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ONE-ON-ONE WITH DR. AGGIE & OLYMPIA MEGRIKYAN

MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS VS. PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT- PART 2

 

Part two of our medical diagnosis vs. psychological assessment is now LIVE! In this episode (which is a continuation of our last episode), Dr. Aggie and I discuss all the fantastic changes Essie is going through. We also discuss the effects Autism has on Katharina, the shame and stigma around Autism in our community, and why early diagnosis of Autism in children is a good super important.

Why Early Diagnosis is Important

Did you know that Children diagnosed with Autism at earlier age more likely to receive evidence-based treatments? Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder before the age of 4 means that a child is more likely to get effective, evidence-based treatment as behavioral therapy. Early intensive treatments may have long-term benefits for children’s functioning. Early diagnosis is essential because it allows this to happen much earlier. For young children with Autism, this means that the skills needed to reach their full potential are taught early when brain plasticity is much more pronounced, and consequently, the impact of the intervention is much more comprehensive. I cannot stress enough the importance of early diagnosis. In short, early detection can help the children make the most of their strengths and provide them with the potential for a better, more independent life throughout childhood and well beyond. Early diagnosis can also benefit parents.

I have repeated this time and time. If you feel that your child is showing signs of Autism, I strongly urge you to get a diagnosis. Our children need guidance early. In short, early detection can help the children make the most of their strengths and provide them with the potential for a better, more independent life throughout childhood and well beyond. Early diagnosis can also benefit parents.
 

The Shame and Stigma around Autism

Autism is really stigmatized that it is something terrible that needs to be taken away! I am here to tell you F**K NO! Autism is unique. It's special, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Stigma is born of culture, so it may look different depending on whether you live in Armenia, Australia, Japan, or the United States. Pope Francis recently told Roman Catholics worldwide to help with "breaking down the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma burdening people with autism spectrum disorders, and just as often their families." The shame and isolation experienced by people with autism and their families are similar to that experienced by others whose differences set them apart. But autism has some unique characteristics that have created an almost perfect storm for shame and rejection. In this video, we will be discussing the importance of getting help for your child and not trying to mask their diagnosis. 

What About the Siblings? 

Raising a child with autism puts extraordinary demands on parents and siblings. In my opinion, (you can beg to differ) some activities should be shared by the entire family and those that should not. Along with having regularly scheduled special times for each child, it is also important to remember that there will be some events when one child in the family deserves to focus on everyone’s attention. For Katharina, it is sometimes frustrating to do everything with Essie. There may be times when it may not be fair to insist that he or she be included. For example, Essie hates Disneyland (yeah, I know), but Katharina loves it, then it may be better than Essie stays home while her sister enjoys Disneyland! 

While growing up as the sibling of someone with autism can be trying, Katharina copes very well. It is important to remember that while having a sibling with autism or any other disability is a challenge to a child, it is not an impossible obstacle. Katharina handles the challenge very effectively. 

 

Just a quick breakdown of some of the things we discuss...Press play to learn more. I hope you enjoy this episode! XoXo
 

ONE-ON-ONE WITH DR. AGGIE & OLYMPIA MEGRIKYAN

MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS VS. PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT

Episode two is LIVE! The month of April is National Autism Awareness Month. With all the misunderstandings about autism circling the Internet, raising awareness and debunking these myths is a great way to advocate for autism. So, Dr. Aggie and I sat down to discuss the difference between a medical diagnosis vs. a psychological assessment and decided it was time to address misconceptions and do some debunking! It seems that most people can spot autism when they see it. But of course, it's not that simple. Autism is not just a collection of personality traits and personal interests, and not everyone who prefers isolation and comic books is autistic. In fact, autism is a serious developmental disability, and diagnosis needs testing, evaluation, and an in-depth understanding of the disorder.

 

 A psychological assessment is a process of gathering and evaluating data about a patient's symptoms, mental state, behaviors, and background. Using these data, a diagnosis of the disease or disorder is made. With a medical diagnosis, the information required is typically collected from a history and physical examination of the person seeking medical care. 

 

Early diagnosis can make a massive difference in the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. (I can't stress this enough). But it's not always easy to make an ASD diagnosis. There's no lab test for it, so doctors rely on observing the behaviors of very young children and listening to their parents' concerns. ASD has an extensive range of symptoms. Some people who are "on the spectrum" have severe mental disabilities. Others are brilliant and able to live independently. Wherever your child falls on the spectrum, getting an autism diagnosis is a two-stage process, and it starts with your pediatrician.

 

How Do Doctors Diagnose Autism?

Pediatricians are the first step in the autism diagnosis process. Every young child gets an assessment to make sure they're on track, even if they don't seem to have any symptoms. At these visits, your child's pediatrician will watch them and talk to them. They'll ask you questions about family history and your child's development and behavior.

Here are some signs your doctor will be looking for:

 

  • Did your baby smile by 6 months?

  • Did they mimic sounds and facial expressions by 9 months?

  • Were they babbling and cooing by 12 months?

  • Are any of their behaviors unusual or repetitive?

  • Do they have trouble making eye contact?

  • Do they interact with people and share experiences?

  • Do they respond when someone tries to get their attention?

  • Is their tone of voice "flat"?

  • Do they understand other people's actions?

  • Are they sensitive to light, noise, or temperature?

  • Any problems with sleep or digestion?

  • Do they tend to get annoyed or angry?

 

Your answers are critical in your child's screening. If everything checks out and you have no concerns, that's the end of it. But if your child shows developmental problems or your doctor has concerns, they will refer you to a specialist for more tests. If your child needs more tests, your next appointment probably will be with a team of ASD specialists -- child psychologist, speech-language pathologist, and occupational therapist. You may also meet with a developmental pediatrician and a neurologist.

This evaluation is usually to check things like your child's cognitive level, language abilities, and other life skills like eating, dressing themselves, and going to the bathroom.

How Do Psychologists Diagnose Autism?

To diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder, psychologists bring on various sources of information. Patient interviews are conducted to get a better understanding of the patient's behavior. Tests are also conducted to track cognitive and language abilities. If you have an autistic child, a psychologist can work with you to understand and plan the best approaches for your child. Psychologists can help autistic children develop skills for play, self-care, and social situations. Psychologists work in clinics, homes, schools, and more. Psychiatrists differ from psychologists because they are licensed physicians and can prescribe medication while psychologists cannot (with a few exceptions).

 

Psychologists can create a treatment plan based on your child's biological and psychological makeup. This could include medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two. 

 

Child psychologists can diagnose and treat the following mental health conditions:

  • Pervasive developmental disorder

  • ADHD

  • Learning disabilities

  • Autism

  • Mood disorders

  • Depression, anxiety, and related disorders

 

The following are common myths associated with autism spectrum disorder:

 

  • No one is allowed to access your private records without your consent. This is concerning getting diagnosis parents fear diagnosing the children because they think it will hold them back from college acceptance of specific careers and jobs; it is a HIPAA violation and illegal. 

  • However, if a regional center evaluates your child, it is in their system, same with schools and insurance so that respective facilities or centers will have it. Still, they cannot share it without your consent.

  • Autism is not caused by parenting style approach prenatal care food your child eats or amount of exposure they have to electronics.

  • Autism is not contagious.

  • Autism does not go away; it's a pervasive lifelong neurodevelopment condition.

 

To learn more about the differences and the benefits of hiring a Psychologist, press play! I also share my own experience working with Dr. Aggie. Dr. Aggie has extended a free consultation for parents or guardians that need assessment. 

PART TWO COMING SOON. 

ONE-ON-ONE WITH DR. AGGIE & OLYMPIA MEGRIKYAN

A CONVERSATION ABOUT BULLYING

EXCITING NEWS, EVERYONE! Every month Essie's Journey will be doing a one-on-one with Dr. Agnesa Papazyan, AKA Dr. Aggie! During these 30 minute segments, Dr. Aggie and I will be discussing an array of intense topics that you, the viewer, want to know about. Hang on tight because there will be tears, laughter, disagreements, and lots of fun! We promise to show full transparency, complete honesty and help give you a better understanding of Autism, all the specifications that go along with it, and everyday life subjects that matter to you.

So, who is Dr. Aggie, and what are her specialties? Aggie has over a decade of experience helping individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other behavioral concerns: feeding, toileting, socialization, and behavioral/emotional difficulties. Dr. Aggie provides comprehensive evaluations and diagnoses for children with learning, attention, emotional/behavioral challenges, and developmental disabilities. Assessment results are intended to give the families strengths and weaknesses to assist with education, social-emotional, and behavioral functioning in the home and school environment. Dr. Aggie conducts independent comprehensive neurodevelopmental and psychological/educational evaluations at school districts at the parents' request. She is currently counseling Essie and is doing a fantastic job at it. We are thrilled to have her as a part of our family! With that said, let's get right into our introduction!

 

Our first segment is on "Bullying." No child is immune from bullying. Children with disabilities such as physical, developmental, emotional, intellectual, and sensory disabilities—are at an increased risk of being bullied. There are many circumstances such as physical vulnerability, social skill difficulties, or intolerant environments that could increase the risk. 
Bullying is unwanted, offensive behavior where one child thinks they have more power than another. Bullying happens in person or online in many different ways, including:

  • Name-calling, teasing or trying to embarrass someone.

  • Causing harm intentionally. 

  • Inappropriate sexual comments.

  • Hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, tripping, spitting, or threatening to harm.

  • Leaving someone out on purpose or telling other children not to be friends with a child.

  • Breaking or stealing someone's things.

  • Spreading lies or rumors.

Below you will find a few books I highly suggest for your children. These books will help teach your children about empathy, disabilities, different appearances, and much more. See the links below:

Empathy Is Your Superpower: A Book About Understanding the Feelings of Others 

I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism (A First Look At...Series)

Every So Often A Zebra Has Spots (The Be Books)

All My Stripes (A Story for Children With Autism)

Since We're Friends: An Autism Picture Book

Brody the Lion: Sometimes I ROAR!

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin (Amazing Scientists)

During this segment, we will be discussing why it's essential to teach your kids empathy, how to discuss disabilities with your children, how to make sure your child is safe in his or her environment. I will also be discussing my very own diagnosis and how I came to terms with it. We hope you enjoy our first episode, and we are looking forward to your feedback! So, without further ado, here is our first episode on bullying. 

P.S. If you haven't already, please subscribe to our YOUTUBE channel at the link below!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqGPkcYUCqmJVLdNKGw_CaQ

EVERY DAY SHOULD BE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY!

Who Inspires You?

Women of the world want and deserve an equal future free from stigma, stereotypes, and violence, a future that’s sustainable, peaceful, with equal rights and opportunities for all. To get us there, the world needs women at every table where decisions are being made. I am sure we all agree with that because, let's face it...Who runs the world? GIRLS!!!!​ When women lead, we see positive results. For example, some of the most effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women. And women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements online and on the streets for social justice, climate change, and equality in all parts of the world.  Well, aside from all the amazing, caring, and supportive women I have in my life (shout out to all my queens), one Autism mom stood out to me, and I was able to find out more about her on Instagram. She not only inspires me, but she has one hell of a story. Her name, you ask? Ingrid De La Mare Kenny, and she is a badass! 

 

WHAT'S HER STORY?

Ingrid, who has overcome a bucket list of every girl’s dream career, has seemed to find her stride within many daily titles, from mother of three (she has an autistic son) and socialite to a guru, lawyer, author, Pilates instructor, and CEO. I mean, seriously, this woman is a POWERHOUSE! (Side note: Once upon a time, she served time in prison, which I will be discussing in the above video). During her interviews, she's always ready to take on a deep discussion about her intriguing journey and how she found her way back to her wellness roots by turning it into the heart of her current career. What I love the most about her is how fierce she is; she doesn't take sh*t from anyone, she is unapologetically herself, and most importantly, she believed in her autistic son and supported him. One thing I can relate to most is the fact of how raw and unedited she is. She can care less about judgment. She remains positive in this cruel world. Life doesn't stop because you have a child with Autism. Mom, dads, guardians, you too can live life, have fun, and enjoy the finer things in life without worrying about judgment. She doesn't live her life restricted because she has a child on the spectrum. She thrives, she kicks ass, and she is one hell of a businesswoman! All the things I strive to be! 

Ingrid interviewed with "House of Lauren" and said this, "The best thing I could do to convince people is to tell them the truth about me; tell them my real age, that I went through a divorce, that my hormones went out of whack, that I had a few miscarriages. I think [that showing] this authenticity and [everything] I had to go through [during] all of these stages in my life with my body made it credible for women. I have punished my body before to try to get results. I’ve watched my daughter, who is seventeen years old, attempt to punish her body to lose weight.  Instagram gave me a tool to be very authentic, and until I was able to show that authenticity, it was hard to get it off the ground and make people believe in it." This resonated with me, and I wanted to take a moment and speak about what I have learned from her and how I relate. Press play!

P.S. HAPPY WOMEN'S DAY!!! Ladies, you are unstoppable, and there is no limit to what you can achieve! We are queens. We are strong, we powerful beings! Together we can and we will. #GIRLPOWER

BIRTHDAY TURN UP, SISTER EDITION...

& What It's Like to Have a Sibling on the Spectrum

Screaming HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my youngest princess, Katharina! My little girl turns 8 today! Can they please stop growing on me??? So, why a blog post for Katharina's birthday, you ask? Let me start by saying that she is the definition of a true sister, and she deserves a million blog posts for how loving, strong, understanding, patient, and caring she is (the list goes on and on, but you get the point). Having an autistic brother or sister can pose challenges, but it can also make children patient, empathetic, and resilient, which Katharina carries all of the above traits. Today I want to make sure that everyone visiting this page acknowledges her birthday and recognizes her genuine heart. We are so blessed, to say the least. To be the sister of a child with autism means every day is hectic, and you never know what to expect. It’s stressful. It’s chaotic, and you grow up very quickly. 

Having said that, I want to shine a light on an important topic, having a sibling on the spectrum. When your sibling has autism, the entire family must adjust. Having a sibling with autism does not allow for normal sibling rivalries or closeness. It normally includes much loneliness for the sibling that is not in the spectrum and can lead to resentment and seclusion. Autism demands a lot of attention. Therefore the sibling on the spectrum will receive more attention, good or bad, than the other child. Every circumstance and family is set up differently. In our case, we have a very patient little girl, but there are times when she longs for that sisterly bond that Essie can't give her at all times. It all depends on the day and Essie's mood. So Katharina never knows what mood she is going to get from her sibling.  Also, speech is an issue for Essie, so it's hard for her to communicate sometimes. She craves the sisterly connection but is fully aware that the situation is different. My girls are close in age, so I can see where the frustration stems from. Every family's situation is unique, and from my experience, it seems that this is not the case if the sibling is high functioning, the feelings of neglect are reduced. Still, either situation brings a lack of attention to the younger child. Siblings and autism do not function well together if a younger child is affected either. The older sibling normally takes on responsibilities beyond their age. Becoming a child caretaker with special needs is not a normal sibling function, so that resentment will be inevitable. The challenges to a warm, close relationship are many. Normal sibling rivalry doesn’t work because it can never be a fair fight. Here’s what siblings often are up against, especially when a brother or sister has more severe autism:

  • Missing out on typical family outings, such as movies, restaurants, and vacations.

  • Being embarrassed to bring friends home.

  • Random tantrums and outbursts aimed at you.

  • Being expected to grow up faster than you may want to because you need to be the “responsible one.”

  • The feeling that you come second to your parents because so much of their time and energy is centered on the one with autism.

 

These are all fertile ground for building resentment. And then feeling guilty about feeling resentment. After all, even as youngsters, we understand that our disabled sibling cannot help being disabled.

 

We, as parents, want to make sure both children get the same amount of attention, so Onnik and I have implemented these rules upon ourselves to make sure Katharina doesn't feel resentment or seclusion.

  • We share communication that is open, honest, developmentally appropriate, and ongoing.

  • We include Katharina in every fun event scheduled for Essie. 

  • We give attention that is consistent, individualized and celebrates their uniqueness. Mom takes care of Essie, and dad takes care of Katharina (or vise versa).

  • We are a very tight-knit family, so Katharina gets lots of playtime with her cousins.

  • We include her in the respite care. Everyone in the family needs to find and use resources available such as respite care services. 

  • From time to time, we have staycations with Katharina to have one-on-one bonding time with her.

  • We allow her to have sleepovers with her cousins to have a mental break from all the noise. This allows her to interact and behave as a normal child would.  

For Katharina, growing up with an autistic sibling has been an adventure. It has been, at times, both painful and enlightening. I think, in some ways, she has matured faster. Growing up Essie, required her to learn patience. I know for sure that Essie and Katharina have unconditional love for one another, and I would not trade that for anything. I would not change anything, and I would go to the ends of the world for them. The struggles make us stronger. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have learned what life is genuinely about. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MY PRINCESS! MOMMY, DADDY, AND ESSIE LOVE YOU SO MUCH! 

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IT'S HAPPENING! 

So, these past couple of months have been quite challenging. Why do you ask? My sassy 9-year-old, Essie, is starting to show Pre Menstrual Symptoms. Not to get into too many details without overstepping my boundaries as a mom, but Ladies, we've all been there, and we can all vouch that it wasn't fun, nor was it pretty! Reminisce on how you felt at that very moment. Now try to wrap your head around how Essie is coping with all these ravaged emotions. Exactly my thoughts. Essie is going through emotional and physical changes. These dynamic changes and emotional outbursts are causing turmoil with myself, her ABA therapists, and her sister (of course, dad gets the shorter end of the stick. What can I say, she's a TOTAL daddy's girl). If you follow me on Instagram, you are very aware of what happens in our household. War of the worlds! My sweet Essie is trying to adjust to these hormonal changes, and so are we. During this process (and by doing some research), I have learned that if your child has trouble communicating or finds it hard to control her emotions, her emotional symptoms might lead to challenging behavior. 

 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of PMS?

  • Mood swings

  • Physical changes such as pubic hair growth, underarm growth, breast size

  • Depressed mood

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Sadness, crying spells

  • Food cravings

  • Social withdrawal

  • Poor concentration

 

Autism doesn't affect when girls start their periods. Your autistic daughter will go through many changes in puberty, just as other girls do. Children on the spectrum often need longer to adjust to and understand changes in their lives than typically developing children. Most girls get their first menstrual cycle when they're between 11 and 14, but anywhere from 9-16 years is considered normal. According to research, if a girl has a significant growth spurt and has grown some underarm hair, and is experiencing physical changes, the dreadful "time of the month" is likely to be just around the corner. Autistic girls will experience the same series of premenstrual syndrome symptoms (PMS) as typically girls do. 

 

Periods are a challenging topic for every parent/child, but introducing menstruation to girls on the autism spectrum can be stressful. Will there be sensory issues around blood flow and the use of sanitary pads? How will they feel about this change in their body? Will it be painful? How do you teach hygiene around menstruation? Will menstruation be understood and accepted? So many questions. So here it goes... I've created some suggestions to help prepare your daughter for menstruation. Keep in mind no two people are alike, and you may need to adjust to this advice accordingly.

 

  1. Give her the "PMS TALK" early on (in detail). Talk to her before puberty hits.

  2. Potty train your autistic tween first.

  3. Give her advice on how to handle a period away from home.

  4. Use visuals because sometimes language gets confusing for people on the autism spectrum, and sometimes they respond to and understand visuals better than words. 

  5. Practice how to react when she gets her menstrual cycle. 

  6. Prepare yourself for PMS outbursts. 

  7. Show your child what she should expect from a menstrual cycle so she doesn't have a meltdown or think she's hurt when it happens.

 

Moms, dads, guardians, this journey is a challenge, but we are strong enough to help our daughters master this skill!  

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VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IDEAS & THINGS TO DO

 

Low and behold, the annual Hallmark holiday we ladies have been waiting for! Let's pause for a second ladies, the kiddos and significant others also deserve a gift or two (maybe one?) :). No, but in all seriousness, Valentine's Day is just around the corner, which means it's time to get your date idea set, your charming Valentine's Day quote queued up for your Instagram post, and maybe even your V-Day outfit picked out. So, who else gets stuck with gift ideas or planning a night out? Don't you freight I got some fantastic ideas for you all! Olympia to the rescue...Below are some great gift ideas for him, for him and her, and last but not least the kiddos! Enjoy!

For Him

Sorry to pile on the pressure here, but there is no time like now to pick out a Valentine's Day gift for your partner. Ladies, it would be a big mistake to assume your significant other wouldn't want to receive a Valentine's Day gift (unless he firmly insists). An even bigger mistake? To help find the right Valentine's Day gift for the man in your life, we rounded up a bunch of Olympia-approved items that would make thoughtful presents for basically any type of guy you may be shopping for. Now that the hard part's complete, all you have to do is wrap it up and watch him smile. Click the images below for more details!

His and Hers

His and hers?I like the sound of that! Get a really good gift that both you and your partner will still be enjoying by the time next Valentine's Day rolls around. That's right—a couples gift. But not in an overly cutesy, matchy-matchy kind of way. Not seeing my vision? No worries, the following gift ideas below will make it clear. Choose one from the lot to surprise your partner and also treat yourself. And so the romance lives on.

For the Adventurous Couples

If you are as spontaneous as my husband and me, then you're always after an excuse for an adventure. If you are running out of ideas due to current circumstances, you've come to the right place. I have compiled a few fun Valentine's Day adventure ideas for him and for her that I hope will make for Valentine's day to actually remember this year! 

For the Kids

You found the perfect gift for your significant other, and now it's time to find something special for the little ones you love. I know, I know, we show the kids in our lives we love them every day with our love, care, and all that good stuff, but Valentine's Day is a special time to show your minions that they too are important with some good old-fashioned gifting. Valentine's Day is kind of a big deal to kids. They're out there making adorable Valentine's Day cards for their classmates, friends, and family members.  They definitely deserve a little something of their own for all their effort! These Valentine's Day gifts for kids will totally make them feel the loved.

Hope this helped! No matter which presents you pick, there's no doubt that he'll love it because it came straight from your heart.

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ESSIE'S JOURNEY THROUGH BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

 

If you follow me on Instagram, then you've probably heard me talk about the importance of Essie's behavioral therapy sessions. Behavior therapy aims to increase a child's skills for independent living while minimizing challenging behaviors. These sessions include potty training (SHE IS ROCKING IT IN THIS DEPARTMENT), speech and occupational therapy. Essie's sessions are about 5-6 hours daily. These therapy sessions aim to help Essie work on skills to help her become more independent in the short term and the future.

 

Depending on what the child needs, treatment goals can include many different skill areas, such as:

  • Communication and language

  • Social skills

  • Self-care (such as showering and potty training)

  • Play and leisure

 

In Essie's case, her therapy is strictly behavioral, not educational (that will be a whole different therapy session), and the intervention is intense. Her sessions redirect her to do everything independently and urge her to use more of her verbal skills. Many people think that behavioral intervention is meant only for overly rambunctious children who act out. That's not the case. Therapies for autism are the primary tools for improving social skills.

 

So, what are the benefits? Parents are often frustrated over which behavioral therapy approach to take. Schools frequently move autistic children into the mainstream early in their schooling. While that's always the more comprehensive goal, forcing a child away from intense behavioral programs that promote social growth too soon can hinder their development. More intervention now can lead to more age-appropriate skills later, allowing an easier transition into the mainstream. Another challenge is deciding which type of behavioral therapy matches your child. Since behavioral therapy comes in a variety of styles, picking one may feel like a guessing game. Parents of children with kids on the spectrum have enough worry about whether they do enough for their kids. Occupational therapy supports the parents and helps them be more effective, reinforcing the already good work. 

 

Stay tuned for updates on Essie's therapist session. I will be sharing her progress soon. So far, so good! If you would like to learn more about Essie's therapy journey, please contact me!  

ESSIE'S JOURNEY: BEYOND THE SPECTRUM FEATURED ON GOOD DAY LA

Very grateful and honored to announce that Essie's Journey: Beyond the Spectrum got featured on Fox 11's Good Day LA! Now, if this wasn't a moment of encouragement for Essie&Co. then I don't know what is!

 

The beautiful and oh so very talented Araksya Karapetyan reached out to me via Instagram after seeing my story post about our blog update on the "Holiday Gift Guide: Autism Edition" and asked if we'd like to get featured in a segment. My first reaction was, "Olympia get it together" then I went to the restroom and puked out of my nervousness and excitement. The second reaction was to jump up and down from the excitement, but fortunately, I was able to keep it together. I 100% agreed to the offer, and the rest was history! 

 

During the segment, we discussed Holiday gift ideas for kids on the spectrum (to learn more, scroll down for the blog post). Buying a toy, gift, or Holiday present for a child on the autism spectrum can be challenging. During the holidays, I receive many calls asking for gift advice for Essie. Based on these questions, I decided to put together the Holiday gift guide to help parents or guardians like myself choose the best gifts for kids on the autism spectrum. Being able to share this with Good Day LA viewers is definitely a blessing. Besides, it's not every day you get a call from a news reporter who wants to do a feature on you! 

 

The purpose of starting Essie's Journey is to motivate people like myself, help uplift, and make life easier for families on the spectrum. I love hearing ideas from other parents, and I love sharing my own experiences as well. That is why being featured on the news was nothing short of amazing. All thanks to the fantastic Araksya! Thank you for raising awareness about a very misunderstood subject. 

 

Stay tuned, Essie&Co fam. More gift ideas coming soon!

 

XOXO

AUTISM AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS: HOLIDAY EDITION

"Children with Autism aren't given to strong people. They are given to ordinary, everyday people. Raising a child with Autism doesn't take a special family; it makes a family special."

 

Life with an autistic child can be somewhat challenging, but it can be grueling during a pandemic. Especially when seeing family and friends on a regular is no longer the norm. Essie loves spending time with family, and in these past several months, she's had minimal human interactions and was getting very impatient. Besides, what kid doesn't love spending time with cousins, friends, etc. With the holidays upon us and with Essie growing more and more impatient, we decided it would be a great idea to have a long-overdue family gathering for Christmas. Our very own winter wonderland! The kids had an absolute blast, and Essie got the fulfillment of seeing her loved ones! She sang, danced, opened presents, and spent quality time with the ones she loves. It was nice to distract ourselves from all the 2020 noise. 

 

Disclaimer: My family and I get Covid tested regularly. 

Key points:

  • Positive family relationships are essential for all families, including families with autistic children.

  • Positive family relationships help all children feel secure and loved, which is excellent for their development.

  • Positive relationships also help families handle challenges.

  • You can strengthen family relationships by working on all the relationships in your family.

  • It's also important to focus on family strengths and resilience.

 

Strong relationships with family and friends give children a sense of belonging because they can be essential caretakers and role models in your child's life, whether your child has Autism or not. You, your family, and your autistic child are in this holiday thing together, so be kind to yourselves. You're probably not going to be able to fix everything. Siblings brawl, kids get overwhelmed and have meltdowns. I am grateful for my husband and entire family for being so supportive in the process. What a fantastic unit we have created. HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE! XOXO

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HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS FOR CHILDREN ON THE SPECTRUM 

It’s the time of year everyone! 2020 has been a VERY challenging year, to say the least, but we still need to spread the joy and cheer for our little munchkins! YES, Santa still visits during a pandemic! ; ) Gift-giving is one of the most exciting ways that we get to show those we love and cherish that we care. 

 

As an Autism parent, you may know how challenging it may be to find the perfect present for your child. For our kids, we not only want to pick a gift they will love, but we also may want to pick a gift that could target skills they are working on and support their developmental or sensory needs as well.  If you need a bit of help imagining your kiddo’s Holiday wish list, below is a list of a variety of toy ideas and therapy solutions for a wide range of ages and abilities. Please keep in mind what gift is right for one may not be right for another parent. So choose wisely!

Here are Essie's Journey's Holiday Gift Ideas for kids on the spectrum: 

FOR THE LITTLE ONES

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SOFT ZONE CLIMBER​ 

PURCHASE ON AMAZON 

AGES 4 & UP

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INDOOR TRAMPOLINE

PURCHASE ON AMAZON

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OSMOS LITTLE GENIUS STARTER KIT

PURCHASE ON AMAZON

FOR THE LITTLE CHEFS!

Cookie Cutters

BAKING KITS

PURCHASE ON BAKETIVITY

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THE INNOCENT BAKER

PURCHASE ON INNOCENT BAKER

FOR THE FUTURE SCIENTISTS

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SLIME KITS

PURCHASE ON AMAZON

PURCHASE ON WALMART

PURCHASE ON TARGET

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LET'S RIDE EQUESTRIAN THERAPY

Kids Riding Horses

HORSE THERAPY LESSONS

PRIVATE LESSONS - $55 FOR 50 MINUTES

SEMI- PRIVATE LESSONS - $50 FOR 50 MINUTES

VISIT LETSRIDETHERAPY.ORG

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!

Pink and Beige Modern Elegant Makeup Bea

GETTING A BREAK: PARENTS OF KIDS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS CAN RECEIVE RESPITE CARE. 

As most of you know, I am very transparent and I enjoy sharing all aspects of my life with my followers, friends, and family, but there comes a time where I have to respect my family’s wishes for privacy. There's been a lot going on in my personal life, and I hope you understand why I cannot share right now. 

Amid everything going on, I have to make sure my girls are happy and that they do not absorb my energy. This blog post is about Essie's respite services starting at the most perfect time... God's timing is something, isn’t it?

 

Everyone needs a break from the stressors of daily life. Sometimes, however, that time off requires help from someone else. For parents of children with developmental disabilities, the idea of taking a pause can be particularly daunting. But it can be done with respite services.

 

Respite: A short period of rest or relief from something difficult.

 

The Regional center has provided Essie with 30 hours of respite services. That means a few times a week, for a few hours a week, a wonderful young lady whom Essie adores comes into our home and takes over! Our wonderful respite has joined the Essie&Co team and we couldn't be any happier with her! We are so thankful!

 

Respite services are very different from behavioral therapists coming into the home. Respites are solely for the parents to have some free time to do WHATEVER THEY WANT! That can be anything from a mama getting her mani & pedi, to having lunch with girlfriends, or in my case dealing with my family’s current situation. To be honest, I sometimes think to myself- come on universe, I could have used a respite for all the times I needed something as simple as a nap...But, I stop myself from dwelling in my negative thoughts and just say to myself, Olympia...Keep going...God's timing, not yours.

 

A few things Essie enjoys doing with her respite (let's just call her Cece for now). is making slime (OF COURSE), Playing with her Barbie dolls (which is the cutest thing ever), grabbing ice cream and heading to the park to feed the ducks (as shown)! 

 

Essie was in a terrible mood the other day. She wanted to go to school, so I decided to let her go shopping at her favorite store, Target with Cece (here’s where Essie becomes extremely relatable to neuro-typical kids). YES, she loves Target! I bet everyone’s shocked to hear that her favorite place isn't Grandma's house!LOL. Cece said she had no trouble putting a mask on Essie, and that she grabbed her essentials miniature Muppet figurines, the slime of course, and a fancy Nancy dolly (whom I think Essie relates with her curly hair) and made her way to check out in a breeze. Now, that’s music to my ears. The amount of weight off my shoulders knowing that my baby can be happy and comfortable with someone other than her favorite babysitter, MIMI HORKUR (Aunty Mimi) is so comforting.

 

I’m grateful for the amazing family I have. I rarely have an issue finding a sitter because you guessed it, Essie's grandparents and especially her Aunt Mimi are always a phone call away. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask, they’ll just show up and take the girls. I know how hard it can be for parents to find someone they trust so here’s the bottom line of our blog post this week...Get yourselves a respite through regional center or a few other resources and make some time for yourselves! If you don’t take care of yourself who’s going to take care of you and your babies?

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HOW TO HANDLE COMMON BEHAVIORAL ISSUES WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER BROUGHT TO YOU BY BEHAVIOR TREND!

Essie's Journey teamed up with Behavior Trend to get some answers on common behaviors that are associated with ASD and how to handle them. Behavior Trend is an amazing organization that provides cutting-edge Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), behavioral Consulting, Special Education, and other Specialized Programs and Groups such as Potty Training and Social Skills Groups. They only utilize Evidence-Based Practices. 

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit many behaviors their family, teachers, and other supporters find challenging. At the same time, those individuals often find the world at large a challenge, and the behavior of the people in it perplexing. What are the behaviors and ways of taking in the outside world that distinguish a person with an ASD from his or her “typical” peers? Although these will vary according to the severity of a person’s autism and their age, there are core issues that affect most people with an autism spectrum disorder. In this section we explore each of these topics.

SELF INJURY: Every child is different, so the intensity of self-injury can vary. The most common self-injury we see is self inflicted wounds on the thigh or head area. Another type of self inflicted injury we see is scratching, pinching, or biting themselves. There can be many reasons as to why the child behaves this way. For example, if a child has a headache and is having a difficult time communicating it, the child may engage in hitting his or her head to soothe the pain. Other times children may display this behavior  to receive attention (usually self-injury is alarming so it’s a behavior for sure that many adults attend to) and lastly, the child may want to escape something they don’t want to do!

HARMING OTHERS: Kids on the spectrum are so sweet! They want hugs, kisses,

and tickles. Usually when we see kids hitting others or harming others, they are not
doing it to intentionally hurt someone. They want to communicate and are unable to do so. They find that hitting someone might get them something faster or it may get the attention of the person they are hitting faster. This is usually common when kids are playing with toys and have difficulty sharing, or when they are told “no” to something they want to have in their possession.


NOISE SENSITIVITY: Very common for those on the spectrum! The most common
culprits are hand dryers in public restrooms (who even likes these?) vacuums, and the
sound of electricity. But, each child might have unique sensitivities. Usually you will
notice that your child does not like a certain sound because they will either cover their
ears or hold their head.


MELTDOWNS : My favorite to help eliminate! This is very common in almost every child under the age of 3. After the age of 3, meltdowns should rarely occur. Meltdowns can be anything from fake (or real) crying, flopping to the floor, kicking, and screaming. These are not directed towards someone but an episode of a ‘tantrum’. This might also sometimes include throwing anything in sight from toys to furniture.


MOOD INSTABILITY : Sudden and frequent changes in moods may require further assessments. It’s not uncommon for children on the spectrum to have co-morbid issues like anxiety and depression. If you notice any frequent and sudden changes in mood (for example, goes from laughing to crying) make sure to seek an additional evaluation from a psychologist.


SENSORY ISSUES : Very common! We’ve worked with kids who hate having their
hands dirty to kids who love it! We have kids who have an urge to remove any clothing
that gets wet, and other kids love playing with water and they don't mind staying in wet clothes. Some kids on the spectrum love playing with bean/rice bucks, sand, and other tactile toys while other kids might even gag at the sight of these. Sometimes these are reflected in other areas like eating behavior. You might notice your child prefers certain textures of foods. It’s very common that kids on the spectrum love carbs (who doesn’t right?), but they might gag at the sight of foods that have different non-crunchy/breaded textures like bananas, yogurt, pudding, leafy vegetables, and soup.

1. How Can Parents Seek and Avoid Sensory Issues


Sensory issues could be sensitivity to light or certain environments. Sunglasses or hats/visors are great for blocking out light. Some of these might require getting used to. However, once your child makes the connection that a hat or sunglasses blocks out the light, you will notice their tolerance to having these accessories on. Remember to start this by taking baby steps. We can’t expect children to go from not wearing hats to wearing a hat all day. Start with 1 minute at a time. Reward your child for keeping their hat on. Over time, you should increase the time required to keep the hat on until they can wear it for the amount of time you would like them to do so. Also, try different bulbs with different levels of strength if you notice the light sensitivity is due to inside lighting.
 

Many kids on the spectrum have a hard time getting their teeth checked by the dentist
or even getting a haircut. Take baby steps with these as well. Something we love to do here at Behavior Trend is pretend play going to these places. We try to make it as real as possible- the chair, the bibs, the sensations they will feel like getting water sprayed on your hair at the hairdressers, and even the sound of a clippers/razor. Start these at
home. Once your child has mastered this at home, its time to do quick visit practices.
This would look like going into the office, sitting for a few minutes or checking out the
place, and then leaving and rewarding your child for a great successful trip! Once your
child is comfortable with this, they might be ready for the full visits. Don’t hesitate to
contact the salon or dentist’s office and ask to practice some of the skills without having an actual appointment. You will be surprised how many of them are totally fine with it! And practice, practice, practice!


If you are receiving ABA services, make sure to bring these up to your Board Certified
Behavior Analyst (BCBA) as a priority goal to work on. Here at Behavior Trend, we have
done many programs like this and have gone to these visits with families.

 


2. What to do when my kid becomes sensitive to noise.


Headphones! They look cool, are age-appropriate (no matter what age), and your child