Helping Autism Parents Gain Confidence

Autism parents need to have more confidence in how to teach their children. They’ll believe in their own abilities when they learn to use effective strategies that really work for their children.

An important goal for teachers and therapists is to help parents learn to implement the procedures and tactics that will help their children learn skills successfully.

Covid19 caused a problem

When Covid19 suddenly erupted it caused confusion and chaos as schools closed quickly with very little preparation. Children with autism were separated from the therapy and special classes that were a part of their lives.

Families struggled.  . . a lot. They needed solutions. Immediately.

“I’m not a teacher”

While children were out of school during the quarantine, virtual schooling was less than desirable.  I heard many autism parents lament, “I’m not a teacher.”

Wait a minute!

All parents are teachers. Parents DO teach. They make sure their children know how to manage many skills such as eating, using the bathroom, how to get dressed, how to put toys away and how to hook a seatbelt in the car.

But a lot of the teaching that most parents do is instinctual. They know what to do because of what their parents did for them and because they have a community of friends and family to support them along the say.

But it’s different for children with autism

Autism parents have probably gone through the same teaching attempts as those parents of typically developing children. They have tried to teach the typically expected skills. But it’s likely that the results are inconsistent or even worse. Exact results depend on the child and on the parent.

But it’s common that the child with autism doesn’t respond in the same way to those typical teaching techniques that other parents use. And that’s when autism parents lose confidence.

There’s a reason why “typical” teaching doesn’t work

Currently, we know much more about how students with autism learn compared to what we knew 10 or 20 or 40 years ago.

After many years of learning about what works for autism we’re at the place that we understand autistic children have “learning differences” compared to other students.

Currently, the terminology "differently abled brains" is becoming more common.

What we know now about autism

The way these children understand communication, respond to sensory stimulation and take in information from the environment can be very different from what parents expect. If autism parents don’t understand their child’s “learning profile,” that causes much confusion.

The way these children understand communication, respond to sensory stimulation and take in information from the environment can be very different from what parents expect. When parents don’t understand their child’s “learning profile,” that causes much confusion.

Parents of children with autism need an “instruction manual”

It would be great if kids with autism came with a manual that tells you what to do when they have a meltdown or how to manage getting them to put the toys away when it’s bedtime.

There are answers to the questions and issues parents manage daily. The problem is that each child with autism has a different manual. And that’s why their parents often need help.

The answers for their child frequently require a little detective work. So teachers and therapists are important team mates for parents. Together they can accomplish more.

So what’s the game plan?

Honestly, we don’t know. We don’t even know where kids will learn in the future. Right now, most schools are back to in-person teaching.  Will schools go back to virtual teaching? No matter where you live, there will probably be issues you will need to deal with.

When schools closed during Covid, there were lots of reports that virtual teaching didn’t work very well.  Many people shared that children, particularly those with special learning needs like autism, didn’t respond well to the virtual environment. Parents didn’t know how to help. Teachers were unsure how to transfer their teaching to the virtual platform.

To be fair to everyone, there was no preparation and people did the best they knew how with what they had to work with.

Look at it in a different way

How about finding new strategies to match the changing situation.

American Speech Hearing Association (ASHA) describes service delivery options for Speech Therapists to support autism. It says therapy can include focusing on natural learning environments and includes education and training of family members.

If you are thrust into the virtual option again, a change of focus can help your efforts.

Helping parents prepare an Autism Survival Toolbox will help them whether their child is in-person in school or at home for any  reason.

Success Tools for Autism

So here’s my question

How can you use your virtual time to train family members to help their child in their natural learning environment?

Instead of trying to recreate your classroom activities in the virtual setting, can you use at least part of the time to teach the parent or another family member to interact better with the child?

What does the parent need help with?

How can you take advantage of the opportunity to be in the child’s home environment, even virtually, to your advantage?

It’s not going to be the same as “in school” but it can still be good.

  • Coach the parent through managing behavior issues while you are in your virtual session.
  • If parent has technology that can move around the home, have them move to rooms where they can demonstrate what they need help with.
  • Recommend how to arrange items in the home to assist the child.
  • Help parent use items in the home to interact with or manage their child.
  • Work with the parent to design a schedule and other visual strategies to use for home.

What is the future?

Parents gain confidence when they learn ways to manage those needs that emerge and cause difficulty. When parents know what to do and how to do it that will help the student and that’s the ultimate goal.

We don’t know what the future will bring. Being adaptable and flexible will go a long way in navigating the months ahead in a positive way.

P.S. Please let me know what strategies you are finding that work for you.

P.P.S. I have one more question

Is the real problem that virtual learning doesn't work? Or is it because teachers and therapists really didn't know how to capture the power and potential of virtual learning?

Sesame Street learning

I keep thinking of a whole generation of children who grew up on Sesame Street. It was a different style of teaching and learning. Singing. Dancing. Lots of repetition but lots of different ways to present information to learn.

I'm sure there were children who didn't connect with Bert and Ernie and their friends. But there were lots of children, representing a wide range of learning abilities who still connect with them.

What about older students?

YouTube for autism

Sesame Street targeted young children. What about those who are older? Think about TicTok, YouTube and more. I have a grandaughter who taught herself to crochet by watching YouTube videos.

Students learn to do many things via online sources when they are interested. Perhaps our real challenge is to capture their interest. Just some "food for thought."

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  1. I consulted with the parents of my children with autism each week while we were doing remote learning. It gave me an opportunity to teach them about why we do some of the things we do. For example, one of my parents wanted to understand how sorting objects into categories would help her child’s language. It was also an opportunity to encourage parents to use strategies that we had previously described but they had not attempted. For a 5 year old hyperlexic child who does not us spontaneous language, I told mom to prompt him by writing sentence starters on a dry erase board. In a week she was thrilled that it was working, and in no time, he was needing little to no prompting to make verbal requests. While tele-therapy was less than ideal, it actually served to empower and educate parents in ways that we did not realize we had available to us before.

  2. Great post! I shared it with my online discussion group. Focusing on parents would be so helpful. They are truly stressed out these days and many still have to work while teaching their children from home. Tough times!

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