Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Important Parental Role in Overcoming Autism. (Schools * Camps * Residences)

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Important Parental Role in Overcoming Autism. (Schools * Camps * Residences)

Article excerpt

Autism is a challenging disability for children and their families. It is a neurological disorder that strikes before the age of three and can severely restrict functioning in school, family and community life. Marked by an extreme deviation from normal development, children afflicted with autism may engage in bizarre and destructive mannerisms. Parents, who once dreamed of a bright and happy future, watch as their children, who initially jabbered and spoke their first words, retreat into a world of silence. Without warning, autism changes everything.

Parenting, Autism and the ASCENT School for Individuals with Autism (Deer Park, NY).

Best summarized by an independent filmmaker when she said: "I came to Ascent to help the parents reveal the plight of autism, but what I found was inspiration. Autism is not their impetus, it is the root to their strength."

The Beginning of ASCENT

The parents that the filmmaker referred to were the founding parents of ASCENT. In 1998, I was approached by an attorney representing these parents who were desperate to find appropriate education for their children, who were diagnosed with autism. Frustrated by their children's failures and disappointed with the absence of available openings in schools that provide effective treatments, some mortgaged their homes or sold their engagement rings to start a school that would provide Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the only research-validated treatment for autism.

Together, we convinced the Nassau County Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to approve and fund homebased services for their preschoolers. Several unfunded school age children remained in their existing programs. On a very limited budget, ASCENT's program began in the home of a founding parent and the first teachers were parents devoted to learning and practicing the ABA methodology. The homebased children excelled, while the remaining children saw limited gains.

Facing an unresponsive State Education Department, we soon came to understand the limits of a parent-run board. Raw emotion needed to be replaced by respected business sense. ASCENT reached out to volunteers with expertise in their respective fields, to develop a professional Board of Trustees. Never before touched by autism, but touched by ASCENT's vision, the parents' drive and the needs of the children, these volunteers joined ASCENT and have since proved invaluable in their governance to the school.

Under the direction of its Board of Trustees and with community support, ASCENT obtained a Charter from the State Board of Regents in 1999. It hired teachers, admitted students and filled the house, while parents searched for a larger facility. In 1999, ASCENT finally moved to a vacant school building in Glen Cove, New York.

Parental Involvement: The Core of the ASCENT Experience

While parents were Ascent's original teachers, due to the lack of funds, I have always advocated the education of parents in Applied Behavior Analysis. Autism is a 24-hour disability and requires intervention skills in the home. In addition to academics, ASCENT emphasizes participation in family life. This empowers parents to teach new skills, rather than accept existing repertories; to raise their expectations, rather than adjust them; and to actively participate in their children's programs, as opposed to passive observance. Empowering parents fosters greater independence for their children.

ASCENT's parent education component is a two-pronged system of training and implementation, designed to build upon and generalize important adaptive and socially meaningful behaviors taught during the school day. …

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