Many parents with young children often worry about the safety of those children; it’s not uncommon for parents to have talks with their kids to develop a plan in case they should get separated.
But what can parents do if their child has a disorder such as autism, where the tendency to wander may be more severe and the child’s ability to navigate the situation may be mitigated?
The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) in Temecula has been coming up with a game plan for worried parents that involves coming up with a strategy with their children for where to go and who to talk to if they should get lost and from there it’s practice, practice, practice, according to autism expert Amberlyn Frey.
Frey said she’s been with CARD for a total of six years and that she started as a behavioral therapist but is now a board certified behavioral analyst who works day in and day out with children who have autism.
Frey and others who work at one of CARD’s 26 locations often utilize a practice called Applied Behavioral Analysis.
The practice is to identify troublesome behaviors – such as wandering – and devise practical solutions to help children avoid those behaviors, according to Frey.
She said the first step to go by after conducting that initial analysis is to develop method of teaching and a corresponding reward system.
“You are managing and modifying the environment through teaching, teaching new skills to replace behaviors you don’t want to see or teaching new skills for a deficit area a child may have,” Frey said.
Frey said the best way both for parents and children to gain practical experience with wandering avoidance is to practice that skill in an area where it would have to actually have to be utilized.
Usually that consists of going to supermarkets and stores like Target where children are put in an actual scenario and then praised when they’re able to demonstrate that they could do the right thing when they get “lost.”
Frey stressed that results vary in terms of learning new skills because not all children have the same level of autism and people have different learning capacities.
“There are varying degrees,” she said. “It depends on how much they know and their awareness of the environment around them.”
But, she added, the program is something parents should consider if they have a child who struggles with autism because it does help get kids on the right path toward learning positive behaviors and eliminating negative ones.
Jonathan Tarbox, PhD, a member of CARD’s research and development department, agrees with Frey’s assessment. He said a lot of parents are unaware such programs even exist or that practicing things is much more effective method than a sit down conversation, which is what he said he sees many parents turn to before trying a more hands on method.
That’s why Tarbox and other members of the research department put together a video that informs parents of the benefits of enforcing the practical application of a skill that’s often just talked about.
“Just telling kids what to do with safety skills doesn’t actually work,” he said. To see the video online, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79LiVESgPo0/