Parent Goals: How to Maximize Your Child’s Progress This Year
We’re finally nearing the end of 2020! It is the time of year we often reflect on what we have accomplished as well as set goals for the following year. As we enter a new year, we would like to share effective approaches and considerations that aim to increase your child’s success.
If you’re a parent who’s already started ABA services for your child, it should come as no surprise that parent involvement is an important part of any ABA program for your child. At the start of your child’s program your assigned Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) likely explained why parent education is important and what it specifically looks like for you and your family.
When you participate during session time, you have immediate access to your Behavior Technician that can model strategy use and skill building as well as access to real time feedback on how to improve your own skills when working with your child. It is important to learn what strategies are effective for your child, as every child responds differently.
When parents are actively involved and trained in ABA practices, it increases the time their child is exposed to these behavior-training methods. Additionally, it provides consistency and routine in the way that the child can expect to learn new skills.  When children learn new skills during 1-on-1 sessions with their Behavior Technician, it is vital that parents and caregivers continue to practice these same skillsets outside of sessions. This continuation outside of sessions will provide reinforcement for newly learned behaviors. When a child’s behavior is consistently reinforced, there is a greater chance the child will acquire the skill faster and increase their success in maintaining the skills over time and across environments.
Practical Application & Goal Setting
The practical day-to-day application of parent involvement will look different for every family. There are, however, a few specific things any parent of a child with autism can do to experience greater amounts of progress.
Evaluate and Communicate with Your BCBA
As we reach the end of the year, evaluate the progress your child made this year. In what ways did they improve? What problem behaviors still exist that affect everyday life? Discuss these findings with your BCBA and ask if they’ve noted other behaviors your child has improved upon. Ask your BCBA what their goals are for your child in the following year and what your realistic expectations should be given the rate of involvement you have given this year. Don’t hesitate to ask for direct feedback from your BCBA about the ways you can improve your ABA techniques to ensure the most consistent program for your child. Remember, your BCBA’s goal is to equip you and your family with all the tools necessary for your child to experience and maintain progress. Evaluating and communicating with your BCBA about this progress is vital.
Consider Your Family’s Unique Quality of life
If we haven’t already said it enough – every family is unique. Maintaining your family’s quality of life means working on things that are meaningful to your specific family. For instance, if your family has a movie night every Friday night, it is likely important to you that your child with autism also be able to participate in this activity. Ensure you’re having conversations about these types of scenarios with your BCBA to ensure they’re aware of family-specific challenges your child may face. For the family who frequently drives to grandma’s house, for example, this may be teaching your child how to manage long car rides. For families with siblings, it could be teaching your child how to wait for attention from a parent when they are feeding the baby.
These goals to improve you and your family’s quality of life are just as important as the goals for your child outside the home. Make sure to address these goals with your BCBA if they are not already a part of your child’s program. Be open to pre-requisite skills that might be required prior to introducing the final goal. For example, we cannot immediately expect that your child will sit and watch a movie for 2 hours with the family. Instead, we might start at 5-10 minutes at a time and slowly increase the time that they are expected to sit and watch. Building up these skills is important, and your clinical team is there to support you through every step of the process.
Reevaluate Your Child’s Age vs. Developmentally Appropriate Behaviors and Activities
If you aren’t sure where to start when considering activities that your child can participate in, it is always good to consider the age of your child and what their typical peers are likely engaging with. If your child tends to choose activities that are geared for younger children, a goal might be to increase the amount of exposure they have to age-appropriate activities and begin to limit their access to activities that are no longer appropriate. For example, if your 12-year-old child will only play Candyland but seems to enjoy playing board games, try to start introducing other games that require a similar skill set but are more age appropriate like Guess Who or Connect Four. Similarly, if your 8-year-old will only watch Caillou, begin to introduce other cartoons that are more age appropriate like Finneus and Pherb or Wild Kratts.
While enforcing age appropriate activities may feel superficial on the surface, these are important way your child will learn to connect with their peers. Developing social skills is a common competency we work on with children on the spectrum. This becomes exceptionally important as the individual ages into the teenage years and early adulthood. Having age appropriate interests will open more opportunities for an individual with autism to feel included and understood by their classmates, colleagues, and friends. Being understood and included by others will make an immense impact in a person’s ability to become more self-sufficient as they integrate into society on their own. Temple Grandin succinctly explained this idea when she stated that “Social thinking skills must be directly taught to children and adults with ASD. Doing so opens doors of social understandings in all areas of life.”
 Amanda M. Steiner. Issues and Theoretical Constructs Regarding Parent Education for Autism Spectrum Disorders. New Haven, CT: Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine; 2012. [National Center for Biotechnology Information]