Hennepin County Medical Center - Local 977

New Child-Care Training Builds Skills in Nurturing Autistic Kids

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St. Paul provider Ozie Webster shares advice on caring for autistic children.

Twenty Minnesota child-care providers are pioneers in new training that helps them recognize potential signs of autism in the kids they care for, then intervene effectively on their behalf.

“Anytime you can change the trajectory of a kid’s life, it’s a big deal,” says Nora Slawik, education director for the Autism Society of Minnesota.

The training is a joint effort between the Autism Society and AFSCME’s Child Care Providers Together Local 3400. Providers, educators, psychologists, and parents collaborated to develop the course specifically for family child-care providers. The pilot class is the first step toward offering similar training and certification, at an affordable cost, across Minnesota.

Recognizing signs, doing something about it

The 15-hour class offers home child-care providers the tools they need to understand:

  • What types of behavior to look for in a child who may have autism
  • How to support and encourage parents to have their child assessed
  • What steps they can take so a child with autism can thrive under the provider’s care

The class is also a forum for providers to share their expertise about what has worked – or not – in their own homes, and creates a network of support for the future.

Signs of autism typically become evident between ages 2 and 3. That puts child-care providers in a unique position to recognize signs and intervene successfully, says Jonah Weinberg, executive director of the Autism Society. “There are so many resources related to autism, but so few people know about them.”

Autism is a range of brain disorders that show up in different ways. That is why people with autism are described as being “on the spectrum.” About 1 in 88 children have some form of autism.

“The chance of you having a kid in your child care is very high,” Slawik says. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be affected, but the disorder crosses all income and demographic groups.

Working with parents

The training highlights some of the “red flags” that may indicate a child has autism. It then gives providers ways to talk constructively with parents about certain behaviors, to encourage the parents to have their child evaluated, and to partner with parents in helping the child progress.

Finally, the training shares specific techniques for understanding and effectively responding to the sometimes unusual, sometimes disruptive, behavior of children with autism.

Many of the techniques, such as five-point scales and anxiety curves, “you could use with any kid with special needs,” Slawik notes.

“Some can be used with all kids. And some can be used in other parts of life, too.”

“A lot of what you learn in this class applies to your whole day care,” says St. Paul provider Helen Ash.

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