Center provides English skills to parents of children with autism
HOUSTON — Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers of children with autism can now not only get assistance about how to care for their children with autism spectrum disorders, but can also receive lessons about how to improve their English skills through University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. The new program, made possible by a grant from Autism Speaks, provides an additional bonus to parents by offering English enhancement classes through the university’s Foreign Languages Program office.
“Studies show that parent training is a critical component of behavioral treatments for children with autism,” says CADD Director and Professor of Psychology Dorothea Lerman. “These behavioral treatments and parent training are very expensive, and only a limited number of providers are available in the Houston area.”
Lerman adds that training can be particularly problematic for the large number of Spanish-speaking families of children with autism in the area who are not proficient in English. The Autism Speaks grant will help the center provide parent training to Spanish-speaking families at no cost to them; and, in addition to group and individual training sessions, will allow them to receive instruction to improve their English proficiency.
“I hear from so many families who are desperately in need of help for their children,” adds Lerman.
Approximately one-third, or 14 of 37, of the families referred to the center since September 2010 have been Spanish-speaking families. To meet the needs of these families, the center has modified its parent/caregiver training program model into one that is offered in Spanish. The goals of the program are twofold: 1.) to help build capacity within the community by teaching Spanish-speaking parent trainers to implement the center’s model program in the future; and 2.) to help Spanish-speaking parents improve their English so that they can communicate more effectively with their children’s school and health care professionals, advance their careers and better provide for their families.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to get the parents more involved and to help them out, so that they could better help their children,” adds Foreign Language Program and Non-Credit Programs Director Christine Paul.
The center will be conducting three seven-week parent-training programs beginning this summer for four families at a time, explains Lerman. Each week, parents will attend one group meeting without their children and one individual meeting with their children. Parents will learn how to implement behavior therapy to improve their children’s academic, self-help, communication, and social skills and how to reduce problem behavior. Training will be conducted in Spanish and tailored to the child’s needs. It will include a hands-on component, during which they will work with their children while receiving feedback. After the group meetings, they will stay an extra hour to strengthen their English.
“Each week, they will also meet with an English instructor who will assist them in improving their English proficiency,” says Lerman, who adds that the English enhancement training will extend the training by an hour each week as well as provide two more weeks of specialized language sessions past the parent sessions.
The first group of Spanish-speaking parents to receive the additional training will begin in June. A second and third set of parents are slated to begin receiving the training in September 2012 and January 2013.
To find out more about UH-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, call the center, 281-283-3437, email Lerman, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://hsh.uhcl.edu/CADD.