[Feature Article] Sin Chew Newspaper: Parents of Children with Autism Must Accept The Reality First

On the 19th of April 2016, Jochebed Isaacs, was featured in the Sin Chew Newspaper, speaking about parents' acceptance of their child's diagnosis, as well as how the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) can be used not just with children with autism, but in a typical classroom setting as well.

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Parent Of Children With Autism Must Accept The Reality First

Published in: Sin Chew Newspaper

Published on: 19th April 2016

The shock of finding out your child is on Autism Spectrum Disorder is challenging for the parents. The director of Early Autism Project (EAP), Jochebed Isaacs, said that the parents must first got through with grief process first, and then move on to the stage of acceptance of the diagnosis, before starting to look for a suitable treatment for their child.

The one thing parents can start doing is research and read books that are related to autism as well as understand the diagnosis process. Parents who have not gone through the grieve and acceptance process might face difficulties seeking treatment for their child. This is indeed not helpful for both the parents and the child. On top of that, parents might experience stress in areas such as their finance and marriage, which might eventually cause some psychological problems such as depression.

Jochebed also suggested that parents have quality time with their other children. This is important as parents can easily overlook the needs of their other children while they spending time with their child with autism.

Begin treatment as young as 18 months old

Professionals encourage children with autism to start receiving treatment as young as 18 months old. However, our country has yet to come up with proper governance in diagnosing and providing services for children with autism. This can be very risky as anyone can claim that they have the qualifications to do as such.

For example, EAP advocates the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) Approach. If someone is using the same ABA program for both an 18-month child and a 5-year-old child, then parents ought to be cautious about that.

There are many parents who are desperately seeking out various treatment options for their child. These include various complementary and alternative treatments such as play therapy, music therapy, arts therapy and animal-assisted therapy. Although Jochebed agrees that all these treatment options can provide incentive effects and reduce stress for children with autism, they are not the right approach to treat autism. According to the research, behavioural treatment is able to effectively change the brain development of a child with autism effectively.

Will it be still work if a child with autism received treatment late? “The progress might not be as effective as compared to an earlier intervention. However, we believe there is hope,” says Jochebed.

ABA Approach is suitable for classroom management and improving behaviours

            Jochebed has previously explained about ABA approach. ABA is a behavioural treatment, which includes discrete trial teaching method and positive reinforcement to teach a new set of skill to child systematically. ABA is not only applicable for children with autism; it also can be applied in various settings such as a classroom setting to improve behaviour of typical children.

  1. Breaking skills down

Break down skills into simple steps. Whether it is a simple action such as clapping hands or giving a high five, or a more complicated skill such as turn taking or conversational skills, all these need to be broken down into simple steps, before gradually moving on to a more complex step.

  1. Positive reinforcement

Reinforce and give attention when a targeted behaviour is shown. In the same manner, do not provide any reinforcement for negative behaviours.

  1. Practice consistently

Children with autism require more time to practice a new set of skills. Hence, it is important for consistent practice until they master the skill.

Functional behaviours can happen with consistent practice

For example, Jochebed said, “Most parents would normally overreact when a child puts his or her fingers into a socket. In this situation, the child would continue the action as he or she sees this as a way to get attention from the parents. This is the reason why children will repeat any inappropriate behaviours; for the sake of getting attention.”

A typical child is learning every day, including inappropriate behaviours such as hitting their siblings or talking rudely. For children with autism, they may be living in their own world, which may not involve the typical daily learning process. Hence, it is vital for positive learning paired with consistent practices. With consistent practice, the targeted behaviours can be enhanced. With that, ABA approach requires at least 30 hours of therapy per week. In other words, an hour of therapy per week is definitely insufficient.

How do we handle a child's inappropriate behaviour?  “First, we need to ask, what is the function of the behaviour? For example, a child putting his or her fingers into the socket out of curiosity can be very dangerous. Physically blocking the child from reaching the socket is already a form of attention and hence, this behaviour will be repeated. With the ABA approach, we focus on preventative measures, which, in this case, is covering up the socket with something beforehand. Also, children who like to run out might indicate that our play activity is boring. One strategy that can be used is to make the play activities more fun and entice them to play with us rather than pulling them back to the room. Another strategy is to block the door, changing the environment of the room and then continuing the play activity. Teaching basic communication skills, such as asking permission before leaving the room, is also a useful strategy," says Jochebed.

Most parents only inhibit inappropriate behaviours, but not teaching them the appropriate behaviours. If a child continues hitting his or her siblings, we cannot simply block the child or ignore it. As parents, we need to teach the child more appropriate behaviours.

Some children with autism exhibit repetitive behaviours. Therefore, we need to teach them functional skills, play skills and so on. With consistent practice, they will eventually be able to behave functionally.