A few weeks ago, Sara Wagner, a teacher of children with autism, a family trainer with The Whole Self Center and Clinical Supervisor of the Whole Self Center’s Therapeutic Integration Center in Gambrills, contacted me to learn more about Avergan Foundation. Amazing! And, after exchanging a few emails she offered to write a blog post about reasonable at home strategies parents can follow to support their child’s progress. Happy that I can share this with you. Read more about an open house at The Whole Self Center, coming up on March 28th.
Sara Wagner (left) with her student, Jennifer (right)
Structure his day… but don’t over structure it because then he won’t know what to do during unstructured time.
Give him a set routine so he knows what to expect ….but don’t let him get rigid and stuck in his routine because then he won’t handle a change of schedule well. Prompt him…but don’t let him become prompt dependent.
All of this “advice” can be very confusing for parents and make you doubt your every move. There are so many books, so many experts, and so many OPINIONS. It’s great that information is out there, but it can be overwhelming. If you allow it, you will forever carry a certain amount of guilt and doubt with you. What if I tried “the diet?” What if I pushed ABA? What if I pushed Verbal Behavior? What if I fought harder for Speech or Occupational Therapy?
Pick a route and stand behind it because let’s face it, you’re the parent. You have done your research; you have compared treatments and made your choices. Be open to hearing about new treatments and hearing stories of other parents, but do not doubt yourself and your decisions. Every decision you make for your son or daughter is out of love.
I have been working with families and setting up home programs for ten years now. My advice and strategies have changed over the years, as my life has changed. I have a toddler and an infant, and so I find that I ask myself, “would I follow this advice/treatment/method?” I have to be able to answer “yes” to myself before I suggest it to another parent. I would like to offer a few pieces of advice for readers to at least consider.
My “Realistic” Advice:
Start small. Pick one tiny change to make and do it well, then see how it snowballs. You shouldn’t find yourself staying up late at night making picture symbols on the computer and using your home laminator. While your friends are all on Pinterest pinning cute crafts or homemade paint, are you becoming more and more skilled with Velcro? A common first step that I suggest is scheduling, which leads to my next piece of advice-
Schedule ONE part of the day. Take a look at your son/daughter’s day and select the part that gives you the most difficulty. It could be getting ready for school, eating a meal, what to do after school, or a night time ritual. Scheduling the morning tends to be a challenge because you are under a time constraint, and it is likely you or someone else will end up doing the steps of the routine for your son/daughter so that everyone can get out the door. (Picture the house of millions of Americans every morning). Starting with an after school routine maybe better because you have more time to spend teaching the routine and you and your son/daughter won’t be as tired as you were in the morning or at night time. Break down what needs to be accomplished after school and set it up with visual aids on a piece of paper. Place it somewhere that makes sense (if the routine is to take place in the kitchen, put it in the kitchen) and utilize it. You will need to teach your son/daughter how to follow the “schedule” so that eventually he/she can become independent with it and you will simply need to point to it.
Add visuals. Add visual cues to anything that is written, even if your son/daughter can read. The visual cue helps support the written cue. You do not need a fancy computer program and a laminator at home in order to do this. I love to use google images. I find real pictures of items and actions and best of all- they are free.
Be consistent and persistent. When you are making a change of treatment at home, be very consistent with your language and your behaviors. There will be some backlash from your son/daughter at first and it could last even a few weeks. Keep pushing through and really give a new technique some time before you decide whether or not it works. Sometimes the behaviors or skills you are addressing will increase or spike before it gets better.
Get rid of the guilt. Surround yourself with people who build you up and support you. Do not let anyone make you feel guilty because of a decision you made for your son/daughter. It is great to listen to other people share their stories, but know that the same treatment can provide very different results for two different kids. Once you allow the guilt to eat you up, you open the door for more negativity that you just don’t need.
Get organized. A diagnosis of Autism should come with large three ring binders, dividers, and a lifetime supply of pens. You will sign your name more times than when buying a house! The paperwork that is involved with services, special education, community programs is staggering. Do yourself a favor and set up a file cabinet or binder. Some possible headers could include: IEP Meetings, Medical, Autism Waiver, Contacts, Research/Conferences, Funding, and Community Resources. Keeping your paperwork organized will help you in so many ways over the years!
The Whole Self Center provides IISS (direct 1:1 services to the client), Family Training and respite care. We also now provide Therapeutic Integration. The Therapeutic Integration Center is a beautiful building in Gambrills where kids with Autism can come and hang out! It has 5 rooms in the building and staff it in a 3:1 ratio, so the technicians help support the clients to socially interact or increase their leisure skills in those 5 areas. Every client has a “treatment plan” with goals that are addressed each time they come. They even have a social skills group on Friday nights for clients who have a lot of language skills but need help establishing friendships!
The Whole Self Center will have an open house on Friday, March 28th from 5-7pm. Parents are invited to attend and bring their children to see the facility and have fun too!