According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, an estimated 1 in every 44 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8.
While no one is sure why autism has become so prevalent, the significant increase in ASD diagnoses means that these days, more of us are caring for children with special needs. To provide good care and encourage healthy development, caregivers must understand the basics of autism and have the skills necessary to support children with ASD in their daily lives.
Lucia Murillo, Autism Speaks’ assistant director of education research, reports that many parents and caregivers, especially in underserved communities around the world, don’t have ongoing access to professionals with autism expertise who can provide them with information and tools to support children with autism.
“Many of these parents went to great lengths and expense to get their children evaluated,” says Murillo. “But a diagnosis of autism didn’t necessarily lead to services or even information about the condition. For instance, on a trip to Albania, I heard from parents, teachers and healthcare professionals about how they didn’t know what to do to help a child diagnosed with autism. ‘We don’t have the skills. We don’t have support,’ they told me. We’ve heard these concerns in many parts of the world.”
That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborated with nonprofit Autism Speaks to develop the Caregivers Skills Training Program for parents and caregivers of children with developmental delays and developmental disabilities including autism. So far, the in-person program, first piloted in 2019, has been offered to caregivers in 30 countries.
On April 2, 2022, World Autism Awareness Day, the WHO released an online version of the Caregiver Skills Training Program. According to the WHO, the program “teaches parents and other caregivers day-to-day skills that help boost the well-being and development of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.”
The release of the online training program will enable thousands of families to access the curriculum, which “includes pre-recorded information sessions on topics such as using everyday routines as opportunities for children to learn, engaging with children through play and problem-solving. Sessions to help caregivers improve their own well-being are another important feature of the course,” says the WHO.
That part is critical since “parents of autistic children report that they experience more depression, anxiety, and stress-related health problems than other parents. Parental stress has also been associated with marital distress, less effective parenting, and dropping out of treatment,” according to Learn Behavioral.
Caregivers can engage in online training on their own timetables and course materials are geared toward learners without previous education in autism and developmental disabilities.
Says Dr. Chiara Servili, an expert in the mental health and brain health of children and adolescents at the WHO: “During the pilot phase, the Caregiver Skills Training Program equipped families in a wide range of community settings with the knowledge and skills to better understand and engage with their children with developmental delays or disabilities. The launch of the e-version means that many more thousands of families will now be able to benefit from it.”
To get more information about the online version of the Caregiver Skills Training Program click here.