Just a cold? Just a sniffle? Or is it RSV?

baby boy without hair beating the disease isolated on

Autumn brings us crisp apples, fallen leaves, pumpkin carving – and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). From late fall through early spring, RSV can gallop through schools, day cares and other places where children and adults gather.

As a matter of fact, most children will contract RSV at some time in their first two years of life. Because there are many kinds of RSV, getting it once doesn’t provide immunity; your child – and you – can get it again and again.

For most people, adults and children included, RSV will present as a cold, with symptoms such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

Most RSV infections resolve themselves within a week or two, helped along by typical care for a cold; rest, plenty of fluids, suctioning mucus from the nose, and, with Alzein Pediatric Associates go-ahead, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin) for fever. You may consider using a cool-mist vaporizer, cleaned daily, to keep mucus from clogging noses and lungs.

Remember – never give your child younger than 20 years old aspirin for a viral infection, as aspirin can cause Reye syndrome, a life-threatening disease. 

However, RSV can be particularly dangerous when it spreads to the lower respiratory tract. There, it will cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Call our office immediately if your child, or any family member, shows these symptoms:

  • Mid-grade fever
  • Severe cough
  • High-pitched wheezing when your child exhales, or breathes out
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down
  • Cyanosis – a bluish color in your child’s lips, nostrils, fingertips or toes.

Your infant or toddler is especially at risk of contracting RSV and requiring hospitalization for treatment if:

  • Born prematurely, at or before 29 weeks
  • 6 months or younger in age
  • Younger than 2 years old with heart or lung conditions
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have difficulty swallowing, coughing or blowing the nose, with neuromuscular disorders

When your child is at greater risk of RSV, your Alzein Pediatrics medical staff can help. Monoclonal antibodies, given in monthly doses for about five months, can halt the virus from multiplying in your child’s body, not actually preventing RSV, but containing the virus to a mild infection.

Call Alzein Pediatric Association immediately, or head to an Urgent Care if your child or family member experiences these symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Chest, belly and skin pull in with each breath; difficulty breathing
  • Has cyanosis
  • Has a persistant cough
  • Refuses food or drink
  • Is unusually tired or fussy

The best way to avoid RSV complications is to prevent the virus in the first place. Like any virus, washing hands frequently and thoroughly (sing “Happy Birthday” slowly as you wash with a mild soap) is the best defense. Keep your child, especially infants younger than 6 months, away from people with cold symptoms. Wash toys daily. Wipe down kitchen and bathroom surfaces often. Don’t share cups or eating utensils, or eat from the same plate of food. Throw away used tissues immediately.

Don’t smoke! Children exposed to smoke are at a higher risk of contracting RSV and of developing more dangerous complications.

Have questions about RSV or think your child may have been exposed to RSV? Call Alzein Pediatric Associates at 708-429-7600. We’ll do all we can to help!

Get to know Darius Sanders

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Alzein Pediatric Associates loves to share our patients’ stories. Darius Sanders has been our patient since he was a newborn and now he’s a world champion. While he’s always been a champion with us, we hope you enjoy his story. 

Glenwood Teen Roller Skating World Champion Looks Toward Summer Olympics 2020

– As the International Olympic Committee edges towards recognizing roller figure skating as a full-fledged Olympic sports, one Glenwood family is watching particularly closely. Darius Sanders laced up his first pair of roller skates when he was 4 years old, two years after the IOC first selected roller sports for consideration to be an official part of the Olympic Summer Games.

Today, 14-year-old Darius, along with his partner Samantha Krusza of Lynwood, is a United States Rolling Figure Skating Champion, winning the title in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is hoping to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan as a fully-recognized Olympic athlete.

Darius began skating free style with his family at an early age. Mom Cassandra was a competitive skater and Dad Philip and brother Philip Jr. love to skate as well.

“It’s a different type of physical activity than the more traditional sports,” says Philip Sanders. “Baseball and soccer are fine, but skating is just great overall exercise. Skating works out your whole body.” Sanders shows a great deal of concern about the childhood obesity crisis and strongly advocates skating as a factor in the solution.

“Not only do your leg muscles get exercise with the spinning and jumping – those skates are about 10 pounds apiece – and your arms get a workout with lifts, and your lungs and heart get a workout too,” says Sanders.

Darius has skated in competitions all over the country, including Nebraska and New Mexico. He is on track to compete in Poland in 2018. As a world-class skater himself, Darius is now competing at higher levels.

“Now he’s moving up a level and feeling a little frustrated,” smiles Sanders. “He is used to winning those first place medals and now, against older skaters, he’s placing down on the podium. I tell him, “Now is not your turn. Your turn is coming. You will get older and stronger, and you’ll be even better than that guy is now.” But he still wants those firsts.”

That work ethic is something coach Anita Roberts noticed a long time ago. “I’ve been working with Darius since he was a tiny tot, just 4 years old. He is a conscientious skater and a hard-working skater.”

Coach Julie Jessup agrees. “I’ve been working with Darius for three years now and he is just a joy to work with.”

As part of the Glenwood Skate Club and the Lynwood Skate Club, Darius has accumulated well over 100 medals over the course of his skating career. He is an expert at the fluid arabesques, majestic jumps, and stunning spins that make up a figure skating routine. He loves to spin; he is fast and he is smooth. The lifts he performs with Samantha are considered signature moves. Darius also loves to ice skate, but finds the difficulty of managing four wheels a more satisfying challenge.

Darius began high school this fall and discovered that all that skating has also made him an remarkably quick sprinter. So far, he remains focused on skating and getting to competitions in Paris, in Poland and to the 2020 Olympics.

Getting there does require considerable financial support. To raise funds for coaching costs, travel fees, uniforms and equipment, Sanders has set up a GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/darius-roller-skater-champion-2017. Contributions of any size are welcomed and deeply appreciated.

When the IOC recognizes roller figure skating as an Olympic Sports, Darius Sanders will be there, skates on and ready to spin.

Do you have a story about your child you’d like to share? We’d love to help! Email csynoga@alzeinpeds.com and we’ll contact you.

Can you thay thocks?

Big Kiss

Your newborn can curl her hand around your finger immediately, but it can take nearly a year to develop the fine motor skills to use a pincer grasp to pick up a Cheerio. Just like these muscles strengthen and refine as your child grows, it will take time – sometimes years – for your child’s tongue, lips, mouth and facial muscles to develop sufficiently to properly make all the sounds for clear, perfectly understandable speech.

There is a reason most toddlers say “ma ma” first. It’s because that sound, “m”, is one of the first that develop. You may also hear “p”, “h”, “w”, “b” and “n “by your child’s first birthday. If you don’t, there is no cause for alarm; it can take up to 3-1/2 years for your child to clearly enunciate these sounds. Between ages 2 and 4, you may also start hearing “k”, “g”, “d” and “t” sounds.

By the time your child reaches kindergarten, he’ll start using blends, such as “st”, “pl”, and “gr”. For example, “stop” will no longer be “top” and “great” will sound just great, rather than like “gate”.  The blends “sh” and “ch” may take until age 7 to accurately develop, saying “shopping” rather than “chopping” when you need to buy groceries. The “th” blend may take up to 8 years to develop, to properly say “thumb” instead of “tum.”

Substituting a “w” for an “l” such as in “wuv” instead of “love” may continue until age 7.

Some sounds present more noticeable problems and continue well into elementary school, such as a lisping “th” instead of a clear “s”, a “w” substitution for “r”, such as “buwd” instead of “bird”, or trouble with “ing” such as “goink” instead of “going”. These sounds are also among the most difficult to form, taking up to 8 years old for all muscles and skills to be strongly developed.

When you are concerned that your child’s speech is difficult for strangers – and sometimes family and friends – to understand, first take your child’s age into consideration. It may just not be time yet for those particular troublesome sounds to be fully developed.

Sometimes, there is cause to intervene – and intervene early. Red flags needing immediate attention are when your child:

  • Drools excessively, even when not teething
  • Doesn’t use his lips when eating or cannot eat neatly, dropping food from her mouth
  • Keeps his mouth open and/or tongue out; an open mouth posture
  • Is unable to touch her tongue to her upper lip, or to lick her lips
  • Is a mouth breather
  • Has difficulty making a “kiss face” or blowing “raspberries”
  • Has difficulty blowing out candles, or blowing bubbles
  • Cannot bite his lower lip

When you notice these muscular or functional challenges – at any age – it’s best to call Alzein Pediatric Associates for a full physical exam including a hearing check and a possible referral to a speech pathologist.

Questions about your child’s speech development or want to make an assessment appointment? Call our office at 708-424-7600. We are here to serve you and your family!

The flu vaccine is here! Are you?

Flu Shot

The 2017-2018 vaccine to protect your child against influenza has arrived in our offices.

Your child needs a new flu shot each and every year. The influenza, or flu, viruses are constantly changing, so scientists change the formula each season to best protect against the newest and most aggressive viruses each year. Also, the protection that your child received last year has now weakened over time.

  • Every child over 6 months of age healthy enough to receive the vaccine should get it.
  • It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to develop antibodies in your child, so getting it early can prevent an early flu.
  • Even if your child is perfectly healthy, vaccinating your child provides herd immunity, which means they won’t infect a medically fragile infant, senior or someone with a compromised immune system.
  • If your child is under 5 years old and contracts the flu, there’s a good chance it will be severe enough to require medical attention.
  • Children are at risk for serious complications such as sinus infections, ear infections and pneumonia.
  • In some cases, the flu can cause inflammation of the heart, brain or muscles and organ failure.

Call 708-424-7600 for your child’s flu vaccine today.

Getting Rid of the Back-To-School Butterflies

Mother gets child ready for first day of school

Summer seems to have hardly begun and we’re already staring down back-to-school. Where did the time go? We hope you and your child have had the opportunity to spend time together, enjoy the outdoors, and explore your local library.

The first day of school can be fraught with anxiety for your child, even if he loves school. Here are a few ways to make the transition from summer play to school days easier.

New school or kindergarten? Take a private meet-and-greet tour!
While it’s wonderful that schools and teachers welcome kids and parents for a “before school begins” get-together, that crush of people can be overwhelming for many children. Call your school to explain that your child would like to visit and tour the school privately, before the rush of peers and parents. Point out the bathroom, the library, the gym or playground and her classroom. Introduce her personally to her new teacher, giving her a moment to really connect to this person who will be very important in her life for the next nine months.

Concentrate on the positive.
Remind your child about friends she will make new or see again. Explore what she thinks she’ll learn this year and why that’s exciting for her. Talk about that certain hot lunch she enjoys. Explain that she can visit with former teachers she admires. Reminisce together about a particularly happy school day in the past.

Send them prepared.
Obtain a list of necessary school supplies and collect them at least a week before school begins, so your child knows she has everything she needs to be successful. Studies show that children who are properly equipped have less anxiety, concentrate better and earn better grades.

Make sure your child is getting a nutritious lunch each day, with a protein like chicken or turkey, water or milk instead of juice and a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables.

If you are under financial strain, call your school’s office and ask where you can access free or deeply discounted supplies and meals.

Be present, even if you’re not there.
Your presence during the day is important, but tread carefully. Notes in lunchboxes should focus on having a fun and successful day, such as “You will ROCK that spelling test” or a short joke. Avoid thoughts like “I miss you” which will make him think about missing you in return.

You’re all in this together.
Explain to your child that most of his classmates are feeling a little nervous right about now too. Tell your child about your own school days butterflies, and then relate a positive story about one of your first days, perhaps how you loved your new school shoes or when you discovered that you were going to learn everything about dinosaurs in third grade.

Be alert.
When your child can’t sleep, even after school has started and is in regular session, when your child’s personality has undergone a change, when she cries easily, begins biting nails or other destructive habits, it’s time to take a closer look. Is there a bullying situation? Is she having trouble comprehending a subject? Ask careful questions about what makes your child happy at school and on the bus and what makes her uncomfortable. If her answers set off alarms, talk to her teacher immediately. The quicker a problem is recognized by adults, the sooner it can be resolved.

Need a Back To School Physical ASAP? Call us at 708-424-7600 to make an appointment!

Do You See What I See?

Newborn Baby Girl

Your baby enters this big, exciting, colorful world able to actually see very little of it. Just like your infant’s motor skills and verbal skills, vision takes time to develop.

Your delivering physician will examine your child’s eyes for any neonatal problems and usually apply an antibiotic ointment to avoid eye infections caused by bacteria in the birth canal.

When your newborn first opens her eyes after arriving, she doesn’t see in color. Her vision is just like an old black and white movie, and she’ll be most interested in the areas of sharpest contrast, where light meets dark. She’ll have difficulty focusing on objects farther than 8-10” away. When you hold and talk to your newborn, your face is about 4-6” away from hers, quickly leading to her preference for your face over anyone else.

Your newborn’s eye are about 50 times less sensitive to light than yours, so leaving a nightlight on won’t interfere with sleep patterns.

When your child is about one week old, he’ll be able to see red, orange, yellow and green. Blues and purples will come a little later.

During the first month or so, your child will often appear cross-eyed. Eyes may seem to float towards the nose or far apart. The muscles around his eyes will strengthen to work as a team within about 8 weeks from birth.

Between 2 weeks and 2 months, your baby’s tear ducts will be developed and you’ll see real tears when he cries.

At about 3 months, your baby will start tracking moving objects with just her eyes, not turning her head. She’ll also begin reaching for things as she develops eye-hand coordination. Light sensitivity increases, so dim that nightlight.

By 5 months, your child will see the world in a fully 3-dimensional way and in good color. Studies show that children who crawl longer than their peers are able to use their eyes, hands and feet together more effectively than early walkers who did little crawling.

When your child celebrates his 5th birthday, his vision should be fully developed.

You can help your child develop good vision by:

• Decorating his nursery with bright, contrasting colors and shapes
• Change the location of the crib every week or so if possible, or place her head at different ends of the crib.
• Change items in the room frequently, giving him new visual stimulation
• Move objects – or yourself! – so your baby can practice tracking, reaching and moving.

Call your Alzein Pediatric Associates medical professional at 708-424-7600 immediately if you notice:

• eyes seem to cross or misalign after 2 months of age
• lack of tears when crying after 2 months of age
• eyes “jump”
• consistently watery eye
• extreme sensitivity to light
• red, inflamed or crusty eye
• whiteness in the pupil

We are always happy to help!

Newborn Hygiene Care

AlzeinPeds hygiene

There is so much information out there about your newborn; sleeping, eating, bonding, peeing, pooping and much more.

What seems to be lacking, however, is information about what else is contained in your child’s diaper. Parents should be aware of several things about their newborn’s genitals, both boys and girls.

Circumcision Care

The decision to circumcise your newborn boy may be based in your religion or culture, societal norms or health concerns. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that there are health benefits to circumcision, but hesitates about recommending it as a routine, standard procedure.

Research suggests boys who are circumcised have a lower risk of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases.

If you make the decision to have your son circumcised, it should be done as soon as possible. Some of the foreskin that covers the penis will be removed, exposing the glans and urethra opening. The procedure is very quick and a local anesthetic will be applied to minimize pain.

After the procedure, you may notice the penis is raw-looking or yellowish. At each diaper change, apply a liberal amount of petroleum jelly to the penis to prevent sticking to the diaper as it heals. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after each diaper change. Your son’s penis should heal quickly. If it has not healed within 10 days of the procedure, if you see any new bleeding or increased redness at any time, or if you still see a yellowish discharge after 7 days, call our offices.

Uncircumcised Care

Your son’s foreskin will eventually naturally retract from the tip of his penis, but there is no exact timetable for this. It could occur before your child turns two, or it might not happen until puberty. Do not force this retraction as it can cause tears in the foreskin, bleeding and severe pain.

As foreskin and penis separate, you may see white, pearly lumps under the foreskin. This is dead skin cells shedding and completely normal.

Until the foreskin retracts, keep the outside of the penis clean. As the foreskin retracts, it is important to clean under it regularly. Teach your son how to gently pull back the foreskin, wash the area underneath with mild soap and warm water, and then pull the foreskin back over the penis. This hygiene is especially important to perform daily – just like brushing his teeth – once he begins puberty and every day thereafter.

Your Daughter’s Care

Seeing blood in your newborn girl’s diaper can be upsetting, until you know that this discharge, along with any thick, milky substance is perfectly normal.

About 2 to 3 days after birth, a tiny menstrual period may appear, due to your daughter’s withdrawal from the hormones she was exposed to while in utero. Her labia major and clitoris (the areas outside of her vagina) may also be swollen and enlarged from the hormone exposure.

Avoid using soap, lotions, ointments or powders on your daughter’s genitals. Use warm water only and wipe any bowel movements away from her vagina. Gently wash the creases in her labia and understand that she has a natural cleaning system for the inside her vagina.

If the bleeding persists for more than a day or two, or if there is any foul odor from the discharge, call our office for an appointment.

When you have questions about your newborn’s health and wellness, we are here to help! Just call 708-424-7600 or visit alzeinpeds.com and click “Make An Appointment.” 

Your child is 2-1/2! That’s a milestone!

Thoughtful Little Girl

While it might not be a birthday, 30 months old is HUGE for your child. So many important markers should now be met – or very close to it. Ensuring that your child is on track, or getting early intervention for things that are concerning, is an important part of your child’s 30-month well visit.

Your Alzein Pediatrics medical staff will exam your child’s physical health with a complete exam, listening to heart and lungs, examining ears, eyes and throat, bone, spine and posture development and alignment. We’ll check your child’s height and weight and also his BMI (body mass index), as obesity issues can start at this age. We’ll make sure immunizations are up-to-date.

We’ll check for developmental milestones and make recommendations if we see something that could be of concern. Things we’ll look for and ask about include:

  • jump in place
  • dress with some assistance
  • use “I”, “me” and “you” when speaking
  • match shapes and colors
  • throw a ball using an overhand motion
  • identify body parts
  • show an interest and beginning ability to play with other children

Your child should be showing an interest in potty training, such as sitting on a potty chair and watching parents or siblings use the toilet. Your child should have a dry diaper for hours at a time, be understanding the physical urge to “go” and telling you when his diaper is soiled and needs changing.

We’ll discuss sleeping habits. Toddlers need about 13 hours a day, and may still be taking an afternoon nap.

Diet and eating habits will be discussed, but we won’t be troubled if you relate that your child eats little to nothing on some days, or only eats yellow foods on other days. Your job as a parent is to provide healthy, nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day; your child’s job is to determine for himself how much he actually needs to fuel his body at that time.

While you’re here, we’ll encourage to ask us about any struggles or questions you may be having at this time of your child’s life, whether it’s about physical issues, behavioral issues or developmental milestones. We are always here to support you!

30 months – 2-1/2 years old – is a big deal! When your child is near or just past that age, make an appointment with Alzein Pediatric Associates by calling 708-424-7600 or visiting alzeinpeds.com and clicking the yellow “Book an Appointment” button. 

Dr. Alzein Donates Skills to Children in Syrian Refugee Camps in Lebanon

HassanAlzein

Working with SAMS highlights human goodness for Dr. Hassan Alzein

– When confronted with poverty, violence and cruelty, Dr. Hassan Alzein looks in a different direction. He sees the kindness, compassion and selflessness of human nature amidst the tragedy.

Dr. Alzein, a pediatrician in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, is a founding member of SAMS, the Syrian American Medical Society. He recently completed a medical mission to Lebanon.

“One person can have such an impact. For instance, an oncology nurse from New York realized there is an urgent need for shoes in these refugee camps, so when she returned to the United States, she organized a project, collected thousands of shoes and sent them to Lebanon. What a difference she made,” says Dr. Alzein.

Dr. Alzein and SAMS have made quite a difference too. Founded in 1998, SAMS brings together thousands of healthcare professionals in the United States and around the globe, providing members with networking, educational, cultural, and professional services. While SAMS organizes and facilitates medical missions to provide healthcare to Syrians inside Syria as well as in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Greece, Lebanon camps are a special case. “This area is extremely fragmented. Most of the region is controlled by militias, but it’s difficult to understand who controls what. There is a great deal of instability and that is very dangerous. Refugees in these camps are desperate,” says Alzein.

“It took me years to collect my courage to go to Lebanon. It was only after seeing my colleagues going and then returning safely that I thought it was okay to go myself. It’s an unusual place for medical missions to go,” says Dr. Alzein.

More than 11 million Syria citizens have been killed or become refugees since Syria’s civil war began, creating the worst humanitarian crisis of this generation. Nearly 5 million Syrians are currently refugees. Over 1 million of these refugees are registered in Lebanon; that population is nearly a quarter of the population of Lebanon itself. About half of the refugees are children.

After spending his first two missions in 2015 and 2016 in clinics, working with SAMS and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), Dr. Alzein spent his time this year within the refugee camp itself. The camp designated a room for the physicians, surgeons and specialists to use as a clinic and the team started seeing patients.

In camp and in other locations, the team saw over 1,400 patients in just 5 days. Dr. Alzein himself examined and treated 229 children. They also participated in educational and social events to support the refugees.

“The health care facilities in Lebanon are not equipped to handle such a huge influx of people. The refugees are poor, so local doctors cannot devote too much time to helping them when they cannot pay. They have no transportation, so they cannot travel to clinics,” he said.

The children he sees have been acutely affected by their dire situation. “I’m speaking to a 4- or 5-year old and he is talking as if he is 12 or 13. There is a maturity there which is unhealthy. There are like little men instead of children. It’s not normal. These children have been robbed of their childhood.”

In fact, refugee children have been adversely affected by this crisis – tremendously. Despite the best efforts of adult refugees to set up schools and maintain educational standards, they have fallen years behind. They have suffered physical trauma and psychological trauma. They are typically malnourished and suffer from a larger incidence of illnesses than average. Children who have lost parents and guardians are at extreme risk of abuse and exploitation. Dr. Christine Latif of World Vision says, “The children of Syria have experienced more hardship, devastation and violence than anyone should have to in a thousand lifetimes.”

“In years past, I have seen children who are anxious and frightened in this living situation. Now, it is worse, because these children have become resigned to “this is my life”. We are past the acute phase and they are living with PTSD,” says Alzein.

Few children receive vaccinations, Dr. Alzein says, because vaccines require special handling and refrigeration in transport, impossible to achieve. He stresses that proper vaccination should be a priority and hopes the United Nations will address this situation soon.

“My job for these five days was to provide urgent care services – treat fevers, bacteria infections, dehydration. It is a challenge as proper medications and supplies are always an unknown factor. We are very limited in what we can bring into the camps,” he stated.

“We are scavengers,” Dr. Alzein says. “We survive on donations.” But instead of worrying about the lack of supplies, he is awed by the giving human spirit.

The best days, he says, are when the containers arrive. “People donate from all around the world. I was there last year when a container was opened and it was so wonderful. We were happy – unloading boxes and taking pictures.”

Any one of those containers might hold medications, medical hardware or medical equipment. SAMS techs dissemble, ship and then reassemble just about anything; dental chairs, x-ray and other diagnostic equipment, wheel chairs and more.

“When a physician’s office, clinic, surgical center or hospital is getting new equipment, we hope they consider donating to SAMS or any other NGO medical mission. Any equipment – no matter how small or large – is needed and will be gratefully accepted.”

Dr. Alzein and his practice, Alzein Pediatric Associates, have their own history of giving. Both Dr. Alzein and his wife, a registered pharmacist, volunteer on SAMS medical missions. Alzein Pediatric offices in both Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park are donation sites for SWADDLE, Southwest Area Diaper Depository for Little Ends. They are also registered Little Free Libraries, helping children become book owners and improving literacy rates.

It’s not just medical supplies that these displaced children and their families need. Those shoes, for instance, clothing, coats and blankets are all needed as well. Dr. Alzein says, “I’ve learned that when you ask, people really want to help. It’s what makes us human, what connects us around the world. When someone is in need, there is someone there to help.”

To learn more about medical missions or to donate, visit https://www.sams-usa.net/donate/ or call Dr. Alzein’s offices at 708-424-7600.

Help Your Child Make Friends With A Child With Autism

 

Making friends is one of our first joys in life, and we continue to feel that delight each time we add a new friend to our circle, no matter how old we get. For most children with autism, it’s extremely challenging to make a friend. Some parents of autistic children would say it’s nearly impossible.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, but we’ve decided to focus not on autism itself in this message but to helping your child extend that joy of friendship to a child with autism. In the process, your child will learn valuable lessons that will give them a lifetime of joy as well.

First, remember that children learn by example. Treat and discuss any differently-abled child or adult with compassion and kindness. Explain to your child that all kinds of brains work all kinds of ways – and none of those ways make a person less or “wrong”.

Tell your child to look for the strengths in a potential autistic friend. What makes that particular child unique? What kinds of things is he interested in? What kind of common ground do they share? What can they talk about together? What can your child learn from this potential friend? Encourage your child to be vocally open with admiration for the autistic child’s skills and interests.

Begin by inviting the potential friend to your home, for a one-to-one playdate. Beforehand, explain to your child that accommodations may have to be made for his new friend. Loud music may be aggravating. The new friend may want to only play one game the entire visit. The new friend may make statements that your child (and you) perceive as rude.

Your child should understand that autistic children may think very literally and have a difficult time understanding politeness to spare feelings, certain forms of humor including good-natured teasing, and figures of speech. Your child should speak literally, asking “How are you feeling today?” instead of “What’s up?” which may confuse his new friend.

If your budding buddies are of school age, mention this merging friendship to teachers, so they can help guide both children in the classroom setting when possible.

Urge your child to include her new friend in group activities. Your child’s friend may want to avoid, or become upset with, games that are loud and chaotic. Suggest to your child that she encourage quieter, structured games when including her friend in larger groups. Make it very clear that you expect your child to stand up for her friend if someone begins teasing or bullying.

Many people mistakenly believe that children on the autism spectrum “don’t have feelings.” The truth is autistic children do experience love, joy, anger and more, but they have difficulty expressing feelings verbally. Tell your child that when his autistic friend begins to “melt down” or exhibits other non-typical physical behaviors, it’s his way of communicating feelings and frustrations that can’t yet be put into words.

Use role-playing to help your child help his autistic friend through social feedback. If your child is troubled that his autistic friend is doing and saying inappropriate things, explain that telling the friend the right thing to do or say – in a kind and polite way – will actually help the friend learn necessary skills.

As much as an autistic child will benefit from this friendship – and his parents be forever grateful to you and your family – your child will gain compassion, learn to value all individuals, besides gaining a marvelous friend!

Want to learn more about autism? Call our office at 708-424-7600 or visit our Facebook page and join in the conversation all month!