Why should parents receive training? More and more children are being diagnosed with autism before their third birthdays. Providing early, intensive, behavioral intervention at the point of diagnosis is beneficial to achieve the best possible outcomes for children with autism. Given that the amount of time a child spends with his or her parents far outweighs the time spent with professionals, parent training and education has long been established as a key element to the effectiveness of behavioral interventions for children with autism (McClannahan, Krantz, & McGee, 1982; Koegel, Koegel, & Ence, 2012). Research has documented that parent training and education has not only facilitated parents’ ability to teach specific skills to their child such as toileting, social, and communication skills, but that parents acting as interventionists report reduced stress. Moreover, children whose parents are part of the therapeutic team are maximizing their time in intervention which could lead to an increased rate of progress.
What is the PTEP Program?
As parents often have to wait for services to begin for their children, training parents to be confident, successful teachers, can promote the initiation of quality intervention at the point of diagnosis. This is the goal of Alpine Learning Group’s Parent Education and Training Program (PTEP), a skill-based parent-training and education program that provides parents with the skills necessary to feel confident to teach their children, promote better long-term outcomes for children by beginning early quality intervention, and decrease parents’ levels of stress and anxiety. With proper intervention and assistance within the home, parents can become their child’s best and most effective teachers.
The Alpine Learning Group (ALG) developed the PTEP in 2006 after receiving a foundation grant. Since that time, ALG has relied on generous grant support to continue this program and reach families who would otherwise not have resources to access the much needed support in the early days of diagnosis. The program works in conjunction with local physicians and care providers who are the families’ first and often primary source of information about autism.
What are the Goals of the Program and How Are They Measured?
The goal of the PTEP is to not only provide reliable information about autism and science-based treatments for autism to families of newly diagnosed children, but also to increase parents’ accuracy in teaching their newly diagnosed children with autism adaptive skills and to teach parents how to respond to challenging behaviors in a functional way. Alpine Learning Group hopes that providing the Parent Training and Education Program will increase the likelihood of positive treatment outcomes for the children as a result of quality teaching performed by their parents early on.
Outcomes of the PTEP are measured in two ways. A pretest and posttest measure is used to determine the parent’s understanding of basic teaching strategies supported by the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis prior to and after the training has been completed. A social validity measure is also sent to parents at the conclusion of the program. This measure allows parents to indicate their satisfaction with the program and to rate their experience with the program. At this time, ALG has successfully served over 125 families in the Parent Training and Education Program.
How Does the PTEP Program Work?
Phase 1 – Referral: Participating hospitals and care providers refer parents of newly diagnosed children to the Parent Training and Education Program. Following a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (e.g., autism, PDD-NOS), parents and caregivers are given the Alpine Learning Group’s PTEP contact information.
Phase 2 – Phone Call: When parents contact ALG, they immediately speak to a clinician who describes the Parent Training and Education Program. Following that initial contact, parents and caregivers are enrolled into the PTEP.
Phase 3 – Workshop: Once parents are enrolled in the program, they are scheduled to attend a workshop provided by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst®. This workshop provides parents with the opportunity to interact with an expert clinician who can answer questions, as well as meet other parents who have newly diagnosed children. During the workshop, the clinician provides parents with an overview of specific teaching procedures based on Applied Behavior Analysis (e.g., how to shape early learning behavior, how to reinforce responses, how to prompt responses, how to increase play skills, etc.) so that they may begin the process of facilitating skills in their young child with autism. Addressing challenging behaviors is also reviewed with the parents during the training. At the end of the workshop, parents are asked to complete a form that lists some of the skills that they would like to teach or challenging behaviors they would like to address with their children in the home-based training sessions.
Phase 4 – Training at Home: Following the workshop, eight hours of in-home structured teaching sessions are conducted by a clinician trained in Applied Behavior Analysis. The goal of these sessions is to empower parents by providing them with the tools necessary to increase the skills of their youngster with autism and to learn the skills necessary to manage problem behavior.
To facilitate the in-home training sessions, parents generally select three target adaptive skills to teach their children during the training program (e.g., establishing eye contact, requesting items, and following simple instructions). The PTEP clinician will then provide a skill-based, hands-on training that includes four components: (1) instructions: the trainer verbally describes each component of the teaching procedure; (2) in-vivo modeling: the trainer interacts with the child and models the skills for teaching the first skill targeted for increase; (3) behavioral rehearsal: the parent implements the teaching procedure with the child; (4) feedback: the clinician provides the parents descriptive feedback immediately following their performance, including positive comments on teaching skills performed correctly and corrective feedback on components performed incorrectly. This parent training procedure is repeated with all three target skills selected by the parents.
In addition to the 3 skills targeted for increase, the clinician will identify other areas of skill development or identify challenging behaviors to decrease that will assist the parents in their everyday interactions with their child (e.g., clinicians will create and help train and implement communication systems, help teach parents to ignore attention seeking behaviors and reinforce appropriate behavior).
Who Should I Contact to Get More Information?
If you are a parent of a newly diagnosed child with autism, and you would like more information about the program, please contact Angela Pagliaro at the Alpine Learning Group at 201-612-7800 x 17.
Angela Pagliaro MA, BCBA, is Director of Outreach Services, Jaime A. De Quinzio, PhD, BCBA-D, is a Behavior Consultant, and Bridget A. Taylor, PsyD, BCBA-D is Executive Director at Alpine Learning Group.