• Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S.
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Happy Autism Awareness Month --- in April!  This is always a great time for those in my program because we have a slew of things we do to promote awareness.  Schools are usually always welcoming (with advance notice and planning) of activities we want to do related to Autism Awareness.  And the possibilities are endless.  A great source for finding "ready made" or simple activities is the site Autism Speaks.  There you will also find all kinds of great things such as providers of services, tool-kits for schools and communities, resources in Spanish, and a resource library.  Autism Speaks also gives out grants, which can potentially be a source of funding for your innovative ideas surrounding Autism. Click on the image below to go to the site and find some great ideas for your school!

A few of the most basic things you can do are to use the awesome bulletin boards around the school. We always have a few in the halls, the library and wherever else the school allows.  For us, it's a team effort.  Teachers and therapists help in putting together the bulletin boards.  We like to include facts that may dispel  some of the myths surrounding autism.  We also like to include the names of famous people with Autism.  Often we have our kids do an art project and post those too.... At one of my schools we have an anonymous  "box" where students from the school can submit questions or concerns.  In the mornings, for the week during April 4th, we have students read autism facts with the morning announcements.  One year, I had a student with aspergers give a presentation about himself (he video taped it first) and then showed it to his class (with parental permission of course).  We also bring in treats for the faculty and post fun signs around the treats about autism.

We are lucky to have such good support in our schools.  I work in 5 different schools and have to say they are overall very supportive.  They allow me to go into the classrooms and give presentations about autism.  This is one of my all time favorite things to do because the students are generally very interested.  After my presentation, I open it up to questions, telling them NO QUESTION is stupid or bad.  And wow, you should hear some of them.  "Are people with autism retard?", "Can you get rid of autism", I even had someone ask me if people with autism were blind!  So you see there is a lot of mis-information out there.  Below is my stock presentation I use in the classrooms.  I try to get into as many as possible each year.  Knowing about autism, in my experience, helps to increase understanding and tolerance.

This is a great ready-made presentation for you to use in general education classes for Autism Awareness.
Available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.  Click on the image to see it.

Kids and teachers and generally very welcoming to do a presentation on Autism Awareness.  Try it!


Most of my kids enjoy my COOL KIDS groups (anxiety prevention).  I did have one student 2 years ago, whose anxiety increased when he knew he was going to have to go to anxiety group.  The thought of talking about his anxiety, gave him anxiety.  Let's say we still have lots of work to do on UNHELPFUL thoughts.  With this student, I had to do individual sessions as he tries to bolt from the room or becomes extremely disruptive.  We disguised our lessons and intertwined shows he loves in them.  He has improved and is able to set in some groups, using his worry thermometer to let us know if he needs a break.

I use kid's favorite shows to increase attention and to explain concepts in ways they can understand.  This is the TV show American Ninja Warrior.  See it on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.

I always have a written schedule of each item we will do in the group or individual schedule, to decrease anxiety.  With my kiddo mentioned above, I always have a system where if he completes my 4 tasks (watch video, see lesson, practice breathing, answer comprehension questions - usually multiple choice written with pictures), then he can have free choice, usually 3 minutes watching his favorite YouTube videos.


After your psycho education is complete, fear assessment, teaching of helpful and unhelpful thoughts, it's time to teach about the anxiety body alarm.  This is what we adults know as your sympathetic system, which activates feelings of nervousness, such as sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, shaky hands, etc. In summary, some people have overactive systems and their alarms go off too often.  Just realizing that just because you have feelings of panic and anxiety, does not mean you are in danger, can be very empowering to children with anxiety.  I created a concrete and easy to understand story on this, comparing our body alarms to car alarms (false alarms happen!).

Anxiety concepts are so much easier to understand with real comparisons. Check out this lesson on my Teachers Pay Teachers site. 

For my older kids, we used a fantastic program called GO ZEN.  This program uses tons of highly engaging, often funny animations.  It uses a science based approach and is cognitive behavioral.  The characters are kids with common anxieties, in addition to an alien, who helps to teach.  The body alarm system is taught through the use of two characters, Til and Widdle each representing a different part of the brain.  It really makes it easier to understand and accept our anxiety.  This product is highly recommended and I'll probably talk more about it in another post because I love it so much.

This is Til and Widdle, representing, the new brain (reasoning and logic) and the older brain ( fight or flight).

I know we promised to talk about desensitization and it is coming soon!!!!  As always, comment or write to me with questions or successes or failures... happy teaching!

PRACTING SKILLS FOR COMPREHENSION; Helpful and unhelpful thoughts

As the anxiety group proceeds, we continue to practice identifying which are helpful and which are unhelpful thoughts.  I have a series of lessons I use for different age groups, available on my Teachers
Pay Teachers site.

We did lots of practicing on choosing which was helpful vs unhelpful.

As they got more proficient in choosing between the two, we decided to provide students with prompts of actual student worries (based on our surveys we took at the beginning of the group) and have them attempt to give us HELPFUL THOUGHTS.

Example of complete prompt - situation and thought

Even our earliest learners could remember, "It's ok", the most basic helpful thought.

Example of a partial prompt with just the situation.  If students had a difficult time remember, I would use errorless learning and give a partial answer such as, "IT'S....", sometimes doing the "ok sign" with my fingers. Repetition, repetition!

Every session, as I mentioned earlier, we would practice our COOL BREATHING and relaxation techniques.  Often I let a different kid choose from a choice board which technique they'd like to practice, usually trying to add a new one every week (maybe same technique but different way of doing it).  One that was a hit was using the app by Sesame Street called, "Breathe, Think, Do".  Remember, I used this for kindergarteners and 1st graders.  I did have one kid who said Sesame Street was for babies, so we just let him sit out (pick and choose your battles, otherwise he was very disruptive).
Super cute and  educational breathing, relaxing and thinking app for kids

Practice breathing with the monster.  Another fun twist on belly breathing for your kids!

Teaches kids to stop and think.  They get to touch the bubbles on the screen to "pop" them, and then come up with 3 plans for the problem situation given.

There are more and more good tools available to teach relaxation.  For me, the key was mixing it up, making it fun, using technology sometimes and allowing students to choose.  I even had one student, a first grader, who wanted to make up his own prompts for progressive relaxation (he was the one who said Sesame Street was for babies).  We allowed him to do this, he lead the group, and we had such good attention and buy-in from the other kiddos!  In our next blog, we'll talk a little more about some of the more advanced techniques we used in our anxiety prevention groups with our 3rd- 7th graders.  Write to me if you have comments, questions or suggestions.  What great things have you found out there???


So, working with the population that I did, anxiety was very common place.  My kids were mostly medium to high functioning aspergers with comorbidity out the ying yang.  So, almost every kid in my program received anxiety prevention services.  I mean when your kids freak out about schedule changes, strange noises, the toilet, kids "staring" at them, and rain, you really need this to function on a daily basis in a public school building.  And to be honest, I love running my anxiety prevention groups. My kids are usually incredibly attentive, which could be a factor of all the fun stuff we try to use.

We've been talking a lot about the itty bitties... the kindergartners and the first graders.  Well for my 2nd - 4th grade, I bumped up the group slightly.  We follow the same format - assessment, psychoeducation, and the CBT core.  But I added a few extra things.  Some of the 2nd graders (and lower functioning 4th graders), really liked Calvin and Austin.  So we continued with them.  But I found this program, called Camp Cope A lot.  Many years ago, I had purchased a program called "The Coping Cat", for kids with anxiety.  I really loved the program and my regular education kids did too. But I knew that my kids with ASD needed something with TECHNOLOGY.  I am not going to lie.  If it's on the computer, they would do it (I even used to videotape myself doing a lesson, which often would greatly increase attention!).  Anyway, this program, Camp Cope A Lot, is made by the same people, Philip C. Kendall, Ph.D., ABPP & Muniya Khanna, Ph.D. out of Temple University and University of Pennsylvania.  The previews looked great and I was fortunate to have a boss and program that had the resources to purchase it for my group.  I bought, I think, 10 licenses.  It's a program that you can essentially do one "chapter" each session or every other if you are using it as an adjunct.  I liked to do the lesson one week and then do a review of the concepts and a check for comprehension the next week.  Repetition was great for my kids.  They absolutely loved this program and I am not sure if it was because the main character, Charlie, was a cat or if it was because they could see some of themselves in Charlie.  Didn't matter, they asked to see Charlie and would problem solve "for Charlie".  The program also has a writing portion where the student adds in their own content.

Here's what the website site says about the program:

  • No formal training in cognitive-behavioral therapy required
  • Requires fewer therapists hours (approximately 6 hours per child for the 12 sessions)
  • Child-paced interactivities including problem solving, changing self-talk, and identifying somatic signs of anxiety
  • Downloadable (MP3) relaxation script
  • Includes a selection of videos of other children engaging in exposure tasks and using coping strategies
  • Includes a built-in reward system  
  • Contains all needed treatment materials
  • Comes with printable Coach’s Manual (treatment manual) and Go-To-Gadget (child workbook)

I really liked the short videos they included showing kids learning and practicing progressive muscle relaxation.  In my experience, this is a bit difficult to teach and reinforce, but this program has Charlie doing it and also kids on video.  I would recommend this program and my kids loved the reinforcer of being able to choose one of their "video games" as a reward when they got to a certain point.
Click on the image below to go to the website for more information.

Camp Cope A Lot is a great online program that uses a human like cat, Charlie, who is afraid to go to camp, as its main character.  Psycho education, videos, games and problem solving challenges make this a great addition to your anxiety prevention groups!


Introducing and understanding helpful and unhelpful thoughts is probably the main underlying concept of the anxiety group.  It is getting kids to understand that the way you think about a situation then determines how you feel... the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy.  We spent many sessions on this theme.  Below is one of the first lessons we did on this.

FREE DOWNLOAD!  Intro to helpful vs. unhelpful thoughts

Some of my little kids got it right away.  Others I had to backtrack and teach the concept of "What is a Thought"... as this is very abstract.  Below is a link to the lesson I have for teaching this concept.

This is my lesson on teaching, "What is a thought", available on Teachers Pay Teachers

We continued on with practicing this concept of helpful vs. unhelpful thoughts for at least some part of each session.  We used the lesson below as an example.  Download it for free.  We tried to use real life fears for our kids, based on the game/survey they took at the beginning of the group.

We used real life examples of the kids.

We also did matching activities, sorting (cutting and pasting) activities as well with helpful and unhelpful thoughts.  We used Austin and Calvin to do several role plays with a cut-out thought bubble that we laminated so we could use a dry erase pen and write in thoughts.

Another resource I used to help teach this concept of thoughts change/cause feelings was ZEEBU.  
These videos are slowed down and use simple concrete language.  They use thought bubbles and lots of expression to teach thoughts and feelings as well.  I have bought all the Zeebu resources and I think they are fabulous.

Zeebu uses puppets and music that kids love.

Our parent group also continues, a lot of the time we shared in obstacles and then problem solved them or shared in successes.   We continued each session to talk about calming activities for the kids. Everytime practicing belly breathing.  I made laminated Nighttime Calming Activities Choice Boards for all my parents.  They loved them. Next up we introduce the idea of desensitization.  With the kids we talked about goal setting (earning rewards for helpful thoughts and being brave).  Can't wait to share it in the next blog post!  Thanks for reading.

My parents loved this to use with their kiddos at nighttime to establish a routine.  See it on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.


After we introduced our characters, Austin and Calvin, learned about feelings and anxiety, did our pre-group assessment on individual student worries, and introduced the kids to the worry thermometer, we saw how the worry thermometer worked for Austin and Calvin.  We also started learning the mechanics of "cool breathing" and Calvin's Relaxation Game (Progressive Muscle Relaxation).  Click on the picture below for a free download of my lesson.  You'll see how we started off with all of this good stuff!

This was the lesson we used to reinforce the worry thermometer and introduce
the Cool Breathing and Calvin's Relaxation Game (progressive muscle relaxation).

There is an app called Breathe 2 Relax (Breathe2Relax) that I really liked a lot for teaching deep breathing.  This is not an easy task for our young kiddos.  This app has a visual monitor that you can set for how fast and for how many seconds you want an inhale and an exhale to be.  On top of that it has a visual countdown of how many practice breaths you are going to take.  You can set a soothing song and background as well.

Excellent app for teaching deep breathing to kids

We also did "Breathing Buddies".  I gave each kiddo something (a stuffed animal) to put on on their tummies to watch as their stomach (not their chest) moved up and down with the correct inhalation and exhalation.  The kids really, really liked this.  But if your kids are like mine, we had to set rules for the stuffed animals because they all wanted to play with them.  Click on the video below to see a demonstration of this.

Using a stuffed animal to insure correct technique and to have a little fun!

We also used bubbles, pinwheels and straws to practice deep breathing.  You name it, we tried it.  I had some kids who just couldn't get the technique right (about 2 of them) but most of my others were able to perfect it. These were kindergartners and 1st graders!  I always sent an email to the parents home of what we tried and for them to practice it at home.  This article, by www.encorageplay.com,  linked to below has great directions for fun ways for little ones to practice breathing!  Click on the image to read and find out some great ideas for your group.

Bubbles, pinwheels, crafts and more to reinforce your teaching of deep breathing

We will follow up on another blog with more on our child anxiety group, introducing the concepts of thoughts, both helpful and unhelpful. I hope you get some good ideas from ours and would love for you to tell us about your group!  Please, ask questions, I would be more than happy to share whatever I can.


When I reviewed curriculum for anxiety prevention, almost all the most effective ones (research based) had parent components.  Of course they did!  You cannot expect to make behavioral changes, especially in younger children, without the cooperation of their parents.

I totally love running my parent group.  I found that parents where very interested in the topic!  We ran the group very similar content wise to that of the kids.  Fortunately, COOL KIDS came with this manual.  I added additional information, videos on what is anxiety, articles on how we "get" anxiety, and also how deal in the moment and how to prevent anxiety.  Many parents expressed they had anxiety themselves, which we know from the research that parents with anxiety are more likely to "transmit" their anxious tendencies and responses to their children.  It is not inevitable, but we see it happen often.  I think my parents liked the group because many of them learned about how to deal with their own anxiety.

Click on my Parent Informational Letter to download a free sample

The toughest thing about the parent group was finding a common time for everyone to meet. Fortunately, I had a lot of moms who were 'stay-at-home'.  By the second year, I wound up offering a morning and an afternoon group.  For a few parents, I scheduled individual sessions a few times when they could take off work.  Attendance was often a problem as well, but I didn't want to be too hard on this.  I always emphasized that, "it only works if you come".  Also, I often offered coffee and bagels to sweeten the deal.  We had a group email and if 50% of the group could not come to a session, we would re-schedule. 

A large amount of the training was teaching and practicing relaxation techniques with the parents. We used apps, scripts and activities - we had parents try to schedule in relaxing types of activities, especially prior to bedtime.  We discussed what worked and what didn't work.  We probably spent the most time on 2 different types of relaxation and that was deep breathing (we called it cool breathing or belly breathing) and progressive muscle relaxation. The parents were more apprehensive to practice during group than the kids!  I'll go into what we used to practice relaxation in another blog. But for now, I'll show you one of our favorite resources was this video on YouTube.  Click on the image to see the video for yourself!

Belly Breathing, on YouTube by Common and Colbie Caillat is a favorite!

The parent manual in the Cool Kids program pretty much outlines session by session.  I added in a time for feedback, as the group sort of worked as a support group as well.  We also went over additional resources that anyone found to work on relaxation.  One of the first things we covered after the psycho-educational portion ("what is anxiety and how do you 'get' it") was to talk about how we respond to our children's anxiety.  This was were I saw the most change and most lightbulbs going off.  This article, by Go Zen, and online anxiety prevention program, sums it up nicely.  I printed this out and gave it to parents.  Click on the image to access a copy of it.  We'll talk about Go Zen in another blog post, as it is for older kids and also discuss the desensitization process. that we worked on.

Go Zen article, "5 Things You Should Never Say to an Anxious Child"