Your Child is Being Treated for Autism. What’s Your Role?
Parents of children and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have many roles and responsibilities.
The first responsibility is to immediately seek support from your primary care physician and request a screening if you believe your child is experiencing intellectual or developmental delays that are interfering with day-to-day living activities or with learning at school. Truthful reporting of symptoms, behaviors, past illnesses, hospitalizations, medications and family history is critical to properly diagnose and treat autism.
Once ASD is diagnosed, treatment is likely to include behavioral therapy based on principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA), the most commonly used and effective model to help children deal with the challenges of autism.
Parents or other primary caregivers are the pillar of a behavioral treatment program. You play an important role because you know your child the best. Here are 7 ways you can help ensure your child’s treatment is as effective as possible:
- Be clear about what you can commit to the process.
At the onset of a behavioral treatment program, your service provider will explain how the process works, including the clinically recommended hours for treatment per week in the home and/or community, and how you can help your child between sessions. Your commitment to the recommended hours is crucial for the success of the treatment. If your availability does not allow you to maximize the treatment hours, inform your service provider immediately. This will determine the treatment approach for your family.
- Take parent training at the same time the child is undergoing therapy.
Parent training is essential. In training, parents learn how to work with their child during therapy sessions. Parents can also receive one-on-one training in a clinic or at home, where they work directly with the clinician to learn how to apply ABA principles throughout their daily routine.
Depending on who is covering the costs for your child’s treatment, participating in parent training may be required as a condition of treatment. In addition, most service providers require parent training for all parents of children in their treatment program. In training you’ll learn even more about what to expect from behavioral therapy and how to support your child during treatment, including how to maintain the program outside of sessions.
- Be an active, honest participant in the therapeutic process.
This includes being present for the therapy sessions at home, being an active observer of the child’s behavior, participating during sessions, and sharing what happens during their day with your ABA team. Your observations and collaboration as a parent are continually helpful to the clinical team to understand what triggers certain behaviors, which strategies are working best to help, what’s not working, and which reinforcing techniques the child is most responsive to.
- Stick to the treatment plan, and reinforce the treatment instructions and lessons with your child.
Children best learn new or replacement behaviors through consistency, repetition and reinforcement. Adhere to the treatment plan as best you can. Always seek to clarify and ask questions when you are not sure how to implement strategies. There will be days when you don’t follow through. That’s okay. Stay encouraged; no one is consistent 100% of the time.
- Be collaborative and inform the teacher of your child’s treatment.
Typically, students with ASD have an individualized education program (IEP) at school, designed by the IEP team to best support learning at school. To be sure your child’s IEP and behavioral treatment program are aligned, stay in touch with your child’s teacher.
- Make the home environment conducive to sustaining the child’s treatment.
Follow the clinician’s guidance to make the child’s living environment as conducive as possible to support therapy sessions and your daily routine. This may include making changes to furnishings, lighting or other aspects of the home, particularly those that may stimulate negative sensory experiences. Make other family members who live in the home aware and educate them on the challenges your child may be experiencing. Guide them to support the child’s therapy, which should benefit everyone in the family.
- Invest some time in self-care so you are able to support your child’s treatment.
ABA-based behavioral therapy is a huge commitment and can be exhausting. During the therapeutic process, take care of your own needs so you are physically and emotionally healthy to care for your child. With practice, you will adjust to the lifestyle change necessary to support your child’s therapy and you won’t be overwhelmed by it, especially if you take occasional respites (breaks) to ensure a level of balance in your own life.
We recognize that it can be a challenge for parents to be involved in a child’s therapy, but parents should remember that they are their child’s #1 advocate and learner. You are with them more than anyone else. The more involved you are in treatment, the better the outcome will be, and the more self-sustaining your child’s behaviors will become because you’ve helped them learn better ways to behave and express themselves.
Visit our Home-Based ABA / Behavioral Therapy page to learn more about how therapy may help your child. Or schedule a consult to request a complimentary 30 minute in-person or phone consultation to discuss your specific situation.