Back in graduate school a professor told me something that had always struck a chord. She was talking about families, particularly with young children with Autism, and how frustrating it must be as a parent to have a complete stranger understand how to get your child to learn, listen & follow directions, pay attention, or talk. Over the years that sentiment has been echoed again and again in the families I have worked with. Whether I am doing articulation therapy or working with a non-verbal adolescent, parents have a difficult time understanding how to bring these tricks and techniques into their homes. I have tried hard in my practice to keep a family centered therapy approach in the forefront of what I do. Taking the Hanen trainings gave me some new tricks to help parents bridge the gap between therapy and home.
Here's what I've learned to help family members feel successful at home:
1. Start small and identify really specific situations where family member's can practice these skills. Remember, they are learning how to do this too. I used to say things like "you can do this any time, really with any activity" and I thought I was being helpful, taking the pressure off. In fact, it was just the opposite. Without a clear picture of what to practice and when, many families felt overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. Finding a single activity, identify a few target words, and talk about when to offer support and how (prompting). If you have a way, write it down for family members to reference.
2. Tailor you recommendation to that family, this may sound like a no-brainer but some of the activities we get used to talking about won't work for that child. Food seems like an obvious motivator until you have a child with food aversion. Meal and snack times are probably hard enough for that family. Starting with the question "what do you guys really like to do together" or "what do you really wish he/she could tell you" can help you identify times of the day that make the most sense for that family.
3. Check in either via email or when you see them. In private practice it was so convenient to reach out to the parents at the beginning or end of each session and ask what was working and what wasn't working. Now it can take a little more effort, but by checking in with the teachers and parents I can see when there is a problem with our technique and when I need to do more coaching.
4. Be specific with prompt hierarchies, expected wait time, attention span. There is, obviously no road map, but as much as possible help family members know what to expect. Something as simple as reminding a parent to count to 5 in their head can give their child the opportunity to initiate, and that parent the confidence to try again.
5. Don't be afraid to hear it's not working, for the longest time I was so afraid to give suggestions in fear they might not work. However, I find that (1) trying is always better because you never know what will work and (2) sometimes it helps families feel a little more confident to know that you don't have all the answers either- we are all learning how to help the child together.
What are your tips for helping families?