For a child with autism, ABA therapy can help build skills, increase communication ability and develop pro-social behavior. Through contextual ABA therapy — a scientifically proven method for individuals with autism — kids build success in participating in family life, in school and in wider community settings, says Cindy Mrotek, CEO and founder of a.c.e. Therapies, a therapy center for individuals with autism, disabilities and behavior issues with locations in Merrionette Park and Lockport.
But meaningful change doesn’t just happen during therapy sessions — it happens when parents reinforce and support the techniques learned through ABA therapy. “Change doesn’t come as quickly if parents don’t understand how to reinforce the strategies at home,” Mrotek says. “That’s why it’s so important for parents to take advantage of training offered by their ABA therapists.”
The value of parent training
Insurance companies typically provide for one hour per week of parent training, yet not all parents — or all clinics — maximize this opportunity, Mrotek says. “Unfortunately, if parents aren’t aware of the work we are doing with their child or the techniques we are using, they can be indirectly reinforcing behavior we want to change,” she says.
Parents have an innate way of knowing what their child wants — so a scream can produce a goldfish cracker pretty quickly. Yet in the wider world, a child needs to ask for that cracker — either verbally, through sign language or by pointing to a picture — rather than screaming. By learning and reinforcing effective communication techniques, parents are helping their child in the long term, Mrotek says.
“Even kids who are able to function at a higher level and have vocal language skills can get into negotiations with their parents — perhaps saying I will only come to dinner if I can bring all of my toys with me because I’m not done playing, for example,” Mrotek explains. “The danger here is that the negotiations become more complex, so it’s not an effective method in the long run.”
Even if parents feel that they don’t need to engage in training right now, it’s important to take a longer-term approach and adopt a goal that ABA therapy won’t last forever. By learning the basics of how to support their child with autism, parents have valuable skills in their parenting toolbox.
“Even if parents feel that it’s easier to manage at home without having to worry about what ABA is teaching their child, a time may come when they’ll want to know how to handle certain situations,” Mrotek says. Kids naturally want to control their environments, sometimes in priority to the needs of the whole family, a situation Mrotek sees regularly.
“When this happens, the family’s world gets smaller because one person is dictating the actions of the whole family,” she says. “Our job is to make your world bigger so you can access more of the community and the family is able to function better and more fairly.”
How parent training works
At a.c.e. Therapies, parent training is flexible and entirely dependent on the individual needs of the family. “We are all about individual therapy for kids, and the same goes for parent training. It’s individual for the parent,” Mrotek says.
Mrotek and her colleagues may recommend parents read The Power of Positive Parenting, a classic book that outlines some basic principles of child behavior, then troubleshoot how to implement some of the techniques at home. Other times, they’ll work with parents to define their family’s values and paint a picture of the longer-term future for their child.
“We talk broadly about how parents can respond to maladaptive behaviors and reinforce positive behaviors at the same time,” Mrotek says. When parents and therapists are able to collaborate and achieve toilet training with their 18-year-old, it’s a powerful testament to the value of a team-based approach to ABA therapy, she says.
Mrotek says she understands that all parents do what they need to do to get by and keep the peace at home and, because parents are the experts in their own child, parent training goals are always designed to be achievable. “We ask parents what is the No. 1 thing that would make your life easier, and that’s where we start,” she says.
When ABA training can work in conjunction with parent reinforcement at home, kids with autism are able to make huge strides in important life skills and even improve their personal health and safety for the long term.
“When a parent can depend on their child to respond to their name or stop and wait near the car rather than run away, this really makes a difference because the family can experience the community more and take advantage of all the resources available to them,” Mrotek says. “They can take a family vacation. They can wait in line. The world is open to them.”
Learn more about ABA therapy at a.c.e. Therapies and schedule a free consultation. Visit www.ace-therapies.com or call an a.c.e. Therapies clinic in Lockport: 708-792-0162, or Merrionette Park: 708-792-0715.