Many parents of children with special needs, like autism, aren’t aware of themselves as a powerful resource in the development of their children.
Our contemporary world reckons with a high quantity of means to stimulate and developmental progress of those children. There are many evidence-based methods and therapies applied excellent professionals with the purpose to reach the social, emotional and cognitive evolution to this group that forms the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
However, not all parents can make use of these services. Whether it is for financial or the absence of help in the local they live, parents ought to know that there is a plan B: to be the very own therapist of their autistic child.
Several families throughout the world have adopted this alternative.
Home-based methods such as Son-Rise, Growing Minds or Floortime (Greenspan) were developed to help parents to help their children. These therapies offer parents various trainings, teaching them about the benefits of joint attention and attitude to achieve the best results while interacting with their children. However, those effective therapies may be not accessible for many families; either because they can’t afford it or because the courses aren’t available in their cities.
But there is a way to do it. If parents want to work with their children at home, they can do it with a little help and a lot of determination. For his or her greatest asset is the full knowledge about his or her child.
If a parent wants to become a therapist of the child:
- Read everything about autism. Search on the internet, join (virtual) support groups.
- Consider that it takes a lot of discipline and effort to carry on;
- Be patient. Don’t wait for miracles;
- Be consistent. Establish rules and follow them;
- Be aware that when we handle autism, EVERYTHING is possible, and NOTHING is a word we shouldn’t use;
- Be determinate. Don’t give up.
PARENTS AND THERAPISTS – TEACHING MY CHILD WITH AUTISM TO SPEAK…
“Will my child ever speak?”…”When is my child going to speak?”… Two frequent questions of parents with a child on the Autistic Spectrum.
Once a physician has confirmed there is not a physical problem preventing the child to make sounds, the child is in a state to talk. That means that there will be necessary to follow an intensive therapy in order to help this child to develop spoken language.
Parents need to break down the ultimate goal – speech – in small steps, before starting coaching. Write down a simple planning, answering the following questions:
- Which words do my child has to learn?
- How many words can I teach per session?
- How many times a week should I train my child?
WHICH WORDS DOES MY CHILD HAS TO LEARN?
Children with autism develop in a different manner than neurotypical peers. Their first words aren’t always “mammy” or “daddy”. Usually it is an object they like, as “car”, “train”, “key”, “juice” or “cookie”.
Parents should not mind the vocabulary as much. Remember that the child is trying to cooperate, making a (huge) effort, trying to ordinate the words in their brains in a manner his parents may not understand.
The intention to speak, at this initial phase, should be more important than the words itself. In this way, if the child is completely non-verbal, start the therapy making use of sounds; singing or playing a song, playing a (toy) instrument, etc.
In a second phase establish up front the most important words in your child’s daily routine. Be clear. Use short sentences or even the word you want your child to learn, eventually making use of a picture of this word. Be literal.
HOW MANY WORDS SHOULD/COULD I TEACH?
Most probably children with autism will take longer to learn speech than his peers. Probably those words will have a functional meaning to him. Children on the spectrum tend to pronounce words that have a practical meaning for them. Unlikely their neurotypical peers children with autism go right to the point: they use language to achieve what they want or need.
This speech teaching process may be a long one. Even so, it may also be fun and, in the end the child may also learn social skills at the same time.
Some children will repeat what their parents ask them, but without any idea of its meaning and any intention of social interaction. It’s called Echolalia. Echolalia has no social interaction and may even occur after many hours after the child has heard the words or sentence. It’s not a bad thing, however. Consider Echolalia as a verbal practice without anxiety. During the moments of Echolalia, instead of correcting the child, compliment him on his effort to talk, telling him, for instance, how much you like the sound of his voice. The child might not understand the words, but he will certainly feel the positive emotion of those words and associate it with speech. Learning how to speak should be a pleasant experience for the child.
Children with autism tend not to imitate his parent’s words like most neurotypical peers do. Instead, they learn words that help them to achieve their goals. For instance, if a child wants a cookie she may learn to say ‘cookie’ but also use the same word to ask for other kinds of food. In this way, ‘cookie’ would mean ‘eat’ to this child.
Parents should teach few words at a time, making notes of all the ones his child seemed to be interested in learning. Interest is the door for learning.
HOW MANY TIMES A WEEK SHOULD I COACH MY CHILD?
As many as you can. The more intensive the speech therapy, the best and faster the results. Remember not to exhaust the child to the point he doesn’t cooperate anymore.
The therapy must be a pleasant moment between parent and child. There must be goals to be achieved, discipline to be kept, but a lot of fun, too.
If the child shows that he doesn’t want to participate, give him time to get used to this new setting. Let the child play a little longer, doing what he wants, as long as he stays in the room previously determined as the place for coaching.
Try to maintain this interaction for at least 3x a week, for at least an hour time. Intercalate learning moments with playtime.
In case there is a professional speech therapist working with the child, apply at home the same he learned at the practice. Work together with the therapist(s) for an optimum result.
Some speech therapists may correct the child a lot. To teach a child to speak correctly is their job, after all. However, many children in the spectrum may feel unsure and frustrated by perfection. When teaching your child to speak, reinforce the simple fact he or she is trying to speak. For example: if a child should say “water”, but all she can say at that moment is “waaee” don’t correct the way most professionals do. Simply smile and reinforce her effort to say “water” telling him: “You’re trying to say WATER! You almost there! Good job!” and repeat the correct word. Avoid the word “no”, or any negative form of feedback.
TURNING COACHING INTO AN EFFECTIVE EXPERIENCE
The place a child prefers to stay is his home, beside his parents – the ones he knows better and who better understand him.
There are some suggestions parents may want to follow to turn the home therapy into an effective experience:
In time, those playful moments will diminish while the teaching moments will increase.
Give the child the time to adapt to the new setting, having his mom or dad as therapist. Let the child trust you as a therapist. The initial goal should be an interactive relationship between parent and child, even if the first sessions don’t go further than playtime.Make it a one-to-one therapy, that means one adult working with the child at a time. Autistic children need to focus, and that is much easier when they are alone with their mom or dad, or even a sibling, which will help them throughout this learning process at home;
- Determine a place at home to be the therapy room. It can be a bedroom, a quiet corner in the living room or any place quiet and free of stimuli, like a lot of objects or noises that might distract the child. This place should preferentially have a door so that the child would have to remain in that space during the sessions.
- Previously to the training, establish the words you intend to teach the child for that session. Before starting, have objects, books, pictograms, photo’s or any material needed ready to use. For example, the goal is to teach the child the parts of the human body. Leave pictures of eyes, nose, mouth, etc. in the room designated as the therapy room, before starting. Adapt the material to the educational stage of the child at the moment;
- Don’t let the child lose interest. Tempo is important. Be prepared, leaving it all ready before you start teaching;
- If the child seems to resist to the therapy (teaching moment), play with him a little longer, doing whatever he prefers – jumping, drawing, playing a little game, etc.
Every person has a comfort zone – a term very much talked about lately. In order to accomplish our objectives, we have to leave this comfort zone. With regards to children with autism, it’s quite the same thing. They can also leave their comfort zone although it is mostly a big challenge.
Parents should pay attention to their children’s subtleties, observing which (and when) a behavior can change.
Parents shouldn’t give up nor force their children with autism if they, initially, resist engaging in the coaching/playing therapy at home. Win the child’s trust. Give him love, (your) time, and attention. Find out the child loves to do. Do it with him. Take this attitude to the therapy room. Make the final objective – to speak – secondary. Prioritize contact and interaction so that your patience, discipline and determination will inspire the child to appreciate verbal language as a positive experience.