Brock researcher using behavioural skills training to teach autistic children about safety

As World Autism Day approaches on April 2, The Brock News will run a three-part series highlighting the efforts of three researchers in Brock University’s Centre for Applied Disability Studies, each of whom studies how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may be treated in individuals at different stages of the lifespan. This is the second part of the series. 

Nearly half of parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have experienced having their child wander away from them in a public place, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found.

“Children with ASD are more likely to become separated from parents than typically developing peers, and more likely to enter high-risk situations,” explains Kendra Thomson, Assistant Professor in the Centre for Applied Disability Studies. “This can lead to tragic outcomes, such as traffic accidents and drownings.”

Thomson, whose previous research has demonstrated the efficacy of behavioural skills training (BST) for preparing university student therapists to provide an intervention to children with ASD, believes that BST might also be able to help parents who want to teach safety skills to their children.

About a year ago, Thomson began working with community clinician and university instructor, Sarah Kupferschmidt, who had approached her about a project aimed at parents concerned about safety skills.

“I have seen firsthand the power of BST in helping families teach really important skills to children with autism,” says Kupferschmidt. “I am hopeful that we will learn more about how to support these parents and children. Keeping kids with autism safe is what it’s all about.”

If successful, this project could fill a gap in service delivery by using behavioural skills training to empower parents who frequently face anxiety about their children with ASD stepping into harm’s way.

“I have background working with parents of children with autism in clinical settings, and have seen how motivated parents are to help their children,” Thomson says. “However, there is often a lack of resources available for parent training, so efficient and effective strategies are highly warranted.”

Data collection for the project begins this month. Anyone interested in participating in this research should click here. 

This project fits in with Thomson’s broader research plans, which involve continued investigation of the effectiveness of BST in various “real world” settings.

“I hope that the findings will help people realize the benefits of using behavioural skills training for those who are invested in supporting children and youth with ASD in a variety of settings and, in turn, that this will help children receive improved services.”

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