October 06, 2014

FF - PBS: What Are You Waiting For?

The following is written by Bonnie Marquis, a Positive Behavior Support Trainer for the West Virginia Autism Training Center.
Many people who register with the WV Autism Training Center (ATC) also apply for the Family Focus Positive Behavior Support program. So popular is this program that many people mistakenly believe that this is the only service we have and since there is a wait time of up to two years, they never bother to register with ATC at all.  And although many do apply, they do so without really understanding what it is they are waiting for.
Anyone who has registered with ATC should already know of the many services available throughout the entire state. These range from the free coaching sessions and the amazing and up to date library, to the skills groups, resource referrals and other trainings, all of which are free to registered clients and families.  New training formats, delivery options and topics are constantly being developed as well.

But what exactly are they waiting for with this FF-PBS program? In short, it is an incredible opportunity to have the knowledge and expertise of an ATC Positive Support Trainer as they facilitate a process that has the capacity to dramatically improve the quality of life for both the focus person (the client with an ASD) and the entire family. In some circumstances the process also results in improved services beyond the focus person as teachers and service providers are offered the opportunity to learn new skills and strategies that can be implemented with others now and in the future.
The process is individualized and difficult to summarize since the way it unfolds varies based on the needs of the individual and the dynamics of the team. However, certain aspects of gathering information and developing an action plan to achieve team selected goals are somewhat standard. In every case however, it is time consuming. Because it is firmly based on principles of person centered planning and incorporates a collaborative team approach, it sometimes seems to move at a snail’s pace and much will be asked of families and team members that choose to participate. This often takes the form of home visits, school meetings, trainings and coaching sessions (to assist in the implementation of selected strategies).  Families may also be called upon to collect information regarding the behaviors they want to address so the trainers can assist in determining their cause and help develop a meaningful support plan which will result in lasting improvements.
The process also often asks participants to make some changes – to their routines or structure of activities, how they respond to behaviors or venturing out to engage in new activities. But the changes are never dictated. Rather they are decided upon by the team as a result of discussion, consultation and learning new information. Nevertheless change can be difficult and it can often feel like three steps forward, two steps back.

But with the support of ATC many teams have seen some truly amazing results when they have embraced the process.  And that doesn’t mean just taking the suggestions of the trainer. The truth of the matter is that while the trainer knows a great deal about autism, it is the rest of the team that really knows the focus person and how life is lived on a daily basis.  Their input is the vital ingredient to individualizing supports that will be most effective in achieving the goals set forth by the team. The most effective teams truly engage with the process and develop a trust characterized by honest dialogue about what should be tried, tweaked, continued or abandoned. The least effective teams nod and agree while silently thinking to themselves “this will never work.”  And the most effective teams speak up about doubts or challenges and ask for help when needed. The least effective teams fall back into old routines and let opportunities slip by, too busy or overwhelmed to make changes or seek out support. 
Because of this, the dynamics of a team can be the most important aspect of the process and team selection and development takes careful consideration. Involving people with a genuine positive regard for the focus person is vital. This is especially true if there are potential participants that regularly work with the focus person, and thus really should to be included, who may be less than optimistic. The team’s positive approach can often change those negative perspectives in surprising ways, especially as many of the tools used in the process are designed to focus on strengths, and a positive and possible future. There is also, as mentioned from the outset, a focus on quality of life. The process attempts to do this by whatever means the team decides, but it should never be limited to just reducing challenging behavior or gaining a particular daily living skill. While quality of life happens to be the focal point of ATC’s mission statement, there are practical reasons for stressing these types of goals.

 There is a tendency in our society, particularly for those with disabilities, to withhold those elements that would improve quality of life or are seen as enjoyable and desirable until they have somehow earned it, often through improved behavior or achieving some objective (unrelated to community access or the  preferred activity itself). Most often however, it is actually having something which “makes life worth living” that allows us to find the motivation or inner strength to make sustained efforts toward self-improvement.   Sometimes, among all the other services and facilitation that your trainer can provide, it’s keeping things in a positive and person centered perspective that can have the greatest impact, for everyone involved.
A final goal for FF-PBS is for participants to sustain the process and to have learned the skills and strategies needed to continue long after the ATC trainer’s time with the team has ended. To meet and collaborate as needed, set forth new goals and incorporate new team members, and build on the momentum and successes of the previous team.

Certainly, this process is not for everyone, either by design or level of need or the required time commitment.  It should also be noted that certain life circumstances (divorce, relocation, new jobs etc.)  may make participation at a given time particularly difficult and every effort is made to accommodate families if they need to suspend or postpone services or if they wish to switch to a less intensive, more focused service model that can assist with single/limited issue concerns, known as the Solution Focused Process. Knowing in advance the nature of the involvement will hopefully aid in the selection of appropriate services and  understanding  what FF-PBS is and is not (for example it is certainly not a direct therapy). And again, FF-PBS  is just one of many services available with ATC, and the agency is committed to supporting individuals with autism spectrum disorder as they pursue a life of quality.