By Dr. James W. Partington, Ph.D.,BCBA-D
“Your child is Autistic” or “Your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder” are words that cause considerable anguish for parents. It makes parents wonder what their child’s future be like—there are many unknowns! But as when faced with any difficult situation, the next obvious step is to investigate what can be done to help the child. It is very important that you realize that there is much you can do to help yourself and your child so that your child can develop the skills he/she needs to participate to their fullest extent in the family, school, and community.
Having a plan as to how to proceed and get the best possible help for your child is probably the most important step you can take to relieve your stress and to help your child’s development.
The Internet has made it possible for parents to have access to a great deal of information about treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Unfortunately, much of the information is not based on solid scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness and accuracy of such information. Although no one will have the answers to all of your questions, we would like to give some very practical information that is important for every parent to know. This information is only meant to be general information, as we cannot give specific recommendations without personally meeting with you and your child to learn all the details of your situation.
There is substantial research that documents that early intensive behavioral intervention (also known as ABA/VB or Applied Behavior Analysis/ Verbal Behavior) can make a significant impact on the lives of children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is further research that demonstrates that parents’ involvement in their child’s programs can help the child develop critical skills that will make a significant impact on the child’s overall development.
Regarding your child’s physical concerns
As with any child, if your child is having any physical problems (such as, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping), you need to have a physician who can help to ensure that the child’s body is healthy and is working as it should. It is difficult for anyone to pay attention and learn skills when they don’t feel well!
Regarding your child’s educational concerns
A child with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is delayed in their development of language and social interaction skills. Research demonstrates the effectiveness of and indicates the need for early intensive behavioral intervention for children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It is critical that children develop their language skills as soon as possible so that they can effectively get their needs met and learn from their interactions with others.
It is important to make sure that you have an experienced professional ensuring that your child receives the best possible educational services available. It is important to have professionals on your side who have extensive knowledge in the development of effective educational interventions and are readily available to adjust your child’s program based on how the child is responding to the intervention.
First, you need to identify the skills that your child does and doesn’t have. It is not always easy for parents and educators to see all of the specific skills that the child needs to learn. The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills – Revised ( ABLLS-R, ) is a comprehensive assessment that reviews a wide range of skills including: receptive and several types of expressive language, social interaction, group participation, basic academics, self-help and motor skills. Once an assessment is completed, it is easy to identify and prioritize skills that need to be taught to the child. Parents and teachers can then track the development of those skills over time and teach more complex skills as the less complex skills are acquired.
The second critical component is to know that we all learn by doing. It is important to make sure the child is a motivated learner. The main issue is that children learn best from individuals they like and who make learning fun! We want the child to run to us not from us!
The third critical component is variation in learning activities. It is important to have many skill acquisition trials throughout the day. Children need a lot of repeated practice to develop skills. A varied learning environment is key. The child needs to learn not only in the structured teaching session, but also during daily activities (such as getting dressed, eating, taking a bath). Parents have the opportunity to teach critical skills to their child at the same time as they are helping them through these typical daily activities.
Finally, we believe that parent participation is a must. Parents are the key teachers in a child’s life and they need to know what skills are important to teach as well as how to teach them. Don’t expect the educational systems or professionals to provide all of the services your child needs. You, the parent, need to know what your child needs to learn and how to teach those skills so that you can help your child learn skills and be able to evaluate the services that are being provided by others.
I have dedicated my career to helping parents and educators learn effective teaching methods to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other developmental delays learn critical skills. Please review the descriptions on my assessments and books about how to teach to see which ones might be most helpful for you. All of my publications have been written so that they can easily be understood and implemented by parents and educators.
Books to Learn How to Teach Skills:
Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism was written to provide parents, educators, and professionals with a comprehensive overview of how to teach critical skills to individuals of all ages. This book was written in non-technical language and guides the reader through the teaching process that includes assessing a learner’s skills and prioritizing learning objectives, how to teach new skills in structured sessions and during routine daily activities, and how to address common problem behaviors. This book provides the knowledge and essential tools to promote effective teaching, thereby maximizing the learner’s potential.
Getting Started: Developing Critical Learning Skills for Children on the Autism Spectrum is written in nontechnical terms for parents and educators to learn how to teach a nonverbal child, or one with minimal verbal skills to ask for items he wants, imitate actions and vocalizations, attend to his actions with objects, and to initiate social interactions. It provides the rationale for teaching six critical learning skills and Step-by-step instructions to allow a parent or teacher to implement the procedures necessary to develop them.
Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities provides information regarding preparation for language intervention, including a brief language assessment and a system to interpret the assessment in order to determine the best place to start intervention for an individual child. It also contains a chapter on augmentative communication and information on how to decide if it is necessary; and if so, which type might be the best for an individual child. It also presents information regarding how to develop initial communication skills for nonverbal children, as well as how to teach more advanced language and social skills. The book also discusses how to implement a language program in a child’s natural and school environments
Capturing the Motivation of Children with Autism explains how to identify and capture motivational factors that will influence a child’s willingness to participate in both structured teaching sessions and everyday activities. It presents techniques to create motivational conditions that result in increased spontaneous language and social interactions. Additionally, it describes strategies that can be used to help develop and increase the reinforcing value of social feedback such as praise and smiles!
The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (The AFLS®) The AFLS assessment allows parents to review an individual’s functional, practical, and essential skills of everyday life. The AFLS is comprised of six unique assessment protocols: Basic Living Skills, Home Skills, Community Participation Skills, School Skills, Vocational Skills, and Independent Living Skills. Each assessment module contains eight different skills areas that thoroughly assess the functional skills across a wide range of settings throughout a learner’s lifespan. Every protocol of The AFLS is designed to ensure that parents, caregivers and professionals provide learners with the very best opportunities to learn how to do tasks for themselves in a broad array of real-world settings; thus achieving a greater level of independence and an improved quality of life.
The ABLLS-R®/WebABLLS® are comprehensive assessment tools, curriculum guides, and skills-tracking systems used to help guide the instruction of language and critical learner skills for children with autism or other developmental disabilities. The ABLLS-R®/WebABLLS® provides a comprehensive review of 544 skills from 25 skill areas including language, social interaction, self-help, academic and motor skills that most typically developing children acquire prior to entering kindergarten. The assessment results allow parents and professionals to pinpoint obstacles that have been preventing a child from acquiring new skills and to develop a comprehensive, highly personalized, language-based curriculum. Also available in Spanish and other several other languages!
Please feel free to visit my website to get useful information that will help parents get started on helping their child develop skills that are critical to their overall development.