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What to Do When Plans Change? 5 Tips for Children with Autism

What to Do When Plans Change? 5 Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Colorado Center for Assessment and Counseling offers psychological evaluations and counseling for children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

You had a plan. You packed the car. Everyone knew the time that they needed to get ready. You walked through how everything was going to go. And then…plans changed. For whatever reason, they cancelled soccer. Most children become upset by change, but children with autism spectrum disorder have a much harder time. The word for you is: inflexibility. Inflexibility describes the supposed stubbornness and rigidity of children with autism spectrum disorder. This rigidity often shows itself during times of unexpected changes, major transitions, and the moments between rest and action.

This inflexibility has little to do with preference. In fact, research shows inflexibility in children with autism is hardwired in their brains. It’s a direct response to anxiety and stress. The difficulty comes into play whenever tasks or expectations switch suddenly. The focus of their mind is to get in the car and go to soccer. That’s an easy place to be, and their brains are at rest. But if things change, many children with autism spectrum disorder melt down. This is because switching from rest to action is far more difficult for our children with ASD. And this difficulty grows with every change of plan and unmet expectation.

Children with autism spectrum disorder can be  restricted, inflexible, and even obsessive in their behaviors, activities, and interests. So, our goal is to train and coach them into flexible thinking. In order to support and encourage children with these difficulties, here are 5 tips to help navigate times when plans change:

1.  Have a “Calm Down” Routine

Everyone must learn how to regulate their emotions. While we all experience emotional swings whenever we encounter difficulty, teaching emotional regulation can be a lifesaver for children with ASD. Whether that’s knowing when to take deep breaths, or giving themselves a hug with their eyes closed, the goal is for your children to know that they can control their emotions. So, when plans change, and your child faces that difficulty, teach them how they can calm down. Here are a couple ideas:

  • Deep breathing with eyes closed
  • Giving themselves a hug
  • Rubbing their hands together

Be sure to practice this calm down routine a couple times a day, and before any kind of predictably difficult situation. They will learn how to regulate their emotions safely, and it will become a natural response for them instead of outbursts or tantrums.

2. Give Warnings and Prepare Where You Can

With enough notice, most people can navigate change easily. If you give your child a straightforward, but calm, heads up of change, then they can have the space to switch their thinking. Then, when they begin to walk through the change, stay close and be supportive. Before you confirm a plan, it can also help to have a “plan B” just in case things don’t go the way everyone hoped.

If your child is moving to a new school, visit the school several times. Give plenty of time and attention to your child’s adjustment. If the first visit is a quick drive through the school’s parking lot, and the fifth visit walking through the halls, and the eighth visit is finally meeting his new teacher, then that transition will go far more easily for everyone involved.

3. Minimize Change As Much A Possible

If you’re renovating your house, and everything is out of the ordinary, it’s not a great time for your child to deal with much else. If they just started a new after school program, then you may want to hold off Any transition takes time and energy to handle. So it is helpful to have as few unnecessary transitions and changes as possible. While training your child in accepting small changes to routine throughout the day in a small scale, big changes can affect your child deeply and for a long time.

4. Find Ways of Communicating Frustration Appropriately

Be the example for your children and share how you positively navigate change and stress. Tell stories of times you felt scared because of change, and how everything worked out just fine. If something is bothering them, give them the space to talk with you. Then, ask helpful questions along the way. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong?” ask questions like, “How are you feeling about moving next month?” The more they understand that they can talk with you, the less they will act out inappropriately, because now they have a safe space to release all those feelings.

5. Involve Them Everywhere You Can

If you’re moving, let them pick out the paint color of their new room. If they’re starting at a new school, let them pick out their clothes for the first day. And if there is a sudden change in plans, have a couple “plan b” choices. This kind of involvement is not only empowering, it gives them a level of ownership and control that they may not have experienced otherwise. These choices are ways that your children can protect themselves and work against the overwhelming feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. By involving them directly, you give them power and agency in a world that can sometimes feel out of their control.

We’re Here to Help!

Our clinicians specialize in treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children, teens, and adults at our office in Fort Collins. Feel free to give us a call to learn how counseling or a psychological evaluation can help. Call us today schedule an appointment. You can reach us at (970) 889-8204 or contact@coloradocac.com.

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family counseling fortcollins

Is Family Counseling Right for Your Family? 5 Signs It May Help

When parents call our office, there’s a problem and they’re looking for help. Many parents want resources and support for just one of their children. For specialized services like psychological testing, you need an individualized focus on one child. But for some circumstances, it helps to have everyone in the family on the same page.

What is Family Counseling?

Family counseling is a particular approach to psychotherapy. Instead of addressing problems on an individual basis, family counseling recognizes that the problem impacts a number of people–not just one person. Counseling sessions can look like the whole family sitting together, or it can be many appointments spread out for each person. Whatever it looks like, the support is for all family members and really works on the family system as the means for change rather than just targeting one person in the family. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what the best first step should be. If you are unsure whether or not family counseling will help your family, ask yourself these questions:

Is Communication Difficult?

Instead of healthy and direct communication between every family members, some families have developed this intricate network of communication. Some families just don’t talk to each other. Whatever the reason, strain in communication leads to misunderstanding, resentment, and anxiety. If your child doesn’t understand what’s going on, that places a great deal of fear and confusion in their mind. Many children interpret a lack of communication as a sign that it’s up to them to take care of themselves. Trust is hard to come by when people can’t talk to each other.

Can Everyone Be In the Same Room?

Maybe this is your family: Everyone comes home from school and work and goes into their own private space to do their own thing. The tv is on, but no one is really watching it, everyone is on their phones, and no one really thinks about being together. Then, when a family member tries to get everyone together, it just feels awkward. It is important for everyone to have the space to decompress after a long day, and develop their own individual interests. Being at home can become a very isolating and individualized. Sometimes families need support and solutions to shift into healthier relating. Sometimes you just need one good idea to get everyone in the same room.

Does It Feel Like Everyone is Always Busy?

It can seem like everyone is always doing something. Everyone has their own agenda to keep. While life is busy for children, especially during the school year, parents can fill up their days and nights too. This can get to a point where everyone is so busy that people just don’t see each other. Parents simply say hello and goodbye as their schedules intersect. And the hope is that things will calm down at some point. But as we all know, things won’t calm down. With life is busy, children struggle with anxiety, because they have no down time to reset. They struggle with sleep. Their emotions are short. And there’s more outbursts at school.

A family schedule can overtake a family. So, if your family has a value of being together and loving each other, then you need to be intentional in resisting the constant drive of activity. It is so easy to fill every minute of every day with something. Oftentimes the solution is figuring out what your family’s priorities are and then making decisions as to what stays on the schedule and what doesn’t. Sometimes you need support in slowing down.

Is One Family Member’s Problem/Issue Affecting Everyone?

Everyone affects everyone. If a member of your family has an issue or situation where they need individual counseling, then your family may also need counseling. This is especially true if a family member has these following issues.

  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Suicidal attempts or ideation (thinking and planning)
  • A debilitating disease or ongoing sickness
  • Personality disorders (borderline personality, narcissism, etc.)
  • Emotional disorders (bipolar, anxiety, depression, etc.).

Has There Been A Significant Event or Trauma?

While everyone experiences grief and pain differently, a family shares in those experiences. Whether there was a death in family, a divorce, or a traumatic experience, it can make such a difference if the entire family has support through the grief process. Sometimes children need the space and tools to express how the event made them feel. Moreover, parents need ideas on how to navigate their children’s emotions. Grief and tragedy don’t have to be isolating. A good family counselor will be able to show you how something like this can bring your family that much closer together.

We’re Here to Help!

The Colorado Center for Assessment and Counseling offers family counseling, parent guidance, and counseling for children as young as 5 years old. Don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule a free 30 minute consultation with one of our child specialists or family therapists. Call us: (970) 889-8204, or email us: contact@coloradocac.com.

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How to Beat Morning Chaos

How to Beat Morning Chaos with Children with ADHD

Most parents who come to our office in Fort Collins all share the same issue – mornings are tough! Whether it’s getting ready for school, getting dressed and cleaned, or just trying to maintain some level of organization, parents are looking for solutions for the chaos of a weekday morning. Specifically speaking to parents of children with ADHD and other executive functioning disorders, there can be so many ideas floating around as to what may work. So, while you figure out what will work with your children, here are a few practical, simple ideas that can support you on those challenging weekday mornings:

Organize as much as you can the night before

If you can prepare lunch, get clothes together, and plan the next day before your alarm goes off in the morning, that morning will have less chaos to manage. The lunch is already in the fridge. Clothes are hanging on the chair. And everything is out in the open, ready to make your morning that much easier. This way,  your child doesn’t have to deal with making all these decisions as he’s waking up.

If getting to sleep the night before is challenging for your kiddo, check out our blog on sleep solutions.

Make a morning checklist

What are the five things that need to happen every morning? Instead of YOU being the reminder, put together a simple checklist that she can see and understand quickly.

  • Shower
  • Brush teeth
  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Get ready to go (backpack? Lunch? shoes?)

If these things need to happen every day, how can you help your child make this happen every day? And how can all of this happen without compounding chaos or stress?

Routine, Routine, Routine

If bedtime happens at the same time every night, and the morning routine happens at the same time every morning, children know what to expect. Set the alarm for the same time, have the same game plan, and set the expectation that every morning looks like every other morning. Life is easier when there’s a routine.

Does your child actually want to do this?

That’s a strange question, right? What child who knows better actually wants to go to school? Well, there’s a big difference in attitude, participation, and patience when your child is on board. You’ve never seen a kid get ready faster when they want to go do something. So, is there some kind of reward or positive aspect of the day that will give your child some desire to get ready?

We’re Here to Help!

Our clinicians specialize in treatment of ADHD in children and teens at our offices in Fort Collins. Feel free to give us a call to learn how counseling and psychological evaluations can be helpful, or call to  schedule an appointment. You can reach us at (970) 889-8204 or contact@coloradocac.com.

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Top 3 Mental Health Issues for College Students

Top 3 Mental Health Issues for College Students

Top 3 Mental Health Challenges Facing College Students

Our office is across the street from several of the buildings for Colorado State University, and we’re a short walk away from the main transport hub and bike trail for CSU students. So we see a lot of college students. Whether they come to us for psychological testing or counseling, we see several consistent issues and challenges for many students.

With there being so much pressure with college, there can be a tendency for students to ignore or deny very real mental health challenges. Either they think they do not have the time or money to pursue support, or they think that how they are feeling is normal and just part of the stress of university life. The fact is that if left untreated, some mental health challenges can become debilitating and serious.

Here are the Top 3 Mental Health Challenges Facing College Students:


Stress is a part of a healthy life. Simply feeling stressed or anxious does not mean you have an anxiety disorder. But if stress and anxiety begin to interfere with your daily life, stopping your ability to function normally (unable to breathe in the moment of stress, can’t sleep, things like that), or cause incredible feelings of fear and dread, it may be worth looking for some help.

You’re not alone in feeling this way. Almost 40 million people over the age of 18 are affected with anxiety disorders, but only 1/3rd of those people seek help.

Here are some of the most common symptoms for anxiety disorders:

  • Feelings of stress and apprehension
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fearfulness and dread
  • Sweating and dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Frequent upset stomach or diarrhea

While every college student might get anxious, or experience stress around exams, if you begin feeling riddled with guilt or experience frequent anxiety or panic attacks, this could be cause for concern. Distinguishing the difference between regular stress and a disorder can be difficult, so it is best to seek out help if you feel you might be developing an anxiety disorder.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you experience anxious or worrisome thoughts on a daily basis?
  • Are you plagued by fears others perceive as unfounded or irrational?
  • Do you avoid everyday social activities because they cause you anxiety?
  • Do you experience sudden heart-pounding panic attacks?
  • Is your anxiety interfering with your school work, social life and family?
  • Do you have difficulty sleeping?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may want to consider pursuing counseling or a psychological assessment that can help determine if you are experiencing an anxiety disorder.


Depression is the number one reason students drop out of college. While we all feel depressed from time to time, constant feelings of depression, helplessness, detachment, and suicidal thoughts, if left untreated, can have dire consequences.

Many people tell new freshmen that college is “the best four years of your life!” There is a greater freedom to explore who you are and what you want to be about. But with all the excitement there are the challenges of making friends, getting along with roommates, coursework and projects, being away from home, the pressures of graduation, grades, job security, and figuring out your life once college is completed. That mixture of freedom and pressure can leave many people feeling helpless, lost, and feel like everything is out of control and they are doing everything they can to keep up. All of this, if left untreated, can result in depression.

While everyone can have a bad day, or times when life just feels overwhelming, most people can bounce back. But if those days become weeks, and ordinary things like getting out of bed or daily hygiene become a struggle, there is a cause to seek help.

Here are some common signs of depression that may warrant seeking help:

  • You are not enjoying activities you once loved.
  • You no longer attend classes or social outings.
  • You experience extreme anger or sadness over relationships.
  • You react negatively or with apathy to most things.
  • You find yourself thinking or talking about death or suicide.
  • You simply feel out of control over your emotions.

If you are unsure that you’re dealing with depression, ask yourself the following:

  • Have you experienced extreme sadness or hopelessness?
  • Does your family have a history of depression?
  • Have you turned to heavy drinking or drug use to feel normal?
  • Do you find yourself thinking a lot about death or suicide?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you should seek help. Most college campuses have mental health services for treating depression. If you ever experience any urgent thoughts of suicide or self-harm, go to an emergency room, call 911, or ask for help. There are plenty of people all around ready and willing to help you. If you are in Fort Collins, we recommend going to the Crisis Walk-in Clinic at 1217 Riverside Ave, or calling the Colorado Crisis Line: 844-493-8255.


Do you remember when you were in elementary school, and they warned you that college is full of dangerous drinking and drugs, and that if you weren’t careful you could be hurt, killed, or addicted because of it? Well, it turns out they weren’t lying. Much of the social aspects of college life can become incredibly dangerous for students. While many students who participate in drinking and drug use do not develop and addiction, many do.

Genetics contribute to the likelihood of an addiction, especially if there is a history of alcohol or drug abuse in one’s family. If you find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol more frequently to cover over feelings of stress or sadness, you should seek help.

If you are concerned for yourself or a friend, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you drink to relieve stress or suppress issues?
  • Has your drinking or drug use interfered with your relationships with others?
  • Have you withdrawn from activities or school work?
  • Does your life now basically revolve around drug or alcohol use?
  • Have you developed a change in personality?
  • Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, distressed or get in a fight?
  • Have you ever blacked out from drinking or drug use?
  • Has a friend or family member expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use?
  • Do any of your blood relatives have an addiction to drugs or alcohol?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, or believe you have an addiction, seek help. Addiction is a serious growing crisis for college students today, and can be effectively treated with the help of a trained healthcare professional.

We’re Here to Help

Our clinicians specialize in treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Addiction for college students at our offices in Fort Collins. Feel free to give us a call to learn how counseling could be helpful or to schedule an appointment. You can reach us at (970) 889-8204 or contact@coloradocac.com.

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How To Have a Difficult Conversation

How To Have a Difficult Conversation

So much of what we see and hear on the news or online involves a great deal of high energy and emotion. But so little of it actually helps people relate well to one another. It can be so difficult to have a difficult conversation. So we wanted to offer a few helpful suggestions and tips to help you navigate a challenging conversation. Here are 4 tips:

1. Listen Without an Agenda

Have you ever caught yourself doing this? Someone is talking to you, but you realize you’re just thinking about what you will say as soon as they stop talking. We all do this, but since we’re not on a debate stage, it’s not helpful. Relationships aren’t contests; you’re actually on the same team. So, if you catch yourself doing this, just ask that they repeat what they said. What they have to say is important to you, whether you agree with it or not.

2. Take Your Time

So often, we feel like we have to fight through a difficult conversation because it’s right in front of us. Take a break. Say something like: “You know, I’m feeling really strong emotions right now, and I need a minute. Can we put this on pause so I can listen better?”

No one argues well when they’re tired, when they’re stressed, and when they’re hungry. So, if you notice that you are not at your best to manage a difficult situation well, admit it. See if you can talk about after you’ve had your coffee. You’re not putting the other person out. Actually, you’re showing a great deal of respect for them because you want to be fully present. You show how you care for them by giving them your best self.

3. Repeat, Rephrase, and Remind

When walking through an argument or a difficult conversation, often people do not feel heard or understood. When this happens, we end up defending ourselves over and over again, because we aren’t feeling understood. One excellent way of managing this is by simply rephrasing and repeating what the other person said.

“So, what I’m hearing is that it’s really important to you that we manage our money well. Is that right?”

Doing this takes more time, and it can get frustrating to stop and repeat everything that’s said. But the goal you want to achieve is to hear the other person. They want to be understood and respected just like you. This keeps emotions in check and helps support your desire to listen without an agenda. If everyone is heard, everyone can be on the same page.

4. Use “I think/I feel” Statements

Here’s a question: Who is responsible for how we feel? We are the only ones responsible, but if we are not careful, we can communicate otherwise. Instead of saying, “You make me so angry!” say, “When I don’t think I’m understood, I feel frustrated.” This simple switch communicates a couple important things:

  1. You are not blaming another person or making them responsible for how you feel.
  2. You are simply acknowledging how you’re affected.

Keeping your emotions your responsibility, gives the other person the chance to change their behavior on their own. It’s a simple way to respect one another.

We’re Here to Help!

The Colorado Center for Assessment and Counseling offers individual counseling services for relationships and conflict resolution in our Fort Collins office. If you want more practical tools, schedule a session with one of our licensed therapists. Contact us today to schedule an initial appointment. Email us at: contact@coloradocac.com or call our offices at (970) 889-8204.

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Does My Child Need an IEP or a 504?

Does My Child Need an IEP or a 504?

When parents call our offices, they often want to find support for their child at school. Oftentimes teachers and administrators struggle with identifying proper supports for children, not because of a lack of knowledge or resources, but usually due to a lack of clarity regarding a child’s specific needs and challenges.

After a child completes a psychological evaluation with us, we provide a number of resources, referrals, ideas, learning strategies, and any clinical diagnoses to parents. These are like a tool belt for parents and teachers as they step into providing help at home and at school. One of the most common questions we hear is, “Will this help my child get an IEP?”

What is an IEP?

An IEP (Individualized Education Program) is a legally binding document that addresses your child’s unique learning issues and includes specific educational goals. According to federal law, the school must provide everything documented in the IEP.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that public schools create an IEP for every child who qualifies (qualification is determined with rigorous evaluation). Children from age 3 through high school graduation, or a maximum age of 22 (whichever comes first), may be eligible for an IEP.

Here’s a brief overview of what an IEP must include, by law:

  • A statement of your child’s present level of performance (PLOP)—how your child is doing in school at the time of the implementation of the IEP.
  • Your child’s annual educational goals.
  • Special education supports and services the school will provide to help your child reach his goals.
  • Modifications and accommodations the school will provide to help your child’s progress.
  • Accommodations your child will be allowed when taking standardized tests.
  • How and when the school will measure your child’s progress toward annual goals.
  • Transition planning that prepares teens for life after high school.

What is a 504 plan?

504 plans fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is the part of the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against public school students with disabilities,which includes students with learning and attention issues (among other concerns). The goal is to “remove barriers” to learning. Students with a 504 plan usually spend the entire school day in a general education classroom.

Who qualifies for a 504 plan? Anyone who…

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that “substantially” limits one or more major life activity (like reading or concentrating).
  • Has a record of the impairment. (i.e., formal diagnosis from a medical or mental health professional)
  • Is regarded as having an impairment, or a significant difficulty that isn’t temporary.

504 plan qualifications cover a wide range of issues, including ADHD and learning disabilities. However, Section 504 doesn’t specifically list disabilities by name. Also, having a disability doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for a 504 plan. First the school has to do an evaluation to decide if a child’s disability “substantially” limits his ability to learn and participate in the classroom.

What does a 504 plan contain?

There’s no standard 504 plan required by the law like an IEP. Every school district handles it a little differently. Generally speaking, a 504 plan should include the following:

  • Specific accommodations, supports or services.
  • Names of the school professional that will provide each service.
  • The name of the person responsible for ensuring the 504 plan is implemented.

A 504 plan may include specific instruction in your child’s classroom. It can also provide related services like speech or occupational therapy or even counseling. 504 plans are less detailed than an IEP, and do not include annual goals and other specific supports.

So, Does My Child Need an IEP or a 504?

Knowing your child needs support is a great first step. But it is far better to know what kind of support your child needs specifically and clearly. While he may need help with reading, that support can look very different depending upon his unique needs. Before the IEP’s and 504 plans are implemented, the best option a parent can consider is pursuing a psychological evaluation.

Our process is not only in-depth and specific to your child, it can greatly aid in opening the right doors to the right services for your child. The clinical reports we provide are oftentimes the basis for implementing learning accommodations (both IEPs and 504 plans) for many children in both public and private school settings. 

Our clinicians specialize in psychological testing to support IEPs and 504s at our offices in Fort Collins. As school gets started, now is an excellent time to pursue a psychological evaluation for your child. We can provide clinical reports and diagnoses to you before your child falls too far behind, which will give you a head start in pursuing an IEP or 504 accommodations. Feel free to give us a call to learn how counseling could be helpful or to schedule an appointment. You can reach us at (970) 889-8204 or contact@coloradocac.com.

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