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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 12:47 GMT
'Train parents to help autistic children'

Parents learn to understand autism

An early years training programme for the parents of autistic children can make the world of difference to youngsters' development, says a charity.

The National Autistic Society is campaigning for the nationwide provision of parental training in pre-school years.

It says such a move would tackle the "black hole" which many families encounter between diagnosis and the start of school.

The plea follows the successful pilot of the charity's own scheme, the EarlyBird programme, which it launched in partnership with British Telecom.

Fewer words - more communication
The NAS says the content of the programme helps parents to understand their child's condition, and to communicate with them in a way they will understand.

This often involves using less language, which autistic children can find confusing and difficult to interpret, and giving thought to the sequence in which information is passed on to the child.

Autistic children can find it very difficult to understand chunks of information if they are not related in the order that they will happen.

The course is also designed to pre-empt problem behaviours and handle those that occur.

A maximum of six families at a time commit themselves to attending the three-month programme, which is structured to prepare them for their child's special needs.

The early years are so important, says the NAS
The programme can lessen the frustration which can result from a child being misunderstood, and remove the desperation and helplessness which parents sometimes feel.

The scheme was piloted in Yorkshire and is now in place in the first local authorities which have agreed to deliver the service, Leicestershire and Worcestershire.

Paul Cann, chief executive of the NAS, said: "It is hoped that this campaign will re-focus attention on the importance of early intervention and bridge the crucial gap between diagnosis and need practical help to adjust to the discovery that their child has autism."

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