Shanti Kurada, MS, MBA
The latest CDC report tells us that 1 in 68 children have autism, which represents a 30% increase in the last 2 years. The report cites early intervention, insurance coverage across all states, and awareness building as being important factors for positive outcomes.
While all of the above are significant factors, an often overlooked piece of the solution is parent training. Our children may be receiving a range of therapies – speech, occupational, behavioral, etc. But what happens when they come home from school? Are the behavior plans put in place at school being implemented at home? Are the speech strategies being practiced at home?
There are obstacles to this, of course. Parents have multiple responsibilities. They have to balance working at their jobs, take care of their other children, cook meals, and run errands. Having a child with special needs throws this delicate balance out of whack. Every day can be unpredictable and anxiety inducing.
Another obstacle is our mindset. As a society, we leave health issues to the professionals and experts. Although expert knowledge and intervention can be tremendously helpful, parents must be not just involved as a token presence in meetings, but must be made an integral part of the intervention team. What they bring to the table is personal knowledge of their child, how she/he responds in a given situation; parents also provide a great platform for generalization.
The other big obstacle to parents being an active part of the intervention team is simply lack of serious training. Attendance at clinic meetings or reading the speech therapist’s daily report, is insufficient for a parent to be considered ‘trained’. Schools must offer workshops that parents and other care givers can attend to learn specific techniques through the use of case studies and videos. Yes, this adds another task on parents’ list of things to do, but is beneficial in both in the short and long term.
In the short term, parents can look forward to their children coming home from school, knowing that they are better able to handle any anxiety or tantrums. They will be able to reinforce the child’s learning at school and maintain consistency throughout the day. They can greatly help with generalization of goals.
In the long term, children on the spectrum can make more progress and have more opportunities to reach their potential. Parents who are unable to afford expensive therapies or whose insurance plans do not include extensive coverage, can save on cost by implementing some of the strategies at home. As the child transitions into a teen, there also comes a point when it is not practical to conduct in-home or in-center therapies. Teens on the spectrum need more generalized training and community experiences. Parents are in the best position to facilitate this through community outings, and visits to friends and extended family for holiday events. As a community, let’s make parents important contributors to their child’s progress.