It’s a new year and the changing of the calendar can be a great reminder for parents of children with autism and special need to reinvigorate their professional relationship with their children’s service providers and help to ensure the most positive therapeutic experience.

1. Start the Year off by Reminding the Team about the House “Ground Rules” Whether you have staff members who have worked with your child in your home for years, or brand new instructors coming in for the first time, resolving to remind them about the ground rules and expectations for working within your home can help make everyone feel more comfortable and make sure the focus of treatment is where is should be – on your child’s needs and growth. Yes, it can be uncomfortable or awkward to remind a staff member about your house rules, or to let them know about new expectations (especially considering you will likely be seeing this person every week), but, it is very important and may save more troubling interactions in the long run. Whether you would prefer the staff ask before entering a particular area of your home, or want them to know that they should feel comfortable going anywhere, remaining polite and professional is key to expressing your household preferences. You can simply say that you would like to “start off the new year with some new changes.” Ask the therapists (or the therapists’ supervisor) if the new ground rules will have any impact on the staff members’ ability to work with your child, or have any influence on lessons and skill development. If so, there is likely a compromise that can work out for everyone. Letting the staff know your thoughts and feelings about their work while they are in your home can kick the new year off to a more productive and comfortable start.

2. Resolve to Keep Asking Questions For a parent of a child with autism, knowing what questions to ask and when is not an easy task. The important thing to remember in the new year is that there is never a bad question. If you are curious about your child’s diagnosis and progress, want to know more about the point of a particular program or the reason to use a learning strategy, or why your child engages in a certain behavior – ask. To be fair, the staff working with your child may not always be able to answer every question you have right away, or might need to access their supervisor for guidance. But, actually asking the question, is the only way to help make sure you gain the information you want in supporting your child’s progress. You might even bring up an interesting and helpful direction to guide your child’s therapy. Remember, your child’s staff members only have the opportunity to see your child for a fraction of their day. Asking questions about your child’s participation in therapy, as well as their time just with you, can not only be useful in easing your concerns and curiosity, but can also help staff members in gathering extremely valuable insight into your child’s life.

3. Resolve to Join In; But Don’t Feel Bad When You Need To Step Out Most service providers appreciate the times when you join in sessions. It helps with skill development and generalization, and shows that you are invested in their work with your child. Participating in your child’s therapy session can be an extremely rewarding and profound experience. Not only will you have the opportunity to practice the strategies that your child’s staff members use, but you will also see your child’s progress in the moment. At the same time, while it is great when you can join in sessions, you should also feel comfortable knowing that there will be times when you need to take a step back. Whether you have questions about a program or skill before you feel comfortable participating, or simply want to use that small moment of time when your child is occupied for yourself, being fair to yourself in that moment will help to energize your participation at other times, and to appreciate the contribution of your child’s staff.

4. Resolve to Share the Victories! Many people, when discussing a child with autism, focus on the challenges. These exist, there is no question. However, like with most families, parents of children with autism love sharing in the achievements and growth of their children. What, for many onlookers, may seem to be a small occurrence, such as waiving hello, or imitating a word, can be cause for a much deserved celebration for families of children with autism. These victories may seem small in comparison with others’ accomplishments, but, because of this, they should be appreciated with more joy and devotion. By sharing these experiences with your child’s staff, you increase your opportunities to learn about your child’s progress through each session. Sure, the staff may share information about a particularly difficult task, or a problematic behavior, but they will also have invaluable information about your child’s growth that might not be available even by observing them each day, as every parent does. Share in these accomplishments with your child’s staff, it will not only bring you great pride, but also help to maintain a more positively focused relationship with your child’s staff.

5. Resolve to Take Care of Yourself! It is easy to lose sight of your own needs when you are constantly searching for ways to help your children and your family. However, by receiving the support you need, you may not only help face your everyday challenges with an improved sense of confidence and positivity, but may achieve a more balanced and healthier life. Just remember, getting support for yourself is supporting your family!

Dr. Darren Sush, Psy.D., BCBA-D, specializes in therapy for parents of children with autism and special needs. He writes a blog for Psychology Today online entitled: All the Pieces: Resources and Support for Parents of Children with Autism. His office is located in Los Angeles, CA. For more information, visit Facebook Twitter Instagram

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