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Autism and Family Involvement

family involvement in autism

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Most parents are aware that treating their child’s autism spectrum disorder and supporting their growth will be a lifelong mission. Once parents get past the initial shock and the difficult feelings that can accompany such a diagnosis, the question arises as to how best to treat the child’s condition. After research and consultation with medical providers, parents may decide on therapy and other services for their child. As helpful as these can be, they are only part of the picture in treating autism.

Parents play a vital role in raising their child and supporting their growth.  They can also play a critical role in the treatment of their child’s autism. Parents can work with and support their children’s medical providers, or learn specific treatment and coping techniques to practice with their child at home. Family can also be incorporated to offer support and guidance to parents and their children with autism. Children with ASD have the best chance of positive treatment outcomes when parents, siblings, and extended family all provide such a support system, especially when early intervention is implemented.

Parent Input and Communication in the Treatment Process

One of the most fundamental ways parents can get involved in their child’s treatment is by regularly communicating with their therapist and other care providers. Parents are very familiar with their child’s typical behaviors, coping mechanisms, and triggers, along with their strengths and challenges. As children age, parents may also become aware of co-occurring conditions which can contribute to treatment difficulties, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. This can all be valuable information for a therapist working with your child. For instance, if you know that your child has a hard time concentrating for longer than a few minutes, or responds well to the presence of a favorite toy, making that information available to their therapist is crucial. Parents can then work with the therapist to devise a treatment plan that incorporates and is built around these tendencies. Since autism presents so differently, knowing its unique traits in your child and communicating those to professional care providers is essential.

Just as communication with therapists is key, the same goes for teachers, extended family, and friends. Communication involves making your needs known and being willing to ask for help and support. This can involve seeking appropriate accommodations for one’s child in the form of treatment services and resources. A willingness to take advantage of such treatment assets is a predictor of overall family involvement with the child’s development, as well as more positive parent-teacher relationships down the line in a child’s academic life.[i]

Parental Training and Early Intervention

Autism treatment is most effective when parents get involved at home to supplement and reinforce the work the child does at therapy. Many parents find it difficult to work with their child in communicating or accomplishing basic daily living tasks. In these cases, implementing specialist-recommended strategies can help greatly, and will naturally lead to working on life skills and developmental tasks with the child. This type of work helps children transfer the skills acquired in therapy into other environments, like home or at play with other children. For parents who have the time, energy, and capability, however, getting directly involved in their child’s treatment via early parental intervention can have great results.

Parent-mediated early intervention generally consists of parents adopting techniques to implement in their child’s learning and play at home. Early intervention broadly refers to autism treatment which occurs at a young age – typically at or before preschool age, although this varies.[ii] Parental use of treatment techniques for early intervention has been linked to “long-term symptom reduction” in children with autism.[iii] The goals of parental intervention often include growth in key skills related to communication, socialization, and play. Intervention can also focus on cognitive and motor development, as well as decreasing disruptive or harmful behaviors.

Parents often learn specific techniques to work with their children via parent training, a broad term which refers to the attendance of classes or private sessions with a licensed therapist or behavioral technician who can teach parents specific skills to facilitate communication, learning, and behavioral and emotional health in their children. Parents may conduct these learning and play sessions with their child alone, or alongside a therapist or behavioral technician. Parents may also choose to adopt specific treatment models, such as Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention or the Early Start Denver Model. Or, they may learn various helpful techniques based in Applied Behavioral Analysis and other fields. Parents can also benefit from more generalized training about how to raise a child with autism and address common challenges.

Support from Siblings and Extended Family

Along with parents, brothers or sisters are often vital supportive forces in the lives of their siblings with autism. The ability of siblings to get involved in their brother or sister’s treatment depends on their age, maturity, and relationship with the child in question. As siblings grow and mature, they can assist their sibling on the spectrum by practicing skills with them, offering support, aiding parents around the house, and by generally being a friend and looking out for them. Parents can read more about autism and siblings here.

Extended family may not be directly involved in treatment, but can offer the  child opportunities for growth in social situations and can offer parents a helping hand in times of need. Family members can assist parents in taking care of the child when parents need a break. They can also spend time with the child with a fun routine activity, like a weekly walk or movie night. Since parental stress has been tied to treatment efficacy, it is crucial for parents to take advantage of all the assistance they can as they work to raise their child.[iv]

Family involvement on the part of parents, siblings, and more extended family is one of the most powerful tools to assist the growth of children with ASD. By providing solid nurturing and skills development at home, whether informed by knowledge of autism or via a specific treatment model, parents can use early intervention strategies to bring about growth in their child. Siblings and extended family can offer much-needed assistance, support, and good company. These strategies and family dynamics, in combination with regular therapy targeted towards the child’s needs, offer the best route to overcoming developmental obstacles and reducing harmful behaviors in one’s child. For more resources on early intervention and raising your child, please see here.

Spectrum of Hope has over a decade of experience in providing compassionate, individualized autism treatment for children, adolescents, and adults on the spectrum in the Houston area. We will work with you to develop a treatment plan that incorporates your input and goals for your child, and teach you the Applied Behavior Analysis and other techniques and strategies for raising and working with your child at home. For more information on our approach or programs, please contact us today at (281) 204-8122.

If you have questions about autism services for a child, teen or adult, call now (281) 894-1423. You can also check your insurance benefits and start an admission by clicking the button to the right. We're here for you.

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