ANDI Initiative Parent Training Programme: My Story
By Syahida Yep
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
I have a child with autism. He is 8 years old this year (2011). Since he was diagnosed in 2005, I have tried my very best to educate myself. I read, I listen, I see, I feel. I use whatever means I have to make sure that my child grows perfectly, despite his autism.
His diagnosis was never taken negatively. I took it with an open heart and mind. I knew that my child was not the only one with autism. The word autism may have sounded familiar to me at that time but I knew little about it back then. As I went through with my child's autism journey, I was particularly devastated every time he threw a tantrum. It was bad, very bad. The worst part was that the tantrums seemed to happen without an obvious reason. He cried, he screamed, he shouted, he even tried to hurt himself. I did not understand what and why. Though this is no longer a frequent scene, it still happens once in a while, but in a much reduced temperament.
When he was younger, the rest of the family and I tried our best to 'connect' with my child. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we failed. Why? Because most of the time, we only made assumptions. We assumed this, we assumed that. Hence, some assumptions were correct, some were wrong. We also experimented with many things which I learned through reading. It was basically a 'trial and error' period. This scenario was somewhat prolonged until last year (2010), when I was introduced to the ANDI Initiative Parent Training programme.
I first knew about ANDI Initiative about a year before I enrolled for the programme. I saw Intan Miranti at an event (Autism Walk). We met briefly. A few months later, I borrowed some books from ANDI Initiative's collection. I met Intan again.
I was introduced to ANDI Initiative by an online friend. At that time, she was already a mutual friend and yes, she attended this course before me.
So, what made me choose to join? Many reasons. I was seeking knowledge, support and also motivation.
I was aware that this parent training programme emphasizes the ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) method. Although I have heard of criticism against ABA, I was rather ignorant about it. Prior to registration, Intan suggested that I call a previous participant to ask further about the programme. I did and I was glad. It helped me to get a clear picture of the whole programme and I went on with my decision to join.
The schedule of the program was rather flexible. Except for the first two classes which was held on two Saturdays (on two consecutive weeks), the rest of the classes/meetings was done once every month. This has contributed to my 100% attendance for the program (FYI, I am 4-5 hours away by car from KL).
There are many things that I liked about the parent training programme. Firstly, the training was very 'hands-on'. The speakers (during my batch, it was Brenda Boehm and Intan Miranti) did a great job with live demonstrations and role plays (among participants). Parents were actively involved in discussions and question-answer sessions. Teaching and learning took place in a very informal way. There was not a dull moment and I felt enriched each time a class ended.
I also liked the running of the programme. After each class, every parent was given their 'homework'. We practised what we have learned. We recorded it on video to present to the speakers at the next meeting. Feedbacks, information-sharing and ideas-exchanging happened during the video presentation. We could even 'approach' Intan (via email or phone) anytime with any doubts or for troubleshooting. Ample time was provided. We usually had at least 2-3 weeks to do this, before our next class/meeting. This has somehow helped me to become an 'expert'. We learn and master, both the theory and the practical.
Apart from the enjoyment I got throughout the programme, I did feel pressured at times. I had to 'force' myself to start with my own therapy sessions at home. I had to 'squeeze' my schedule to do the sessions regularly and consistently. I also had to 'burn' my pocket to buy some new toys and also items for rewards (reinforcer). Not to mention, I had to be creative and innovative all the time to change whatever is ineffective, to change whatever is boring and uninteresting and most importantly, to adapt to my child's behaviour. Basically, I now felt how it was like to be a therapist.
Anyway, I welcomed the pressure and tension. It somehow kept me going. I took it as a challenge, a positive one. It helped to groom good self-discipline in me. In fact, it made every little progress shown by my child taste 'sweet and juicy'. The sweetness and juiciness does not end with the programme, I still feel it every now and then. It is definitely a gift to all parents who are involved with their special child.
I still hear, read and listen to the controversy of ABA. Some claim that the ABA teaches children to mimic neurotypical behavior without really understanding the meaning of the social cues they are using. Some argue that ABA teaches the person with autism to suppress natural and harmless stimulatory behavior (also known as 'stimming').
My perspective, it all depends on you. Yes, there are some elements of 'mimicking', but ABA is more than just that. Personally, I do not feel that it teaches my child to become 'robotic'. Also, some stimming behaviour certainly needs to be controlled (not suppressed). Well, you need to join the programme and see for yourself.
To me, whether or not you practise what you learn, there is NOTHING to lose. It has been a wonderful experience for me. I understand my child better. I can 'connect' to my child easily. I teach my child more effectively. I play with my child more enjoyably. The reasons behind his tantrums and behaviour are now much more predictable. The gains were not only for my child. I definitely had my share of self-improvement too.
Thank You and Well Done, ANDI Initiative!!!
Johor Bahru, Malaysia