Your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy has been recommended. The gold standard for treating children with autism, ABA is a behavioral learning program that requires intense treatment, with up to 40 hours per week prescribed.
The intensity of treatment is a proven factor that directly affects the rate at which a child gains new skills and makes advancements through treatment, helping him/her to be more independent throughout life.
However, once therapy has begun, parents realize this is not only a therapeutic program for their child: it’s also a lifestyle change for the whole family. To help give their child every opportunity to learn and grow when their child is diagnosed with ASD, a new way of life is now necessary.
Parents want to be actively engaged in their child’s treatment, but sometimes the needed lifestyle changes that have to be made can seem a little overwhelming. An ABA therapy provider can provide invaluable support for parents and families during this transitional time. They can provide the caregiver with education and bridge the information gap parents may experience as they begin the necessary lifestyle changes that need to be made. These providers can also offer support throughout the child’s time in therapy.
In addition to advice and support from an ABA therapy provider, the following coping strategies can be used by parents to help maintain their child’s therapy program:
1. Set Priorities: Most families find an ABA therapy program will significantly alter their routines. Rest assured, however, it will get easier. But in order to stay on track, it’s important to be prepared for potential roadblocks that might come up. You might, for example, encounter scheduling conflicts, financial issues, or time constraints; even stress can be an issue.
When you encounter barriers, you need to prioritize and evaluate your options. For example, you can look into your community for resources that can understand and help with the challenges you might be facing, including support for navigating funding options.
2. Take Advantage of Center-based Services if Possible: Recognize you don’t have to be actively involved all the time in your child’s treatment. You can temporarily modify your child’s model of care. Others can fill-in for you so you can step back when life gets too complicated. For example, you can take advantage of center-based care, if available. And you don’t necessarily need to be there for the entirety of every session. Your child will still be getting the intensive therapy he/she needs while you take care of other pressing issues.
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Also, the modality of care can occur across multiple environments and can include a variety of care-givers. For example, at school—if your child’s school doesn’t offer treatment programs for children with ASD, you can advocate to get them—or in your daycare setting—if it’s not available you can push for its inclusion.
3. Maintain Consistency: As much as possible, try to maintain consistency for both you and your child by eliminating or reducing anything that could make life more difficult. By minimizing disruptions and changes, you can more easily focus on the bigger picture of maintaining your child’s therapy.
Also, be as dependable and consistent as possible with schedules, routines, and other activities. Try to normalize your daily schedule and reduce unpredictable events. Routine is very important for children with ASD, and any sort of change is alarming. So it’s vital you prepare your child for anything that deviates from routine. For example, use visual schedules to help plan and organize. Using visual aids can help ASD children understand and make sense of what is happening more quickly and easily than verbally explaining the schedule.
4. Set Focused Goals: Identify two or three core behaviors for you to concentrate on and focus on doing them well versus trying to do too much. Choose something you can be successful with and keep doing that. For example, try not to overwhelm yourself by trying to run your child’s program on your own.
Instead, establish clear expectations and only manage what you can be consistent with, such as a bedtime routine. Or, accept guidance from your child’s treatment team on giving positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior or refraining from engaging in the target behavior.
5. Take Care of Your Mental Health: Complement your child’s care with social and emotional support for yourself. Make sure to schedule some “me time.” It’s more important than most parents realize. The strain of caring for a child with autism can be challenging and exhausting.
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Dealing with your ASD child can result in chronic fatigue and lower your parenting efficacy. Make no mistake, parental stress is a very real problem, and managing it will help both you and your child. For example, you can seek out individual or family therapy and learn how to manage your own stress.
Also, keep familiar support systems in place—staying connected with extended family, friends, and others can be a major supportive resource for both of you.
Give some thought to what is most important in your life; what can you do without; and if you can’t totally eliminate something, what can you minimize. Then, start making planned changes around these decisions. With the right coping strategies in place, you can keep your child on an intense aba therapy program and help him/her thrive.
This article was featured in Issue 98 – Fresh ASD Guidance For A New Year