seeing snow accumulate day after day is a real way to understanding increase in quantity.  Carrying a large boulder teaches about mass; swinging on a rope about force, angles, and speed.  Field trips, extensive classroom projects, exploration in nature, extensive use of the playground, observing the weather, etc., must all be central to our math curricula."

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Screen Time - Exchange Everyday Article

Young Children and Screen Time
May 16, 2012

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
-Carl Sandburg
A wide variety of organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the White House Let's Move Initiative, have developed position papers on the extent to which children should be exposed to and engaged in watching television and computer screens .  Long time friend of Exchange, John Surr, has written and excellent summary of these reports recommendations, "Too Many Channels? Sifting through the Recommendations on Screen Media and Technology."  Surr concludes:

"It is clear that today’s young children are being raised in a media-saturated environment, dramatically more so than in their parents’ generation.  Although many parents and early childhood educators grew up after President Reagan de-regulated television in 1984, they need to be aware of the effects of that saturation for today’s young children, even though scientists are still learning about the full scope of those effects.

"It is also clear that young children’s intense involvement in screen media has adverse effects on their growth and health.  We in early care and education have a responsibility, in the best interests of the child, to wean them from excessive dependence on screen media, especially while they are with us and in our care.  We also need to be able and willing to work with parents to help them to make informed media choices for their families.

"All of the authorities cited in this article are agreed that children under two should be exposed to screen media as little as possible, and that child care is a place for their relationships and concrete explorations of the world around them, not for the children or caregivers’ screen media experiences.  Passive screen media in child care should be very limited, based partly on the likelihood of the children’s excessive exposure at home and the danger that a sedentary media habit can lead to obesity, sleep problems, and other health difficulties.  Although some authorities are more enchanted with interactive screen media than others, there is a widespread feeling that there should be limits on total daily media exposure, and much stronger limits on exposure while in child care, for children between 2 and 5 years of age.

"Violence, sex, and commercials on screen media available to young children should be discouraged, according to the health authorities.  Others recommend that children need time away from media to develop more fully their own imagination and capacity to play.

"We in child care have a responsibility to reach out to parents and community leaders, to convince them to make their lives more child-friendly and less media-saturated.  We all need to go outside and play."

Thursday, 26 April 2012

West Cambie Children's Centre - SNEAK PEEK

West Cambie Children's Centre is nearing completion for the second time......if you are wondering what happened the first time click here and here.

We actually have a target date for opening (and NO we are not saying what it is yet - we need to be a bit closer before we can do that).

But here are a few photos....... we think it's going to be amazing!  You need to be on the Bowling Green Waitlist to have priority for West here to register

Monday, 2 April 2012

April 2 - Autism Awareness Day - Reposted with permission

Autism Awareness: What One “ASD Mamma” Wants You To Know

This is what autism looks like! Juliet at age 3, shortly after diagnosis.
Dear Friends: April 2nd is the U.N-declared World Autism Awareness Day, a cause that is near and dear to my heart thanks to one beautifully quirky 6 ½ -year-old girl — my amazing daughter, Juliet (pictured at age 3, when she was formally diagnosed with ASD).
Many of you have followed our family’s journey on the autism spectrum over the years, and I am so grateful for your support of my efforts to raise awareness of ASD. I hope you will continue to back this “Mamma On A Mission” by taking a few moments to read this post and then passing it along to your friends/family who have young children. The entire month of April is dedicated to Autism Awareness & Acceptance, so you have some time!  
One of my motivations for being so open about our family’s experiences is to help put a human face on a condition that is often plagued by stereotypes and misinformation. At the same time, I am particularly passionate about helping other parents recognize some of the most common red flags for ASD and encouraging them to follow “When in doubt, check it out”  if they have any concerns about their child’s development.
But first…a quick refresher on the basics:
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by:
  • Delays or differences in communication – both verbal (understanding & using spoken language) and non-verbal (e.g. pointing, smiling)
  • Differences in social interactions (relating to other people and sharing emotions)
  • Routines and repetitive behaviors  
Quite often, people with ASD also have sensory sensitivities.
The autism spectrum includes Autistic Disorder (“classic autism”),Asperger’s Syndrome, and the awkwardly titled Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (“PDD-NOS”), which is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for either autism or Asperger’s syndrome is not met. Sometimes the term “autism” is used to refer to all ASDs.
The very latest figures from the U.S. indicate that 1 in every 88 children — 1 in every 54 boys — has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder.  ASD is now the most common developmental disorder in my adopted country of Australia . If you don’t have a loved one with ASD in your own family, I can guarantee that your children have schoolmates on the spectrum. They will likely have friends on the spectrum. They will work with people on the spectrum. And, someday, they might even have a partner or a child on the spectrum. ASD is that common.
It’s called a spectrum precisely because the blend of symptoms, and the degree to which they affect a person, can vary dramatically. Symptoms may go unrecognized, especially in mildy affected and/or gifted children or when more debilitating conditions mask them.
Just as every child with ASD is very different, every family’s experience with ASD is different. I can’t profess to know what it’s like to parent a child who is severely affected by autism, but I can share something that seems to be a common thread for all of us with kids on the spectrum: the emotional journey of coming to terms with a new reality that includes autism.
When I first started worrying about Juliet’s development, at about 12 months old, autism was nowhere on my radar screen.  What little knowledge I did have was based on having seen the movie “Rainman.” Sure, Juliet had some unusual interests, behaviors, and sensitivities, but she was happy baby who loved to engage with me and Sean. Why would we need to be worried about autism?!
In hindsight, Juliet actually showed several early warning signs of ASD as a baby and young toddler, but I failed to recognize them as such. I had niggling worries that something was amiss, but no one around me seemed to share my concerns.
Sean thought I was overreacting in stereotypical first-time mother fashion.“She’s fine. She’s just not an extrovert like you.” Well-intentioned friends and family comforted me with: “Don’t worry. All kids develop at their own pace”and “Of course she’s a bit different…just look at her mom!”
Likewise, our pediatrician wasn’t overly concerned by the fixations, the sensory issues, and lack of interest in other kids. “A lot of parents would love to have a 2-year-old who can read! Look how well she engages with adults.” A few loved ones did have concerns, but they were hesitant to say anything for fear of freaking me out. I clung to these reassurances as the reason not to probe my concerns any further.
Finally, two very brave friends approached me and suggested that we have Juliet assessed for ASD by a specialist. It was the very first time that anyone had evensuggested  that Juliet might be at risk, and the more I read about ASD, the more I saw glimmers of Juliet. I was overwhelmed with fear and grief. Meanwhile, Sean remained totally unconvinced that his darling daughter could be on the spectrum (both very common reactions, I later learned). 
The lead up to Juliet’s assessment was a very stressful time for us, but getting her diagnosis (of PDD-NOS) ended up being a blessing for our entire family. Most importantly, it made both me and Sean realize “Wow, this is REAL.” Juliet wasn’t going to magically grow out of it or develop certain skills by osmosis. It was going to take a tremendous amount of hard work – by us and by Juliet – to help her build the core skills she would need to make her way in the world.
Early detection led us to early intervention, which can be so critical in improving outcomes for kids with ASD. Juliet benefitted from 2 ½ years of outstanding, very intense early intervention before she started school. We are extremely fortunate that she responded so well to it and that we still have some terrific professionals guiding us. Many equally deserving families don’t have this type of support and are doing the best they can with limited resources. It is a travesty that — in many states and countries — timely intervention and support services for people with ASD are so often tied to their family’s ability to pay the steep price tags, if services exist at all!
Juliet’s diagnosis compelled us to search very hard for a school with a strong track record of inclusion and familiarity with ASD (when one popular local school indicated “Oh, we don’t have any children like THAT here,” we quickly crossed them off our list!)  We have also had the privilege of connecting with a large network of ASD families who have been a great source of friendship, information, and inspiration over the years.
When we first started out on our ASD journey, I couldn’t see past the term “lifelong disability.” I didn’t want my child to be different. Over the years, we’ve come to accept autism as just another part of our family’s “normal.” Even though it’s still tough to watch Juliet struggle with things that come so naturally to other kids, and even though some people will still make assumptions about her based on stereotypes and misinformation, our focus these days is on nurturing and celebrating Juliet’s amazing “differing abilities.”
The world needs people who see things through an unconventional lens, and our job as Juliet’s parents is to make sure that she has the confidence and core skills she needs to shine on her own terms. ASD does not define our daughter, but it is an important part of who she is, and we are proud to embrace it. Now we just want the rest of the world to do the same!
If any of you reading this note has concerns about your own child’s development — be it suspected ASD or some other potential issue — I hope that our story provides a gentle push to take action. There is nothing to lose and potentially so much to gain. Please help me spread that message.
With deepest thanks,
Early Warning Signs In Babies/Toddlers:
Below are some of the most common early warning signs – usually seen in thefirst two years – of ASD. Some children will have many of these early warning signs, whereas others might have only a few. Also, any loss of social or language skills during this period is cause for concern.
The child:
  • doesn’t  consistently respond to her name
  • doesn’t smile at caregivers
  • doesn’t use gestures independently – for example, she doesn’t wave bye-bye without being told to, or without copying someone else who is waving
  • doesn’t show interest in other children
  • doesn’t enjoy or engage in games such as peek-a-boo or patty cake.
The child:
  • doesn’t use gestures to get needs met – for example, she doesn’t raise her arms when she wants to be picked up or reach out to something that she wants
  • doesn’t use eye contact to get someone’s attention or communicate – for example, she doesn’t look at a parent and then look at a snack to indicate she wants the snack
  • doesn’t point to show people things, to share an experience or to request or indicate that she wants something – for example, when she’s being read to, she doesn’t point to pictures in books and look back to show the reader
  • doesn’t engage in pretend play – for example, she doesn’t feed her baby doll
  •  doesn’t sound like she’s having a conversation with you when she babbles
  • doesn’t understand simple one-step instructions – for example, ‘Give the block to me’ or ‘Show me the dog’.
The child:
  • has an intense interest in certain objects and becomes ‘stuck’ on particular toys or objects
  • focuses narrowly on objects and activities such as turning the wheels of a toy car or lining up objects
  • is easily upset by change and must follow routines – for example, sleeping, feeding or leaving the house must be done in the same way every time
  • repeats body movements or has unusual body movements such as back-arching, hand-flapping and walking on toes.
The child:
  • is extremely sensitive to sensory experiences – for example, she is easily upset by certain sounds, or will only eat foods with a certain texture
  • seeks sensory stimulation – for example, she likes deep pressure, seeks vibrating objects like the washing machine, or flutters fingers to the side of her eyes to watch the light flicker.
Signs Of Possible ASD In Preschoolers:  
With some children, the red flags might not become entirely obvious until they reach preschool (or even school age), when suddenly the developmental gap between them and their peers becomes more pronounced.
In addition to the signs above, here are some of the more common ways ASD might manifest itself in a preschool-aged child. Please note that this list is simply representative, not exhaustive, and that children with ASD won’t necessarily show every sign.
  • The child generally does not point to or share observations or experiences with others.
  • The child tends not to look directly at other people in a social way. This is sometimes referred to as a lack of eye contact.
  • There may be an absence of speech, or unusual speech patternssuch as repeating words and phrases (echolalia), failure to use ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘you’, or reversal of these pronouns.
  • Unusual responses to other people. A child may show no desire to be cuddled, have a strong preference for familiar people and may appear to treat people as objects rather than a source of comfort.
  • The child may appear to avoid social situations, preferring to be alone.
  • There is limited development of play activities, particularly imaginative play.
  • There may be constant crying or there may be an unusual absence of crying.
  • The child often has marked repetitive movements, such as hand-shaking or flapping, prolonged rocking or spinning of objects.
  • Many children develop an obsessive interest in certain toys or objects while ignoring other things.
  • The child may have extreme resistance to change in routines and/or their environment.
  • The child may have sleeping problems.
  • The child may be resistant to solid foods or may not accept a variety of foods in their diet.
  • There are often difficulties with toilet training.
  • The child may be extremely distressed by certain noises and/or busy public places such as shopping centers.
Signs Of possible ASD In School-Aged Children
It is not uncommon for ASD to go undetected until school age, especially with kids who are “higher functioning” (incl. those with Asperger’s Syndrome). ASD can also be masked by giftedness, as it initially was in our daughter. Here are some of the more common ways that ASD might present itself in a school aged child (again, list is representative, not exhaustive, and not every child with ASD will show every sign):
The child may:
  • not be interested in playing with other children;
  • try inappropriately to join in with other children’s play (for example, the child might seem aggressive);
  • behave in a way that other people find difficult to understand (for example, they may not do as they are told);
  • be easily overwhelmed by being around other people; or
  • not like people coming into their personal space or being hurried.
The child may:
  • have had unusual language development when they were younger (used language that is different to that used by other children their age);
  • sound unusual when they speak;
  • repeat words or phrases that they have heard rather than responding to them;
  • refer to themselves as “you,” “she” or “he” after the age of three;
  • use unusual words for their age; or
  • use only limited language or talk freely only about things that interest them. 
The child may:
  • struggle to take part in pretend play with other children or play in which they need to cooperate or take turns;
  • have difficulties in large open spaces (for example, they may stay round the edges of the playground);
  • find it hard to cope with changes or situations that aren’t routine, even ones that other children enjoy (for instance, school trips or the teacher being away).
Other factors:
The child may:
  • have unusual skills (for example, have a very good memory or be gifted in math or music); or
  • not like the sound, taste, smell, touch of certain things. 
 A Twist: ASD in Girls
Adding an extra wrinkle to the warning signs above is the tendency of girls with ASD to present differently than boys, even if the underlying symptoms are still similar. Sue Larkey, an Australian expert in ASD, has written a terrific summary of the key ways in which ASD tends to “look” different in girls than in boys (again, bearing in mind that these are generalizations):
Ten Ways Girls with an ASD differ to Boys with an ASD
1. Their special interests are usually animals, music, art, literature.
2. They often have a very good imagination, which includes imaginary friends, games, being animals or taking on persona of other girls.
3. They often see speech therapists for their speech and may be diagnosed withspecific language disorders however there is something different about this girl no one can quite put their finger on.
4. They often play with older children or much younger children. This play is sometimes unusual for example ‘Mums and Dads’ but she will want to play the same role and game every time. She usually wants to be the pet or baby, whereas most girls want to be the Mum or Dad.
5. They often have hyperlexia – the ability to read but comprehension does not always match their reading skills. They are often the class book worm or write stories but they write the same story over and over changing a few characters. Many have a special interest in literature.
6. They have unusual sensory processing, like the boys, however bigger fluctuations often going from one extreme to the other.
7. They get anxious like boys, however their anxiety is rarely physical or disruptive. In fact many have great copying mechanisms at school however the family see a very different child at home where the anxiety can explode.
8. Often their difficulties with social skills are called ‘shy’, ‘quiet’, ‘solitary’.
9. They often like to organize and arrange objects. I watched one little girl spend hours seemingly playing “My Little Ponies” however on closer examination she was just arranging and re-arranging the horses over and over.
10. The main difference is there are MANY more undiagnosed girls/women than boys/men. Currently we only diagnose 1 girl to 7 boys. In the future it is thought by many psychologists the ratio could be more like 5 to 7 as we become more aware of this group.
If you or your pediatrician/GP have concerns that your child might have ASD, the next step should be getting an assessment by a specialist. Please ask  for a referral to a good developmental pediatrician and/or child psychiatrist or child psychologist who focuses on ASD/related issues. As Juliet’s developmental pediatrician is fond of saying. “No child was ever harmed by an assessment or early intervention, but plenty of children could benefit from receiving timely support.” 
There are some terrific resources to help guide families who are starting their own ASD journeys or individuals who just want to learn more. Some of my favorites include: (One of the based ASD-related blogs in the universe, filled with thoughtful, evidence-based information. Geared toward people with autism, their families & professionals working in the ASD space). (The U.S. Center for Disease Control’s latest data – as of March 30, 2012 — and information on the prevalence of autism & terrific information on ASD, early warning signs, early intervention) (educating parents, doctors, and other care givers about the earliest warning signs and importance of early intervention) (the web site of the world famous authority on Asperger’s Syndrome, Brisbane-based Tony Attwood), comprehensive site – Australia based. Covers how to go about seeking a diagnosis, considering various forms of early intervention, etc.) (My favorite non-profit organization. Founded by a group of fellow ASD parents, it has now grown into one of Australia’s largest ASD education and advocacy groups. Site includes an Australian state-by-state directory of professionals who are well versed in ASD)  (U.K. site devoted to raising awareness and providing guidance on ASD)