UT Dallas experts offer insights on: Autism Awareness Month, resetting New Year’s resolutions, children’s eating habits, and refreshing a lawn with native plants.
Tips for Understanding Those with Autism
April is Autism Awareness Month, and a UT Dallas speech-language pathologist said many people don’t understand the neurological and developmental disorder.
Rachel Wehner works at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders with children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
“It’s called the autism spectrum because each person is different, with things they do well and things that they are working on -- just like the rest of us,” Wehner said.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the U.S.
Wehner said there are a number of things that those without autism can do to create positive interactions with those who are on the spectrum, although she said each situation varies.
- Speak in shorter, simpler sentences, especially in unfamiliar environments.
- When speaking, some on the spectrum may need more processing time, so be patient.
- If ideas are not immediately understood, rephrase your wording or pair it with a picture or gesture.
- If a person on the spectrum invades your personal space, they may not understand such boundaries. Just tell the person that he or she is too close.
- Sometimes those on the autism spectrum will be very literal, and have difficulty with abstract language. You may have to explain with different words.
- Older teens and adults may not understand the humor you are using, taking things very seriously and personally. You may have to explain your joke.
- If you notice someone getting upset, give them space and use a calming voice.
Think SMART to reset those resolutions
Did you make New Year’s resolutions and find that you are no longer sticking to them? If it’s time for a reset, think “SMART” to recommit to behavior change.
SMART goals – those that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and time-bound – will give you a plan for lifelong health. Staying consistent is key.
Taylor Tran, registered dietitian and employee health program manager at The University of Texas at Dallas recommends SMART goals such as completing a 5k run or losing five pounds by the end of spring. Achieving one goal at a time will motivate you to press on toward the next one.
“If you have totally run out of steam when it comes to keeping your resolutions, don’t despair. Start over and recommit for 24 hours,” Tran said. “You can do anything for 24 hours. The increments will build on each other and before you know it, you’ll be back on track.”
Preschool Age a Crucial Time for Kids’ Eating Habits
Parents who want to instill and maintain good eating habits in their children should be hyper-vigilant with their 3- to 5-year-olds, according to a University of Texas at Dallas psychologist.
Dr. Shayla C. Holub, head of the psychological sciences PhD program in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, emphasizes the importance of this preschool period where children begin to think more about what their social environment is telling them than what their body is.
“It’s during this period that most children develop eating habits that override their natural body cues,” Holub said. “Very young kids are really good at regulating food intake. If you give a 3-year-old a snack, they will adjust their meal intake to react appropriately so that they are not too hungry or too full.”
Holub argues that the introduction of lessons like “you should eat all the food on your plate” or “you can’t have this item because it’s a certain type of food” frequently undermine body cues.
“If the portion that is on my plate is what I’m supposed to eat, I’m going to force myself to eat it,” she said. “Restrictive feeding practices also seem to be problematic — telling children they can’t have something makes it a preferred food, and when they gain access to it, they immediately eat more of it.”
Holub emphasized that while these trends don’t indicate that habits can’t be modified later on, ages 3 to 5 constitute a crucial time in a child’s life in which some lose their ability to self-regulate.
Texans can spruce up lawn with native plants
Homeowners in Texas love this time of year to get outdoors and do some gardening. But many are putting time and money in the wrong kind of plants for this region.
Gary Cocke, associate director for energy conservation and sustainability at The University of Texas at Dallas, recommends using resources such as txsmartscape.com for selecting the right plant in the right place – even in the shade.
There are many benefits to using native plants, Cocke said. They are diverse in color and variety. They are suited for the Texas climate and require less irrigation than non-native plants, so they are cost-effective and more likely to survive the summer. They are also great for our environment.
“Native plants give bees and pollinators the habitat that they need, and you will enjoy the buzz of a vibrant garden,” Cocke said.