Last year I went through TouchPoint Autism Service's parent training class. I wasn't employed here at the time, but the agency wanted my opinions of the class, so I went through it.
I had no clue what to expect as I had avoided everything regarding autism from the time I was diagnosed. I did this because I was originally in denial, but after I started writing I wanted my writings to be pure and not influenced. That being so I had no idea what, if any, methods of therapy worked.
I was first amazed at the fact that the parent training class is extensive. Two weeks, 40 hours a week. I wondered what could take that long, but as the first day developed I began to understand.
I used to believe that, "whatever happens first always has to happen" and that there was no way to counteract this. Watching a video at the start of the class that showed a previous child go through the class amazed me. You see, it may be parent training, but the child goes through exchange sessions during the day three times a day. This child in the video had severe behaviors on day one, but by the end the behaviors in the exchange session ceased to exist.
Over the course of the next few days the TouchPoint training staff worked with the child during the exchange sessions with the parent or parents watching. When exchange sessions aren't in session the parents are learning about the principals of behavior and strategies they can implement like visual schedules and ways to actively ignore.
The classroom element is vital because understanding the why to behaviors will better equip the parents. Furthermore, if the parents don't understand but the child still has some therapy, the parents may undo it unknowingly simply because they don't understand.
Midway through the first week the trainer leaves the exchange session and hands it over to the parent. In the class I went through it was somewhat of a rocky start for the parents, but through coaching via an ear piece that the trainer can talk to the parent the sessions became smoother and smoother.
I, honestly, was in shock. I could not believe the changes in behavior exhibited in one child in particular. At the start she would not sit in her chair and would not communicate. Halfway through the final week she was a polar opposite of that. She wanted to help her mom clean up and seemed to love the schedule of it all and eye contact became easy whereas before she refused.
How was all this possible? During this time I thought this and as the trainers, in a workshop in class, explained why early intervention is so important, I came up with this metaphor:
The mind on the spectrum is much like wet cement. If you want to make a patio you will spread out the wet cement and you will be able to work with so long as it stays wet. Over time the wet cement will harden and become concrete. This is much like a mind on the spectrum because over time, if certain behaviors are reinforced, the behaviors will harden much like wet cement. At a young age the mind is moist and behaviors aren't set in stone. This is why it is vital for parents to understand autism because if they don't the wet cement may harden and certain behaviors will be much more difficult to change.
When the final day came I was in awe. Not every parent had the same amount of growth, but all the parents shared one thing; hope!
For more information on TouchPoint Autism Services visit the website at http://www.touchpointautism.org/ or call us at 314-432-6200.
Below is a video that was shown at the 2009 Festival of Trees event that tells one families story that went through parent training.