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Every Child Team Eases Transition Anxieties for Children with Autism
By Nancy Kennedy

For parents of children with autism and related disorders, times of change and transition can be stressful. At Every Child, Inc., Pittsburgh’s pioneering non-profit organization that supports families and children with special needs through a range of services, challenges like these are addressed by the agency’s Family Based Mental Health program’s special Autism Team.

“Change is tough for kids with autism, even when it is well planned,” says Samantha Baillie, M.A., L.P.C., therapist and leader of the Autism Team. “The change may be a new house, a new baby, a new school, new teachers or even a new bus driver. Many kids will feel anxious as they anticipate changes, and their anxiety can be absorbed by the parents, who have concerns of their own.”

Baillie and her colleagues at Every Child help families identify and implement strategies to reduce stress, helping the whole family to navigate changes and adjust. For example, if the return to school is the source of stress, Baillie suggests that parents ask the school to let them bring the child to the school ahead of time to get acquainted – or reacquainted - with the environment, and perhaps meet the teachers and other staff. “A calm, controlled personal visit to the school can be very helpful. It promotes a sense of control. Another idea is to help kids manage changes is to keep bedtime and wake-up times consistent through the year.”

JoJo Altebrando, Family Based senior clinician, says that an effective way to prepare for changes is to use pictures and stories. “It’s best to prepare with open, honest conversation, using social stories. If the child doesn’t read, you can find ideas for stories at the library, online or on Pinterest. Be creative.”

At home, there is usually a level of comfort, where things are familiar and predictable, says Stacey Pfalzgraf, Family Based clinician. “For any transition, structure should be encouraged. It helps make things more manageable. It helps to use planners, calendars, pictures and a visual schedule so the kids know what to expect. We are available to collaborate with organizations and schools as they get to know the child and prepare to meet their needs.”

Every Child’s Family Based Services program emphasizes the uniqueness of every child and family, and approaches each with great respect for their individual needs and efforts. It is an intensive service, providing in-home intervention for families with a child that has significant behavior problems and has not progressed with less intensive services. The Family Based program is also offered to families with a child who is at risk for placement outside the home, in a psychiatric hospital or therapeutic residential facility. The program provides family and individual behavioral therapy, service coordination, skills training and advocacy. The Autism Program offers intensive support, education and therapy, provided by clinicians who have advanced training and expertise specific to the needs of children on the autism spectrum and their families. There is also crisis intervention available 24/7. Families receive home visits two or three times per week, for a period of 32 weeks.

According to JoJo Altebrando, the Family Based service is holistic and comprehensive. “We look at every angle and consider every factor that may be contributing to the family’s situation. We make an effort to get the whole story and learn what they think is going on. We explain the process and help them identify the goals; the family decides what they need and chooses their treatment, and this is quite powerful for them. Often, they experience systems, such as school systems and the healthcare system, as intimidating, so when they can find their own voice and power, it’s enormous for them and so satisfying for us to see.”

To learn more about Every Child, visit www.everychildinc.org or call (412) 665-0600.

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