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Evaluating the Autism Ontario Potential Programme
Autism Ontario’s Potential Programme aims to support parents of children with Autism by increasing access to information, improving access to experts in local communities, providing community-based learning opportunities for children with Autism, and facilitating direct contact between parents and Autism Ontario chapters. To date, the program has proved effective at reducing the stress of families who contact Autism Ontario and more families have been reaching out to Autism Ontario since the program started. The number of events offered by Autism Ontario chapters increased since the start of the program and the vast majority of families indicated that these events met or exceeded their expectations. Overall the results are positive and suggest that Realize Community Potential Program is on its way to achieving the goals that were set out at its inception.
Autism Ontario’s Realize Community Potential Program: Evaluation of Short-Term and Longer-Term Stress in Parents of Individuals with an ASD
The goal of Autism Ontario’s Realize Community Potential Program has been to directly support parents of children with Autism through the provision of long-term support and resources for families. Parent stress was measured directly before and after communication with Autism Ontario family support coordinators. The results showed that parents who initiated contact while in crisis showed the greatest decrease in stress after contact with Autism Ontario staff. When parents were asked to describe their stress on a more long-term basis the majority revealed that their children’s symptoms were “a little bit” to “quite a bit stressful”. The Autism symptoms that caused parents the most stress were the children’s difficulty relating to others and extreme physical activity levels. Intellectual impairments and verbal communication difficulties also caused parents stress. Many parents indicated that they felt empowered in the care of their child (e.g., feeling that their opinion was just as important as a health professional’s when making service decisions). Finally, more than half of parents surveyed rated themselves as having a positive quality of life.
Evaluating Stress from Email Correspondence with Autism Ontario’s Potential Program
There are many benefits to communicating over email instead of in person; such as the convenience of being able to initiate the interaction at any time and from a variety of different locations. Email communication also has its drawbacks, however, and the most important challenge to an organization like Autism Ontario is that, without body language or voice cues, there is a greater chance that the communication can be misinterpreted. Because a large number of families contact Autism Ontario over email we attempted to evaluate how consistently family support coordinators are evaluating the stress of families who contact them over email. Different family support coordinators were asked to rate the same emails on how much stress was represented in the email. Different coordinators gave the same ratings 87% of the time. These results are positive and suggest that it is possible for family support coordinators to measure family stress over email with a great degree of reliability. This study led to another, more direct evaluation of stress via email, by asking the families themselves. These data are reported in a later poster.
Social Skills Programming and the Implementation of the PEERS Program across Ontario
Social skills play an important role in promoting our ability to get along with others throughout our lifetime and are especially important during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. In order to learn more about programs that can support the development of social skills in teenagers with Autism, we developed two questionnaires. The first questionnaire was designed for professionals who provide social skills training to people who have Autism. Professionals who completed this first questionnaire indicated that their programs were most successful if the skills they taught could be applied in more than one situation, if parents were involved in the training, and if the staff providing the training were well-trained and consistent. The second questionnaire was designed for parents and caregivers of people who have Autism. Parents and caregivers who completed this questionnaire indicated that the outcomes they were most interested in, when enrolling their child in a social skills program, were their child gaining more friends and improving their conversation skills. Using the information from these two questionnaires Autism Ontario decided to begin running The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS): a program that is designed for teens who are interested in learning ways to help them make and keep friends. Ongoing data will be collected on the success of the PEERS program.
An Updated Evaluation of the Autism Ontario Potential Programme
Autism Ontario’s Realize Community Potential Program aims to support parents of children with Autism by increasing access to information, improving access to experts in local communities, providing community-based learning opportunities for children with Autism, and facilitating direct contact between parents and Autism Ontario chapters. A trial of the program proved very successful and, as a result, the program has been expanded across Ontario. Since the program began there has been a large increase in the number of families contacting Autism Ontario, the number of events Autism Ontario has offered to families, and the number of families attending these events. Family support coordinators have proved effective at reducing the stress of families who contact Autism Ontario; particularly families who contact the organization when in crisis. Parents report feeling more empowered after taking part in the program and families who participate in program events and workshops tend to be very satisfied.
Keeping Up with the Times: Measuring the Stress of Parents of Children with ASD over Email
The ability to measure how stressed families are when they contact professional organizations gives the organizations a starting point from which they can determine how to respond in a manner that best addresses the family’s needs. In recent years the number of families reaching out to Autism Ontario over email has grown. However, because of the lack of direct interaction, the body language or vocal cues that one gets with in-person, or even phone communication, are missing, so it is more difficult to express or interpret stress over email. In order to ensure that Autism Ontario is just as effective at responding to the stress of families who contact us over email, we collected information on parent stress before and after communication with our family support coordinators. The results were overwhelmingly positive and both families who contacted Autism Ontario over email and over the phone reported a decrease in stress after communicating with Autism Ontario’s family support coordinators.
Developing Friendship Skills in Adolescents with ASD Using PEERS – An Evidence-Based Intervention Training Program
Although teenagers with Autism value friendships and want to be included in social activities they are less likely to have friends than other teens. The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) is a program that was designed for teens who are interested in learning ways to help them make and keep friends. The program teaches the teens important social skills and allows the teens to practice these skills in session. Autism Ontario has been running the PEERS program with teens with Autism at sites across Ontario for the past few years. The results of the program have been positive and teens who participate generally have more social skills, attend more social events with other teens, and have less social anxiety after participating in the program.
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