Does My Child Have Autism? Autism Awareness and Action


by Mama Love

My neighbor’s son has autism. My friend’s son has autism. My cousin’s son has autism, albeit a high functioning form on the spectrum known as Asperger’s Syndrome. With such a significant influx of cases in the recent years, parents and families have become desperate for answers and have started to take action.

April is ‘National Autism Awareness Month’ as dedicated by Autism Speaks, the largest autism science-and-advocacy organization in the U.S. whose mission is to change the future for all who struggle with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The organization is dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder.

People with Asperger's Syndrome are often preo...

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Autism Speaks defines autism as a general term to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). The other pervasive developmental disorders are PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Many parents and professionals refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

After first becoming a parent, I learned everything I could about early childhood development, vaccinations and schedules, epidemics and every other childhood disease, disorder or syndrome out there. What alarmed me most was discovering the statistics and prevalence of autism.

Autism statistics as per the Centers for Disease Control:

  • 1 in 110 children in the U.S. has an ASD, an ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’
  • 600 percent increase in just the past 20 years
  • Autism remains the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world

There are many debated theories as to the cause of autism from physical to environmental to genetic. And while there is no known cure, treatments such as a specialized diet, behavior and communication therapies and medications have been used to remedy symptoms and in some cases reverse the condition.

It is said that the signs of autism start to appear in a child most commonly between the ages of two and three years old. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects

Early detection is key and seeking out and talking to others in similar circles can be helpful.  Trust your gut instinct and talk to your pediatrician, a holistic practitioner or even an autism specialist if you have even the slightest concern regarding your child’s behavior. If you are curious to know more about autism, you can start by researching more information here:

Autism Speaks

Autism Society

Centers for Disease Control

Adventures in Autism

The Help Group

Special Needs Network




A colorful ORANGE dinner


by justJENN

I like to make dinner fun by involving the kids in meal planning as well as cooking. By doing that it helps introduce them to foods they may not eat otherwise. Since we do a lot of art projects, color is a big topic with us and the boys got to talking about how different colored foods tasted.  We decided it would be fun to have an all ‘orange’ dinner!

  • Carrot Cheese Burgers
  • Sweet Potato Fries
  • Carrots
  • Blood oranges
  • Milk (not orange)
  • Passion Orange juice

I am NOT a fan of hiding veggies in other foods which I know is the trend right now. I think kids should know what they’re eating and that knowledge makes them much more open to trying new foods. Rather than being sneaky about it I tell the kids all the ingredients that are going into their meal. So the idea of carrots in their burger had them a little dumbfounded, but they were excited to see how it would turn out.

The carrots give the burger a lot of texture and good flavor and paired with baked sweet potato fries you have a healthy but more importantly, a FUN  meal!









Carrot Burgers


1 pound ground beef

1/4 cup onion, minced

1/2 cup carrots, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce





In a large bowl combine the beef, onion, carrots, garlic, brown sugar and soy sauce. Season well with salt and pepper.

Form patties – I like to leave a bit of an indent in the the center so that the middle cooks faster.

On a grill or a hot grill pan, cook the burgers to your desired temp.

Top with cheese and serve on buns with accompaniments.


Sweet Potato Fries


2 sweet potatoes cut into fries

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt




Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

On a non-stick foil lined baking sheet, toss the cut potatoes with the olive oil and garlic salt. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 30 minutes, and serve.


10 Kid-Friendly Things to Do at CicLAvia


A new and healthy way to explore Los Angeles is by participating in CicLAvia this Sunday. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., more than seven miles of streets between Boyle Heights and East Hollywood will be closed to vehicles so people can “walk, skate, play and ride a bike.”

CicLAvia encourages everyone to be more active, and brings attention to the many landmarks, businesses and activities people may miss while traveling by car.

CicLAvia is fun for all ages: More than 50 percent of last year’s participants were 10 and under.

Still curious? Here are 10 easy ways to make the CicLAvia experience fun, interactive and educational for the whole family:

1)     Get Outside – CicLAvia is all about being active outside. You can explore local neighborhoods any way you like: by foot, on a bike, scooter, skateboard, roller skates, or even pogo stick. Don’t own anything with wheels? Borrow one from a neighbor, or check out Neighborgoods to trade with others.

2)     Get Sporty – Set up your favorite sports match! Parks and areas all over will be open for games of soccer, T-ball, dodgeball or even hopscotch. You can even get creative and make up your own (grab some brooms and a tennis ball for a hockey match or have a jump rope race down the street). Find a family nearby and ask them to join in on the fun!

3)     Explore Nature – Along the CicLAvia route, you’ll find plenty of parks, including Hollenbeck, Shatto and MacArthur. Take some time out from your running, biking and hopscotching to explore the various flowers, trees and animals that surround each one. Hollenbeck also has a lake that’s home to many ducks, cranes and other bird species. See how many different ones you can find!

4)     Discover Downtown – Many of the buildings in Downtown L.A. have years of history behind them: Check out the Eastern-influenced architecture in Little Tokyo and Chinatown or step into the forest-like atmosphere at Clifton’s Cafeteria, serving Los Angelenos since 1931. City Hall was made with sand from every California county and water from the well of every California mission. Many other structures have quotes, faces or other gargoyles worked into the architecture. Can you spot them all?

5)     Get Cultured – Bet you didn’t realize that a seven- mile stretch of road could include so many cultural neighborhoods.The CicLAvia route incorporates Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Salvadorean, Bangladeshi, Armenian communities, just to name a few. Notice the difference in street art, architecture and food choices in each neighborhood – and then stop in various local businesses to find out more.

6)     Try New Foods – One of the best ways to learn about a new culture is through their food, and the options for exploring are endless along the CicLAvia route. Chew on mochi in Little Tokyo, pupusas along East Beverly or bibimbap in Koreatown. Sip on bubble tea in Chinatown or aguas frescas (fresh juices) in Boyle Heights. Walk through neighborhood markets and see if you can find new and different fruits or spices. You may discover something you like!

7)     Get Artsy – The CicLAvia route includes museums like the Japanese American National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and great local galleries in the Arts District — but some of the best art is on the street! Look for painted murals on local buildings, tiled art in Metro stations and unique sculptures around Downtown. CicLAvia’s site has a great guide here or see if you can find your own favorites.

8)     Make Your Own ArtCicLAvia encourages sidewalk chalk art! Break out the bucket and use the street as your canvas. CicLAvia has requested the sidewalk chalk be left at home this year, but there are plenty of other options: break out the camera and take memorable photos along the route, find rocks and leaves with unique shapes, or turn colorful fruit from a local vendor into art on a plate.

9)     Go on a Scavenger Hunt – Create a scavenger hunt or bingo game with potential items along the route (i.e. – a bike bell, a red ball, a duck, something that starts with a “Z”). Find a fun and interesting treat for the winner. (Download our CicLAvia themed bingo cards HERE)

10)    Chill Out – After you’ve finished your exploring, take a break in the shade and talk about everything you discovered throughout the day. Did you find a favorite new food or business? Did you make up a new game? Did you meet new friends? And most of all, would you do it again? We’re guessing he answer will be “yes.”


Teaching Your Child About Strangers Without Causing Fear


by Mama Love

The safety of my kids is something I think about constantly, as I’m sure it’s certainly a topic on every parent’s mind. When I was growing up, you could play outside in the front yard without parental supervision and leave the doors unlocked every night without worrying about intruders. Unfortunately, times have changed significantly.


My three kids are still very young, so I know I have many years of worry ahead of me before my babies enter the real world to fend for themselves.


Even the thought of something bad happening to my kids used to drive me to fits of anxiety, and watching the numerous safety awareness clips in our baby DVDs only made me more aware that these things could happen. Soon enough, my anxiety began to rub off on my children.


Instead of dwelling on the anxiety, I took action and ordered The Safe Side video so my kids could learn what to do if a stranger ever approached them. We all liked the video because it was fun and upbeat, with lots of sound effects, bright colors and entertaining scenarios. It even had a catchy song about safety that we learned.


We spent a a lot of time watching The Safe Side video together and talking about different situations, approaching it comfortably and with confidence. The anxiety my kids experienced slowly eased.


According to, talking about “stranger danger” or focusing on scary stories can increase fear and anxiety for everyone. Instead, tell kids in a matter-of-fact way that you believe most people are good — and this means that most strangers are good, but a few have problems, and should be avoided. also advises that young people learn best by actively participating. Practicing children’s personal safety skills increases their confidence and competence. It is important to do this in a way that is fun, but not scary.


Here are some educational safety tips that parents can use to help them be prepared, with out being paranoid.


1. Have a Child Safety/ID kit: A child safety or identification kit can include a fingerprint kit, hair DNA sample collection, dental records, an organized record of stats such as height, weight, color of eyes and hair and a recent color photo; you can also personalize and order an identification bracelet. ( download free template here)


2. Watch safety videos as a family: Safety videos can be very helpful in the first steps to educating your kids on how to identify a stranger and what to do if they get lost, or encounter an uncomfortable situation.


3. Talk to your child: Educate, inform and discuss. It’s never too early to start talking to your children about safety, strangers and how to be proactive instead of reactive. Knowledge creates confidence and could save a life. It’s important to create a dialogue or a question and answer time with your kids. Encourage them to ask questions, and listen carefully to their concerns.


4. Role play: Acting out different scenarios that could can be very helpful. For instance, what to do if they get lost in a store, incur bullying or are approached by a stranger.

5. Join Neighborhood Watch: Join your local neighborhood watch group, attend the meetings, and subscribe to their email list. This is a valuable way to learn about what is happening in your neighborhood and a great way to get to know your neighbors, if you don’t already.


6. Teach kids their name, address, phone number –Your child can escape, wander off or get lost in the blink of an eye; teaching them their full name, address and phone number can make all the difference should an emergency occur. If your child learns visually, write the telephone number down (in big numbers) and paste by the home phone. Practice repeating the information.


7. Calling 911 – Teaching your child to call 911 in an emergency is an important part of house safety rules. You’ve heard it on the news: “3-yr old saves mom with 911 song.” According to, the basic tenets are the same for teaching kids and adults to call 911: Know when to call, make sure the operator knows where you are located and don’t hang up. Teaching kids to call 911 should start as soon as they can use with the phone.


In one of my favorite videos about safety, “Kids & Strangers,” comprehensive, real-life scenarios are reenacted. John Hall, creator of ‘Kid Escape’s Grip, Dip and Spin’ method, (featured on CNN, The Montel Williams Show and, The Oprah Winfrey Show), physically demonstrates real , practical scenarios for what a child should do if he or she is approached by a stranger or grabbed by a predator.

Children’s safety always comes first, so be vigilant, proactive and start the process of being prepared early, so you can lessen the fear and create confidence. And remember, being uninformed is the scariest of all scenarios.



The Safe Side:

Kids & Strangers:

Kid Power –

John Hall’s “Kid Escape” (Grip, Dip and Spin)


justJENN Recipe: Cornflake Chicken


While strolling through the supermarket I allow my kids the luxury of choosing their own cereal, which can sometimes lead to some sugar-y choices.  So to balance it out I ‘cut’ the sugared cereal with healthy cereal! That way they still get their choice and I feel a little better about breakfast.

With so much cereal around, sometimes I like to use it up in different ways. One favorite around here is Cornflake Chicken. There’s something already kid-friendly about drumsticks and when you make them crunchy and bake them in a hot oven, it makes for a healthy, fun and delicious dinner. Especially when you get the kids involved in bashing the cereal into bits!

Cornflake Chicken Drumsticks


3 cups corn flakes
8 chicken drumsticks

1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Start by crushing the corn flakes. I like to put the cereal in a freezer bag and attack it with a rolling pin, a helpful child is good for this task. The finer the better.

In a bowl beat the egg, buttermilk and honey. Add the onion powder, garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Wash and pat dry the chicken. Dip the drumsticks in the buttermilk mixture to then roll in the crushed corn flakes to coat.

Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top. Lightly grease the wire rack with a little bit of oil, then place the drumsticks on top of the wire rack.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes to one hour, depending on your oven, until done. Serve!


Weekly Trip to the Farmers Market


by justJENN

Every week I take my kids to the Farmer’s Market. Luckily here in Los Angeles we have plenty of local markets to choose from with good produce available year round.

I like to involve the kids in meal planning: We walk the market, we taste samples, we talk about the different produce – what would taste good, what ‘color’ they want to eat that day – and all of that gets incorporated into our meals.

By choosing their own vegetables the kids feel involved and are more willing to try different foods. On this trip the veggie of choice was cauliflower. While we eat it plain all the time, we talked about different ways of cooking it and when I suggested we ‘cheese it up’ like mac n’ cheese, the kids were all for it!

If your child doesn’t like a particular food, try different cooking techniques or flavors. No one says you have to just eat broccoli boiled! By involving their ideas and changing things up, you open up a world of food options!

Cauliflower Gratin


1 head cauliflower

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon paprika

1 cup gruyere or Swiss cheese


freshly ground pepper

1 cup panko bread crumbs

½ cup parmesan cheese

Fresh from the market, cut the head of cauliflower into bite-sized florets.

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the cauliflower until tender – about 6-8 minutes. Drain.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and ready a 9×13 baking dish by greasing it with butter.

In a saucepan, melt the 2 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat, add the flour and stir constantly until combined – cooking through for about 2 minutes.

Add the milk and bring to a boil for about 2 minutes. Take off the heat and add the mustard, paprika and the cheese. Stir until thickened and combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the cauliflower in the prepped dish and pour the cheese sauce over.

Combine the panko crumbs and the parmesan and sprinkle on top of the cauliflower, adding bits of butter on top to brown.

Bake for 20 minutes, and serve.


Get Going on Childproofing Before Your Kid is on the Go


By Double Duty Mama

When my first son was born, we didn’t rush around trying to childproof our home. We figured, since all he did was lie there gurgling and pooping, we had plenty of time to make our place safe for him — and from him. Then, one day, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, he was on the move.

And into everything!

The DVD player, the cat food, the pots and pans cabinet, the toilet … everything he’d been eyeing from the safety of our arms and the bouncy seat was suddenly his to explore.

The first weekend after he learned to crawl, we found ourselves in the Babies R Us childproofing aisle, feeling absolutely overwhelmed. What was all this stuff? Did we really need it all?

We decided on what we hoped was a practical approach to safety, and bought electric socket covers, door stoppers, locks for the cabinets and the toilet, two baby gates and rubber bumpers for the sharp edges of our entertainment unit. My husband spent the rest of the weekend, electric drill in hand, fastening and screwing tight anything that moved. We used one gate to block the hallway from the main living area and the other, a multi-piece play yard, was wrapped around the other end of the living room to separate it from the kitchen.

We plopped him inside what became known as the Baby Zone and felt assured.

For about five minutes.

Because that’s how long it took him to figure out that he could use his head as a battering ram to move the play yard gates and get to the pebble-sized, choking-hazard cat food.

When I was pregnant with our second son, we remodeled the kitchen. After, I thought through where to put things, and made sure that anything in reach of a crawler and a toddler was safe. So, the cleaning fluids were behind locks, but my sons could play with the plastic mixing bowls and containers all they wanted.

Considering how active and curious my boys seemed, we were pretty lucky that we never had any major safety scares. Like most busy parents, my husband and I tend to be lazy and easily lose patience with things like complicated toilet locks; but we knew it was important to remain vigilant for our kids’ safety. You can’t put them in a bubble, but there are certainly easy steps you can take to ensure they stay safe in the place where they should be the most secure — your home.

Here are some tips to keep your house safe for your little ones:

  • Take a new look at your house from your baby’s level. Clear all surfaces at or below your chest.
  • Remove rubber tips from door stops. The small pieces are a common cause of choking in babies.
  • Drape cloth diapers over the door top to keep baby from shutting his or her  fingers  (or other limbs) in the door.
  • Keep pillows and loose blankets out of the crib until your baby is a year old.
  • Small children can easily drown in a toilet; invest in a toilet latch.
  • When running bath water, turn off hot water first so if baby turns on the faucet he won’t be burned by leftover water.
  • Things that can fit through a toilet paper tube can cause a young child to choke. Keep small items and hard foods or candy out of sight and reach.

For more tips and information on how to keep your kids safe at home, visit the Home Safety Council.


Grieving Assistance Centers – Los Angeles County


Sometimes natural coping skills may not provide the relief needed after a major loss. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms such as extreme depression, difficulty moving forward or returning to daily routines, withdrawal from life, or suicidal thoughts, it may be due to a condition known as complicated grief. The following centers in Los Angeles County may be able to provide counseling and further assistance:

Kaiser-Permanente Hospice
12200 Bellflower Blvd.
Downey, CA 90242
(562) 622-4317

Miller Children’s Hospital and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center
Todd Cancer Institute
2801 Atlantic Avenue
Long Beach, CA  90801

New Hope Grief Support Community
3443 San Anseline Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90808
(562) 429-0075

Hospice of the Conejo
80 E. Hillcrest #204
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
(805) 495-2145

ICAN National Center for Child Fatality Review
4024 Durfee Avenue
El Monte, CA 91732
(626) 455-4585

The Gathering Place
514 North Prospect Avenue #19
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 374-6323

Grief Recovery Institute
PO Box 6061-382
Sherman Oaks, CA 91413
(818) 907-9600

CHANGES: Grief Support for Grieving Children & Families
Pathways Hospice
3701 Michelson Street
Lakewood, CA 90712
(562) 531-3031

The Center for Grief and Loss for Children
924 West 70th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90044
(866) 74GRIEF

The Arnold C. Yoder Survivors Foundation
264 S La Cienega Blvd., #1007
Beverly Hills, CA  90211
(310) 684-3964

OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center*
1663 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 300
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 473-1511
Click here to read more about OUR HOUSE

Gary A. Garcia Foundation*
302 North Laveta Terrace
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 482-8500


Childhood Grief: Parenting Tips for Coping with Loss


The first time my kids experienced death was when their preschool teacher passed away from cancer. She was very private about her health – none of us even knew she was sick, other than the chronic back pain she clearly suffered with on a daily basis. She was a wonderful woman: loving, warm, friendly and all the things a teacher should be. She always lent an ear to listen to our troubles, a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on. She reminded me of my mother, a figure of safety and comfort. Plus, she was only in her 60s — it seemed like she had the whole world ahead of her.

So, when I received a text from another mom stating that the teacher was in the hospital and not expected to make it, the shock and sting sent tears to my eyes. I immediately sat my kids down and explained her condition. My kids responded differently. The oldest, who was five years old at the time, was clearly more sympathetic than my youngest, who seemed unfazed. Nevertheless, I made a special effort to make sure they felt safe and secure, letting them know that if they had any questions, they could ask me. The most important thing was that they knew I was there for them.

The teacher died a few days later. When the call finally came in, I was more prepared for the loss, although it is never easy to respond to it once it’s real. I choked up and, through tears, told my kids the news. That’s when my son did something completely surprising: he said he was sorry, hugged me and patted my back. I wondered how a 5-year old could be so mature. I made sure to talk with them in depth about the teacher, recalling the great things about her and how blessed we were to have her in our lives. My kids found comfort in knowing she was not suffering or in pain any longer.

“Parents need to know it’s okay to show their emotions in front of their children,” said Liz Hopkins, a Clinical Manager/Social Worker at a children’s mental health agency in Ontario, Canada. “They are role modeling that it is okay to express and show feelings.  This allows children to open up and share their feelings too.  Parents sometimes worry if they get too distraught, their children will feel they are out of control, and not be able to be there for the children.”

Grief is a normal emotional state.  Depending on a child’s age and developmental stage, they may not have the words or experience to express how they are feeling, and may show grief in different ways.

Whether it is a pet dying, a friend moving away or the loss of a family member, the following are recommendations for parents when their child has experienced a loss:

1. Pay attention to your child. Be there for them, pay attention to their feelings and encourage them to share their feelings. Let them know you are there for them anytime (they may not be ready to talk when you ask, but that doesn’t mean they won’t want to talk at some point).

2. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help. You may be surprised by what they would like help with. It may be as simple as just holding them, staying in their room until they fall asleep, helping them draw pictures or write a memorial story.

3. Encourage them to talk openly about their feelings and memories. Without any pressure, assure them that you are there for them whenever they need you.

4. Allow the child the opportunity to share their feelings. Sharing feelings does not have to be just through conversation. For example, your child could write a story, make a memory box or photo album, or draw pictures. Children need an avenue that works for them to get their feelings out — and talking doesn’t always work for everyone.

5. Encourage, allow and support the child’s involvement in any ceremony or celebration of the pet/person with whom they have lost.  Depending on the situation, it’s important to let them attend a funeral, a memorial service, church service, reception or even a tree planting. Trying to shelter children from the reality of death is not healthy or helpful. This is part of the normal grieving process and most children adjust better when allowed to participate in ‘goodbyes.’ Not including a child in this part of the process can leave them confused, upset, left out or angry.

Suggestions of what parents are encouraged not to do:

1. Omit unnecessary platitudes such as, “Oh don’t worry, everything will be ok; you will get through this we all do; we will get you a new pet; your grandma lived a good long life; there is no point in crying – that can’t bring your cat back.”  Those kinds of statements are not helpful to most children or people in general.

2. Don’t try pretending everything is fine or that it will ‘blow over’ as a way to help children forget the loss.

Some children adjust to loss with the support and help of family, friends or caregivers. Others can benefit from therapy, grief counseling or involvement in a bereavement group with other children who have had similar loss issues. The reality is that grief lasts for varying times for children.

Regardless of the type of loss, parents need to appreciate how deeply their children can feel and to let them express it in their own way, in their own time.  It can include crying, yelling, acting out or withdrawing.  There is no real right way to grieve, there are just many ways children express their feelings.  Kids can be incredibly resilient, but don’t mistake that for not grieving.


March is “Child Safety Month” at Ready. Set. Grow!


Now that February’s focus on oral health is wrapped up, we’re tackling two important issues in March: grieving and child safety.

Death is a subject we seldom like to talk about, and it tends to enter our lives without warning. Whether the loss is a friend, family member or pet, death can be a very confusing and mystifying time for young children. In partnership with Sesame Street’s When Families Grieve” campaign, we’ll give you resources and strategies to support, educate and guide your child, and your family, through the healing process.

Keeping children safe from abuse and neglect is another First 5 LA goal, as outlined in our Strategic Plan. This month, we’ll deliver tips and advice on household safety, baby proofing and injury prevention, as well as resources and information on post-partum depression and mental health issues.

Keep your eyes on our blog, as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages, for daily tips, news and links to local and online and support.