Parent Involvement and Self-Care

By Juan Carlos Lopez, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBS

When offering services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), parents and caregivers play a unique role in their child’s development. It is also important to remember that for the adults, it is as relevant to take care of their child, as it is to take care of themselves. When thinking about the services that your child needs, also consider the needs of the rest of your family.

Since its beginnings, the field of ABA has shown a strong interest in and seen the importance of transferring therapeutic gains to caregivers. It is common knowledge that caregivers need to be part of the child’s intervention early on to ensure that gains made in the clinic or school generalize and are maintained in the home and community. There are a variety of options and models to support caregivers in this role. For example, the training can take place in the clinic, at home, in the community, or in a combination of these settings. It can use review of written materials, didactic presentations, modeling or video modeling, role-plays, and in-vivo feedback/coaching or combinations of the above. Most often, caregivers learn specific teaching methods to help their child learn adaptive skills, communication and/or social skills as well as behavior management strategies to help prevent or reduce challenging behaviors.

In addition, it is a well-known fact that most caregivers of children with autism experience high levels of stress and some even higher levels of depression compared to caregivers of non-ASD children. Consequently, interventions may also include working on parenting skills, caregiver-child relationships, parent problem-solving skills, improved marital functioning, caregiver stress management, and some even include working on cognitive-behavioral skills to reduce the effects of depression on parenting children with ASD (e.g., Optimistic Parenting). In this latter approach, for example, caregivers learn to identify thinking patterns that have a negative influence on their emotions and behavior as related to their interactions with their children. As an illustration, some caregivers may have a rigid and negative view of their children’s disability, which in turn makes them feel depressed or behave in self-defeating ways. Fortunately, with the right intervention and caregiver’s effort, these ways of thinking can change into more flexible views and rewarding behaviors towards their children.

When in doubt, ask your professional team for guidance. You will likely find the right supports for each member of your family to achieve your goals.