Autism parenting,  Autism Spectrum Disorder,  Diagnosis,  Early Intervention,  Inspiration,  Interview

A Conversation With Kathie Sarles M.Ed, HRC Early Childhood Specialist

I attended a positive parenting class series at the Harbor Regional Center under the instruction of Kathie M. Sarles, M. Ed., Early Childhood Specialist. She has been working in the field for twenty years, is a parent of two grown children, a Certified Early Childhood Special Education Teacher, a Certified Educator of Infant  Massage CEIM, an Advanced Transdisciplinary infant/family Mental Health Practitioner and Trained in the Brazelton Touchpoints Method. Read more about her background and insights on early childhood parenting on her blog:

The positive parenting class was deeply enlightening to say the least; I learned about the power of “yes” and affirmation, the key role of mindfulness in effective parenting, different strategies for managing behavior at different phases from 0-5, the power of giving your child choices and limits while still remaining decisive and firm, and specific techniques to apply in dealing with daily young child behaviors, among other things. We can be positive parents while still being effective disciplinarians.

I asked Kathie some questions about autism, behaviors and early intervention, and these are her answers.

What are some of the common challenges that children with Autism encounter when it comes to social communication?  What are some of the way that parents can help manage these challenges?

First, I want to remind parents that children diagnosed with Autism are on a spectrum; no one size fits all answer is correct.  Most children however, have difficulty with a variety of social communication skills like: eye contact, reading facial cues or body language, using spontaneous words to initiate interaction and/or just being aware of others.  When working on skill development with children on the spectrum, start with what is relevant: family. Within your daily routine include social greetings: Hello, Hi or good morning to all members of the family daily. Use sign language or visuals to help your child bridge the communication gap.  Engage in play with your child, beginning with their preferred interests and say, MY TURN, and actually take a turn with the “game”. Finally practice what your therapist is showing you. Parents are the best teachers and our homes make your child feel safe.

In your class, you teach mindfulness parenting to your students. What can special needs parents learn from mindfulness?

  Mindfulness is just taking a moment to clear your head of all the clutter and be present for what is in front of you.  As parents we experience a bombardment of stimulus from our children. Learning how to take a moment to think and respond is essential.  Mindfulness and daily breathing techniques will give you a more patient attitude and allow you to problem solve issues as they come up. For more information: Mindful Discipline by Shapiro and White.

What is your message to parents with a newly diagnosed child who may still be struggling with the diagnosis?

I may not be qualified to answer this question as I am not a parent of a child with a disability.  I do tell parents however, that this diagnosis helps the therapists increase services and truly get to know your child in a more complete way, which will help with increased development overall.  I also suggest to parents to accept their grief and their anger and to work through it with family or a professional.

How can early intervention help in the lives of young children with Autism?

We all know that our baby’s brains are the most flexible and grow the most from birth to age five.  At birth a baby’s brain is 30% developed and by age three it is 80% and by age 5 it is 90%! The growth from birth to five is amazing!  This is the time to take action. Children with a diagnosis of Autism or any other diagnosis benefit greatly with intervention. Parents learn through participating with the intervention how to integrate strategies into the day.  It is beneficial for the whole family. A resource for learning about the baby’s brain is : Brain Rules for Babies by John Medina.

A good website for positive practice around the diagnosis go to:  Profectum is a organization that offers both parents professional training and current research.

What is the most important thing you have learned about parenting as an early childhood specialist and parent?

There is no perfect parent and that is okay.  We all make mistakes and have moments we would like to take back.  These “bad days” are days we can reflect on and learn from. There is a term that we use in our profession: “rupture and repair”: there are times when our relationships with our children or with the adults in our lives have a break or a rupture. When that happens we need to acknowledge that and attempt to repair the break.  John Gottman PhD. Discusses this a bit more in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Building Relationships and trust is key to being the best parent you can be.

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