Welcome to my first ever blog post, my name is Jon Wiger.  I am happy to say that I am in my 16th year of employment at Partners in Excellence.  A fun fact is that I started as a behavior therapist at Partners in 2006, and I have worked in every position within our behavior therapy services department.  My current role is in Process Improvement where I work with all different roles and departments throughout our company to ensure clinical quality.  I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share my passion for and the importance of early intervention in improving the lives of children and families affected with Autism.  I will also provide an explanation of a parent’s role as a treatment team member in early intervention.  Lastly, I will outline five tips to help parents or other care providers support a child with Autism. 

      To give a little more of my background, I am a parent of two energetic boys (Ty 12 yrs. and Cash 8 yrs.), a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and an 18-year veteran in the field of early intervention in the treatment of children with Autism.  I am proud to say that I was destined to help people with disabilities!  Back in 1977, my parents started a company in a small town in southern Minnesota, New Ulm.  Their company provided residential support services for adults with disabilities to live in the community.  As you might expect, growing up, my parents consistently demonstrated how important it was to include all types of people.  In fact, when I was born, my parents lived with me as an infant, above their first group home in an apartment.  My parents took turns, working in 12-hour shifts to provide direct support the eight people in the home; until they were able to grow the company and hire additional staff. 

      Early on, I came to the realization that there were many different types of people that had varied and special needs but, they also had talents.  It was our goal that these people with all types of disabilities would be treated with respect and given responsibility.  As a result, with motivated and committed staff implementing effective programming; I saw how these adults with disabilities, excelled.  We also grew to know that when reasonably high expectations were set, in conjunction with their abilities, it created momentum that allowed them to gain independence, self-confidence, and added value to others.  It also became very clear how important it was for everyone, (including people with disabilities) to feel and know that they contributed in a meaningful role, were appreciated, and were part of something larger than themselves-the community. 

      Sure, there were scary moments, frustrating moments, boring moments, happy moments, but there were unique moments we had when we celebrated.  We celebrated the hard work, achievements, contributions, and teamwork that went into each person’s independence.  The independence itself, varied greatly by person but their inclusion in the community and acceptance as people was present (or protected), across the board.  The feeling that my parent’s company and as a family, we were making a difference in the lives of people that had previously lived in state institutions or hospitals was invigorating and deeply compelling.  That passion and motivation in improving the lives of the people with disabilities, lead me to my career in early intensive behavioral intervention back in 2004.  Shortly after graduating with my bachelors from the University of Minnesota, I began dedicating my career to improving the lives of children and families affected with Autism.  After my exposure to some of research and outcome data from using early intensive behavioral intervention and the scientific approach used in behavior analysis to provide treatment to children with Autism, I was hooked.  I was convinced that these services, when provided early enough, could provide the steppingstones children with Autism needed, to minimize the potential to require lifelong support and maximize their potential in functional and meaningful ways.    

      As I have seen over the years and know personally as a parent; you get out of something what you put into it; and early intervention is no different.  As a family experiences various behavioral challenges, learns of an Autism or different diagnosis, and begins the process of seeking treatment; it is critical for me to point out that, the parents/guardians and other care providers are THE crucial treatment team members.  In the treatment modality of early intensive behavioral intervention, it really does “take a village.”  Trust me, I understand from working alongside hundreds of parents over the years that being a parent and treatment team member is a large responsibility, that takes work.  So, whether you are starting on your journey as a parent of a newly diagnosed child with Autism or finding ways to celebrate successes and maximize your child’s potential in functional and meaningful ways, I want to tell you, “It is worth it!”  

I would like to close this post outlining five tips to help parents of children with autism:              

  1. Become an Expert on Your Child.  The saying goes “If you have met one child with autism, you have met ONE child with Autism.” In other words, no two children are alike. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, triggers, and calming techniques.  Get to know what works best for your child.   
  2. Begin Keeping a Journal.  When you are learning about your child, it is a good idea to keep a written record.  It is important to keep track of significant changes in the child’s life, changes in behavior, and medical records as you can look back on these for information when working with professionals.  A private journal can also be used to cope and express other feelings when dealing with this type of situation.  After you finish writing your journal entry for the day, write down three successes of the day and one thing that should be a focus.  This will allow you to track growth over time and conclude the entry on a positive note.
  3. Find Support for the Entire Family.  The entire family is impacted when a child is diagnosed with autism.  Each family member will need different types and levels of support.  Your child with autism needs the support of a knowledgeable clinical team committed to help them reach their full potential.  As a parent, you may find emotional and informational support through family, friends, teachers, therapists, or online parenting networks.  Siblings need support as well.  As a parent, make special time to spend with your other children and support their feelings about having a sibling with autism.  Teach them about the disorder and allow them to ask questions.
  4. Think Ahead About Safety.  Many children with Autism are in danger of wandering away.  If the child is non-verbal there is an even greater risk that they will not be able to get help if they need it.  Install preventive measures in your house such as locks, door alarms, and a perimeter fence.  Consider a medical ID bracelet or necklace.  If your child will not wear a bracelet or necklace another option could be placing information on the child’s clothing or placing a card in their pocket.  In certain cases, it might be necessary to inform your community or local police department about your child and let them know how to reach you, if needed.  Finally, teach your child to swim.  Drowning is a leading cause of death for adults and children with Autism.
  5. Behavior is Communication.  When your child is engaging in challenging behavior, they are attempting to tell you something, they are not just being bad.  They are behaving in this way to communicate that they want your attention, want something (e.g., food, toy, drink), need sensory input, or they want to leave or avoid a situation.  Attempt to identify and teach appropriate replacement behaviors.  Many times, building appropriate communication skills can decrease challenging behaviors.  It is also possible that there is a medical reason that this behavior is occurring.  Always rule out any medical conditions or pain when new challenging behavior occurs.