The Importance of Family: Caregiver Training and Involvement in ABA Therapy
There’s nothing so wonderful as when you hear that ABA therapy is available for your child in your area and that he/she can start within the next week or two. For any parent with a child on the autism spectrum it is as though a huge stone weight has been lifted from off your shoulders or your chest. At last, your child will get the help he/she so badly needs!
Yet, your child isn’t the only one in training here. It may surprise you to learn that you will be an integral part of the ABA therapy. Your role is vital to the success of this therapy treatment, with multiple valid reasons why.
You Know Your Child Best
The therapist assigned to work with your child is “coming in cold” to begin this process. He/she doesn’t know how your child responds to different stimuli or how your child reacts to certain tasks. Your experience with raising and caring for your child thus far is important as you become the primary source of information for the therapist. Even though the therapist is learning about your child by observing and then interacting, the therapist may not quickly recognize behaviors or triggers in your child until after the therapist has worked with your child for a while.
Learning the Techniques of the Therapy Creates Continuity
As a parent with an autistic child, you are fully aware of what continuity means. If you are late one minute with dinner or you forget your promise for ice cream for good behavior, your child lets you know it. That is why ABA therapy requires your interaction from time to time. The therapist will teach you what you need to know so that you can work on the same things your child is working on with the therapist. Having a parent work with the child in the absence of the therapist’s off-hours reinforces what the therapist wants your child to do/learn.
The more continuity in therapy, the greater the progress in (hopefully!) shorter time achieved. In intensive ABA therapy, the goal is to have everyone on a team push the therapeutic goals and tasks for longer periods of time while in session, and continue with family members out of session to see the goals achieved with the highest success rates. While this isn’t quite as intense in standard ABA therapy, the notion that a parent can help increase the impact of the therapy is still there.
Your Parent Training
Parents receive the caregiver training one of two ways. The first way involves the therapist showing the parent what the goal is, what the task is, and what the expectation or reward is if the child does well. The parent repeats the tasks on days when the therapist will not be visiting the home or the child will not be visiting the center for therapy. In this way the child never loses any gains he/she makes and the child identifies the parent as a teacher/therapist as well. Many tasks are hand-over-hand methods of teaching where the therapist may show it and then ask the parent to repeat the actions with the child.
The second parent training method is to educate the parent on a separate night. Parents are given packets or workbooks of information and asked to read through them and answer questions. The training is self-paced, but the expectation is that you will keep up with what the therapist is working on with your child. For someone who absorbs information better by reading, studying and committing things to memory, this approach works very well.
Lastly, depending on the ABA therapy agency that offers the ABA therapy, you may do both reading and studying and interactive learning. You may feel like you are training to become one of the therapists, but in fact you are learning how this therapy will work for your child when you are able to deliver it as well.
You Are at Home With Your Child During Therapy, So Why Not?
In almost all instances where ABA therapy agencies provide services, ABA is provided as in-home ABA therapy. The therapist comes to your home because it is less stressful for a child on the spectrum to receive these services in an environment that is familiar to him/her. Because you are mom or dad and you are already present in the home, it just makes logical sense that you should be trained in the same therapeutic tasks that the therapist will use. You will be able to grasp and understand why the therapist is doing something seemingly menial (e.g., stacking blocks while waiting for several seconds in between stacking each block) to get what appears to be an unrelated result.
Your child already has a trusted relationship with you. Having you train in the same techniques and tasks eases the transition back and forth between you and the therapist’s visits. The child begins to understand what is expected of him/her even if and when the therapist isn’t present. The child also learns to trust this strange person that isn’t family and does what the therapist asks.
As a parent of a child on the spectrum, you are aware that caring for your child every day leaves you feeling empty and burnt out. While the thinking is that a parent can have a break away from the child while the child is receiving services, it can greatly assist you emotionally by being involved in some aspect of your child’s therapy. In fact, it can help you “refill your cup” and create a new meaningful emotional connection to your child when something he/she does correctly and successfully gives you a glimmer of hope.
The therapist also provides you with emotional support during your extra training. He/she knows that you might be emotionally drained and/or physically exhausted, but he/she isn’t. He/she can help restore that by encouraging you and making you feel good about how you are handling the most challenging part of being a special needs parent.