Today we have a guest blogger. Please welcome Camille Swenson, a good friend of mine and a mother to a son on the spectrum. I asked her to share her experience with a new pilot program designed to help parents with ASD children.
Last January, I received a call from a neurodevelopmental specialist, Dr. Elena Harlan. She said they were looking for highly involved parents to participate in a class for parents of children with autism. The lesson material was developed and found successful in California through the UC Davis Mind Institute and the goal was to see if the program could be implemented in Idaho as well.
It’s called ADEPT which stands for Autism Distance Education Parent Training. There were two classes taught about a month apart, each taking an evening and a full day to complete with an instructor who had been instrumental in the development of the program, leading each class with about six other local specialists. After each free class, two specialists would make home visits to see how the training was being implemented and help us work through any questions or problems. It sounded like a great opportunity and I quickly agreed to be a part of it.
First Class: Sensory Object Lesson
My husband and I went to the first class in April and found there were about 12-14 people, parents and grandparents, in the group. The lesson material was taught in 10 lessons on slides that we’d all go over together and talk about. We started with an overview of what autism is and the neuro differences that are common. One of my favorite things we did was an activity where a sock filled with 2 cups of rice and 10 paperclips was given to every couple of people. We were given 10 seconds to take out as many paper clips as we could without looking. No one got a single paperclip out. Then the next person got to peek into the sock before trying to get out paperclips. This was more successful but only two or three at most were taken out. It was such a powerful way to discover firsthand what sensory overload is like. It was extremely difficult to feel and differentiate the rice from the paperclips because the rice was overstimulating the receptors on the tips of our fingers. Such a great lesson for parents, but also a useful tool to teach teachers or peers about sensory input and differences as well.
Mainly though, the first class (module 1) was about teaching skills to children with autism. We were taught how to break down a skill and create a task analysis with a plan of how to prompt and even fade those prompts, to eventually reach total independence in that skill. It was fabulous to learn how to motivate our children and see that real progress was attainable in a much more systematic, and therefore quicker, way than we had experienced just troubleshooting things on our own.
Home Visits and Classes to Help Behavioral Challenges
By the first home visit our son, Ezra, was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (yes, we chose something easy for our first skill) totally by himself and even telling me, “Mom, helping is not an option. I can do it all by myself.” Sounded great to me.
The second class (module 2) was what I imagine motivated most parents to take the class. It was about dealing with challenging behaviors and changing how we think about them. We were taught that most times children with autism act out because of a skill deficit, usually a deficit in functional communication. Finding what the function of the behavior is and teaching the lacking skill (what we want them to do instead) was the bulk of the lesson. All of our skills-teaching from the first class was necessary as a foundation to teach skills talked about in the second class. It was such a great lesson and actually made us appreciate our son and his good qualities even more.
We chose to teach Ezra to be more flexible in the kitchen. He needs to be more flexible in a lot of areas, but we decided to tackle meal preparation first. He loves to help but it can create meltdowns if he doesn’t get to do certain things in certain ways–not always doable with a family of six to get a meal for on a busy night. The teaching has helped a lot, though, and it always feels empowering and encouraging to see progress.
We feel so grateful to have been a part of this trial program in Idaho. The program in and of itself is very helpful and empowering to parents. Coupled with knowledge and experience from specialists and other parents (specialists of their own children), it really opened our eyes to possibilities and helped us feel like we could work through any challenge Ezra might face. I hope the program catches on and that we can possibly be mentors and help others learn the skills and see the progress we’ve been blessed with.
Each of the ADEPT training modules are found online at: http://ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/centers/cedd/cedd_adept.html
One of the goals of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities is to provide educational resources on developmental disabilities to the community.
Want to learn more about this program? Please visit the links included.
If you participate in the program, please consider sharing your experience with us.