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Ask any parent to name their biggest child-rearing challenge and nine times out of 10, you’ll probably get the same answer — managing behavior.

All children have behavior issues — whether it is adhering to morning routines like brushing teeth, getting dressed, and getting out of the house in time for school, or playing cooperatively with their siblings, doing their chores without complaint, or even just sitting quietly in a chair throughout an entire special event. All can be wearing on parents.

Identifying triggers

The behavior challenges for children with special needs like autism can be significantly more difficult for parents and caregivers to manage. Children with developmental disabilities often have trouble navigating the basic mechanics of daily living and can often struggle with even simple social interactions and tasks. Breakdowns happen, as they do with any child, but for children with special needs, they likely happen more often or are sparked by a host of unpredictable triggers.

Key, of course, is understanding that children with developmental disabilities rarely act out to simply garner parental attention or as a strategy to secure more video game time. More likely, outbursts are triggered by frustration — the inability to clearly communicate basic needs and desires, or by environmental prompts like moderate to extreme sensitivities to light, sound, or even touch.

Parents and caregivers typically are caught in the crosshairs. Moreover, because an individual child’s behavior triggers can be hard to identify and even more complicated to manage (or which require adaptation on the part of a caregiver), successfully navigating these situations can take enormous time, creativity, and patience. And the situations often feel overwhelming.

Training vs. education

Every parent and every caregiver has moments of feeling overwhelmed — and isolation. Parents of children with special needs, in particular, often feel like they are the only one struggling to bail a sinking ship.

The good news is that training to develop productive strategies does help. A recent study of parents of children with developmental disabilities reports that parents who received training in behavioral intervention techniques saw a 57 percent decline in problem behaviors associated with their special needs child compared to a parent who was simply educated about interventions. Trained parents, the study reported, have more than 20 percent better outcomes in managing their child’s behavior than those without training.

The challenge, however, is that training parents of children with disabilities can be very expensive and resources — such as skilled and geographically convenient behavioral therapists — are quite scarce. Support systems do exist, but may not be easy to identify or be readily accessible. Finding a quality behavior therapist for your child can be — and often is — a seemingly insurmountable challenge for many parents in the US and globally.

Do the numbers

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in every six children (or nearly 450 million worldwide) is diagnosed with a developmental disability. However, even in the U.S. and in large metropolitan areas like New York City, getting the right support — even when covered by an employer’s benefit plan — is a challenge.

With only 18,000 board certified Behavior Analysts worldwide, finding an expert provider to treat your child — not just in smaller, or non-urban locales, but even in New York, the city that never sleeps, the city with everything — is, at best, extremely difficult. Finding someone willing and able to go above and beyond to train you consistently to reinforce and manage behavioral plans in the home is nearly impossible.

Technology matters

Technology — not robots, but videos, chat rooms, online guides, etc. — is stepping in to fill the void for millions of parents seeking the tools, resources, and skills to implement basic behavioral intervention therapy and help their children. Technology is addressing the problem of how to serve so many children by too few behavioral experts by making it possible to cost-effectively and cost-efficiently scale parent-training resources and tele-consultative services to parents wherever they live.

Increasingly companies (and their employees) are rethinking the delivery of (and access to) effective behavioral intervention and caregiver-support services and looking to the cloud to turn the behavioral therapy delivery model on its head.

Rather than bemoan the one (therapist) to many (children/families) ratio, employers, educators, and healthcare providers are leveraging technology to deliver support services to enable many (families) to benefit from a single evidence-based resource.

These services can include instructional e-learning videos offering step-by-step training to help parents teach their child the art of daily living and human interaction, develop daily routines like brushing teeth independently, or socialization strategies, like making eye contact when prompted, or develop such long-term life skills as how to help the child prepare for a job interview.

Companies like Amazon and Pfizer are tapping into low- or no-cost (to employees) third-party services to deliver needed support and training to their employees caring for children with special needs. Altruism aside, employers benefit from improved productivity (reduced stress, greater focus, less absenteeism) and greater employee loyalty. The unspoken understanding is that your best interest is in their best interests.

Stepping forward matters

Human resources and benefits executives, who want to do more to help employees care for their children with disabilities, also understand how crucial this support can be to bolstering employee morale. But to make the cost-benefit case to management, they need to know how many employees are impacted. At issue is that few parents with special needs children are brave enough to step forward. Many fear stigmatization or lack of employer support that could jeopardize their careers, so most human resources departments have only anecdotal evidence to evaluate.

Managing challenges at home along with the fear that promotions will be held back and projects will be passed on to other colleagues is not a healthy approach to work. And employers may not know the cause, but they do notice when productivity suffers. So step forward. Let them know you (and your unique family) exist. And don’t just ask for help. Ask for training.

Mike Civello (mike@rethinkfirst.com) is vice president of employee benefits for Rethink Benefits (www.rethinkbenefits.com), a leading global online solution delivering a comprehensive video-based treatment program, behavior intervention planning tools, training for caregivers, individualized assessments, and online skills-based activities for individuals caring for those with developmental disabilities.

Posted 12:00 am, November 9, 2017
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