As any parent of a child with autism can tell you, there is a dizzying array of services, community partners, specialists, therapists, and health care team members who may provide care. A partial list might include doctors, nurses, physical, occupational and speech therapists working with your child in clinics, at home or in school.
Coordinating care among all these providers can be daunting, but it’s a vital part of your child’s treatment, says Board Certified Behavior Analyst Reena Naami, Owner and Director of Spark Center for Autism in Farmington Hills.
“I think one of the most important things for parents to know is that they have every right to ask service providers to coordinate care,” Naami says.
Not all providers will prioritize coordination of care, so a parent has to be the one to request coordination. “Don’t be afraid to let each of your service providers know about all the other services your child is receiving,” she says. “Request that they work together to ensure everyone is on the same page.”
It’s important to remember that each provider specializes in something different and has their own areas of expertise, Naami says. “While they can coordinate care with other providers, they can’t always implement the same things in the same way. But you want to make sure that they aren’t working on things that are completely contrary to each other,” she says.
“The biggest barrier I think many parents face is just not knowing that they can ask their providers to collaborate, and the benefits behind doing so.”
Here’s why collaboration is key…and how to make it happen:
There are several reasons you don’t want to overlook coordination of care for your child. “The biggest drawbacks to a lack of coordination of care revolve around the efficiency of the care individuals are receiving,” Naami says.
“Without coordinating across services, you may find that one service provider is working on a particular skill in a particular way, and another provider is working on a similar skill in a completely different way that could be counter-productive to the other service,” she explains.
Naami says that other drawbacks could be missed factors that could impact the effectiveness of another service.
“For example, let’s say your child receives Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services, but they also see a bio-medical doctor who prescribes medications or supplements to assist with dietary issues.” Since many medications or supplements can have behavioral side effects, an ABA provider who is unaware the child is receiving medication may make unnecessary changes to the programming based on a behavior attributable to a side effect and not some other factor, Naami says.
“On the other hand, if the ABA provider is aware of the medications and possible side effects, they can work together with the other service provider to indicate changes in behaviors and behavioral data that could help impact the decisions or changes that the medical doctor would make,” she explains.
If your child attends school, and the school has a nurse, enlisting the nurse’s help is one possible way to coordinate care among all the providers.
However, many schools don’t always have a school nurse present. If there is no school nurse, Naami recommends speaking with other members of your child’s educational team, to keep everyone informed. “Especially if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the social worker or teacher are options as well,” she says.
It’s always best for parents to learn how a new provider might work to coordinate their child’s care, so it can help to be prepared with questions.
“I always recommend to parents that anytime they are starting a new service, or looking at new providers, that one of the questions they need ask is how does the provider coordinate care with other service providers?” Naami suggests. “Asking this question right from the get-go can help families differentiate a good provider from a great provider.”
Learn more about Spark Center for Autism at sparkcenterforautism.com.