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Family Involvement with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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In the last section, we discussed replacement behaviors. This included practicing, self-management and not letting little things slide.
One aspect of communication in a family setting is floor-time as a family approach. This will include time for siblings and time for parents. As you listen to this section, think about how you encourage families with autistic children to spend time together.
Aidan, age 40, and Colleen, age 37, had two children. Devon, age 8, had a mild form of autism and required lots of energy from his parents to keep him engaged and interactive. Macy, age 13, a bright girl, was doing well in school.
Colleen stated to me, "Whenever I’m working with Devon, preparing a meal in the kitchen, or doing chores around the house, Macy—instead of focusing on her homework—vies for my attention. I get burned out trying to care for Devon as it is, and I feel guilty because I know Macy needs attention that I don’t have time to give her! Then Aidan comes home and I hardly have any energy for him either! I want to be a good wife and mother!"
Aidan asked, "How can our family work on this together?" How might you have responded to this situation? I stated, "Of course raising an autistic child can be stressful. Staying constructive, however, might require both of you, Macy and other family members to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses so you can all work as a team. In terms of helping your family gather around Devon, there are two steps I use to floor-time with a family approach."
2 Steps to Floor-Time
♦ #1 Time for Siblings
I stated to Aidan and Colleen, "First, let’s discuss time for siblings. Siblings of a child with autism often have challenges of their own. The sibling reaction that everyone seems to talk about is jealousy or resentment. Because of course, the autistic child receives a lot of attention, a sister like Macy could naturally feel lost in the shuffle.
However, there are other reactions, such as anxiety or worry that the same thing could happen to them. Some siblings become very overprotective, almost like little parents themselves. Other children can become very impulsive and aggressive with their siblings because their sibling’s vulnerability is too scary to recognize. How do you think Macy feels about her brother?"
Aidan stated, "I’ve observed that Macy seems embarrassed by Devon when she’s with her friends. At the same time, though, she can be very defensive of him, especially if she thinks he’s being made fun of." Colleen stated, "I think she’s afraid of him to an extent…she doesn’t understand why he is the way he is."
I stated, "These are all normal reactions, and the more often both of you are aware of them and talk to each other about them, the more likely your whole family can get to that deeper level of understanding that brings the family closer together. You might want to set up opportunities for Macy to talk to you about her feelings and ask questions, and also to let her know that you empathize."
Colleen asked, "Do you have any suggestions about how we might entice Macy to be more involved in Devon’s care?" I said, "You might consider paying her to babysit Devon. If you’re not comfortable leaving her completely alone with Devon, you could stay in the house, but Macy might learn how to play and interact with her younger brother. For Macy, this can lead to a deeper sense of pride and empathy towards him."
Aidan asked, "What about Macy’s need for attention?" I responded, "Because Devon requires so much time and energy, it is understandable how Macy could feel needy. Each of you, as parents, might try spending half an hour with Macy every day, letting her be the star. Yet another thing that could be helpful is taking time to think about tomorrow. You can help Macy visualize the situation and the feelings she will have. You can even ask her, ‘What is the best way you have of getting my attention when you feel I’m paying too much attention to Devon? What is the cleverest thing you have ever done?’ Perhaps even ask her what she’d do if she were the parent. This can help her to feel she has options and that she’s supported."
I concluded, "Finally, there should be a lot of family time so everybody feels that they’re part of this mission together. Sometimes the whole family can just have fun together—each person will be at a different level of development, but you can try to find some common way of connecting together." How do these techniques compare to the ones you use? What might you have suggested to Colleen and Aidan regarding Macy and Devon?
♦ #2 Time for Parents
I stated to Aidan and Colleen, "Second, let’s discuss time for parents. The two of you may want to make sure you schedule time alone together to regain the intimacy of your marriage. Without that time to relax and regroup, it can be hard to nurture each other. If you don’t feel secure inside, you probably won’t feel valued as people. If you don’t feel valued, then it’s hard to communicate how much you value your children. It’s a cycle. You might consider trying to find a babysitter or letting Marcy babysit, even for just a few hours, so you can go for a walk or for a quick bite to eat. It’s good also to have an hour or half hour each evening, after the kids are asleep, to come together and talk and tune into one another."
Do you agree with the solutions offered in this section to the parents of a child with autism? Do you have a Colleen or an Aidan who might benefit from hearing this section during a session?
In this section, we discussed floor-time as a family approach. This included time for siblings and time for parents.
In the next section, we will discuss Two Goals of Floor-time. These will include following the child’s lead and bringing the child into a shared world.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Garbacz, S. A., McIntyre, L. L., & Santiago, R. T. (2016). Family involvement and parent–teacher relationships for students with autism spectrum disorders. School Psychology Quarterly, 31(4), 478–490.
Gliga, T., Senju, A., Pettinato, M., Charman, T., Johnson, M. H., & The BASIS Team. (2014). Spontaneous belief attribution in younger siblings of children on the autism spectrum. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 903–913.
Johnson, N., Frenn, M., Feetham, S., & Simpson, P. (2011). Autism spectrum disorder: Parenting stress, family functioning and health-related quality of life. Families, Systems, & Health, 29(3), 232–252.
What are two parts to floor-time as a family approach?
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