Children with autism who work with Board Certified Behavior Analysts in a therapeutic ABA setting learn skills that help them function independently. These kids never work in a vacuum, since the long-term goal is the effective transfer of these skills from the ABA therapy center to their wider world.
In fact, ABA therapy can be more satisfying and effective when the whole family gets involved, say experts Jen Link and Jillian Burgard of Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy, an ABA therapy provider with locations in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills.
“Whether we are helping parents develop ways to advocate for their child or build routines that make their daily lives easier, we create a family support system that helps everyone feel more successful,” says Burgard, who is President and CEO at Roots.
Because Burgard and Link, who is Co-founder at Roots, bring together diverse backgrounds that are rooted in ABA therapy, counseling and student advocacy in the public school setting, they recognize the value of whole-family support to ease the stress that often accompanies parenting a child with autism. At Roots Autism Solutions, they have created an environment for families to learn and gain support.
What is family support?
Family support can include a wide range of elements, and each family needs something unique, so therapists at Roots work individually with families to meet their needs.
“Potty training is a great example,” Link says. “So often, we find that kids have success in the center but not as much in their home environment. We invite parents to come in and we come up with a plan together so that the skills their child learns at Roots can carry over into their home and school.”
With a goal to promote independence across all environments, therapists work with families to increase effective communication between parents, siblings and the child with autism.
“Oftentimes, children won’t have language skills and we come up with a communication system that parents can use, whether that’s verbal, limited sign language or picture exchange,” Burgard says. “The first step usually involves children learning how to ask for something they really want, like an Oreo. They quickly get the hang of how to ask for the cookie.”
Family involvement can start with the simple process of sharing with parents what the child is working on in the ABA therapy setting. “We can get new families familiar with the basics of ABA therapy and when they know what we are doing, it really helps them understand what they can do at home. They can learn how to respond to a tantrum, for example,” Link says.
In some cases, just having help in creating a morning or nighttime routine can make all the difference to everyone in the family. Or, parents can get help in preparing for an IEP meeting — from an expert with years of experience in this very field.
“It can be so reassuring to have someone help you pull together emails and communication with the school, then sort them in date order and file them in a binder to prepare for that IEP meeting,” Burgard says, adding that this kind of support can help parents better advocate for their child.
Ideally, parents and families make time to meet or talk with therapists on a weekly basis, though Link and Burgard know that parents have busy schedules.
“We love it when families feel comfortable enough to spend time with us to process their frustrations and their highs and lows. When they can do this, they can begin to let go of the notion that there is judgment,” Burgard says. “It’s normal to struggle. We hope we can help offer some clarity. We always ask: What will make your day better? And help families achieve this.”
In a post-pandemic world, Link and Burgard hope to once again schedule parent support groups and parents’ night out events so kids and their siblings can enjoy time at Roots while parents get a welcome break.
“We love to give parents that freedom to have a normal life, even just for one night,” says Burgard. “This is space where they don’t have to revolve their time around therapy and schedules, but just some respite.”
Learn more about Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills at rootsautismsolutions.com.