As caregivers working with individuals impacted by FASD, one of the hardest things is to consistently create a calm and safe environment for those individuals. And when things get off the rails, it is so easy to get caught up in the drama and emotion of the situation. Yet, we can't. We have to remain the touchstone to which our child can return. So, how do we accomplish that? Strongest Families have asked the same question and is creating a viable solution.
Our strongest weapons are education and training. Just like any situation that is new to us, once we gain experience and solutions, we develop confidence and calmness that enable us to become much more proficient at dealing with that situation. The first time our son hit another boy, we didn't know what to do. However, with talking with others, researching solutions, and using other tools, we are able to deal better with this lessening issue, and are getting insight into the triggers behind it.
Strongest Families is using the same approach. They have focused on neurodevelopment disabilities and have developed a very good behaviour modification program for those children impacted by FASD. After going through their program, the first thing that struck me was they are using all the well-researched, well-tested standard behaviour modification concepts within their program. As an experienced special needs teacher, I have been using these concepts for years and can attest to how effective they are when used properly. Positive reinforcement, repeating instructions, consistent application of those expectations, having fun together, remaining calm and collected, predetermine strategies for upcoming events and plan your responses are all great strategies particularly for those who struggle with understanding consequences and managing anxiety. Strongest Families uses these modification concepts and others to create an eleven step process. They focus on the concepts that will have the most immediate impact first and then repeat them as you go through the other concepts. The best part, though, is the coach. While the program is offered online and can be done independently, they also offer a trained coach for some people to walk you through the program. If you are currently in a struggling situation with someone impacted by FASD or any other neuron-development disability, it can be very difficult to learn a new program by yourself, and Strongest Families recognizes that as well.
This program is currently in the testing stage, and they are just wrapping up the first study. They invited caregivers impacted by FASD to participate first and have just completed their research on the effectiveness of the program. The initial anecdotal response they are receiving from the participants has been extremely positive and hopefully serves as an indicator for what the statistical analysis is going to show. When you consider that they are using established methods in this program, it is easy to envision that it is going to be a wonderful resource once it becomes available hopefully next year.
Knowing the current participants are giving it such positive feedback is not surprising. As stated earlier, when a caregiver has solutions and a plan, it changes our outlook. We are no longer stressed, frustrated, and concerned. Faith and hope are powerful tools in our arsenal. As any psychologist will tell you, to succeed, we must first believe. This program will work and with that coach beside you, it is only a matter of time before you see the positive impact.
The best news, though, is Strongest Families is now creating a similar program for individuals impacted by a neurodevelopment disability. They have just concluded the initial research with an advisory committee and will be recruiting caregivers to give them feedback on this new program. For more information on how to get involved, please contact Karen Turner at Karen.Turner@iwk.nshealth.ca and ask to be signed up for the Strongest Families monthly newsletter. You will not be disappointed.