KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Anyone familiar with media coverage of autism in Nova Scotia knows that long wait times for the Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) program for preschool-aged children are a frequent topic.
Many parents of autistic children are told about the EIBI program, and that it’s extremely important that their children receive it so they can have a good future. And they almost always accept this advice without question.
I understand why they don’t question it.
It’s because they are almost never told about other options that are not based in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), and that are non-pathologizing, e.g. that do not assume that there is something fundamentally wrong with the child.
That’s why they think that EIBI is the only choice that’s out there for them.
The fact is, most of the Nova Scotia government’s investment in autism-related services has been disproportionately focused on early intervention.
That needs to change. Yesterday.
Neurotypical parents of autistic children, I invite you to adjust your thinking, because you don’t have to wait for EIBI. There are other choices for you that do not involve waiting for EIBI.
Foundations for Divergent Minds
Launched in January 2018, Foundations for Divergent Minds (FDM) is a nonprofit organization that offers training and education for parents and professionals who work with autistic and neurodivergent children. Founded by autistic advocate Melody Latimer, the FDM model does not focus teaching and learning along a developmental track; rather, it focuses on the ways that a child’s surroundings affect their characteristics.
FDM is different from other models of support or “intervention” in several crucial ways.
Primarily, it is grounded in the principles of the disability rights movement, the neurodiversity paradigm, and the social model of disability. It presumes that when neurodivergent kids are struggling, it’s because their surroundings need an adjustment and that parents and professionals should focus on remedying what’s missing from that environment.
FDM seeks to design accommodations in five key areas that can be areas of impairment for autistic and neurodivergent children. These areas are:
- Sensory Regulation,
- Executive Function,
- Socialization, and
- Emotional Regulation.
You can read more about the five foundations here.
FDM emphasizes several different strategies of accommodation and support to assist autistic children in these areas. These include:
- creating sensory-accessible spaces,
- designated areas to move around,
- quiet spaces for calming,
- wearable technologies to initiate self-check,
- assistive technology or AAC apps,
- allowing for more processing and response time,
- schedules, visual reminders and organizational systems,
- allowing parallel interaction,
- encouraging the child’s interests and interaction goals, and
- encouraging self-advocacy skills.
All of these things can be done very easily, and do not require an autism support worker or behavioural interventionist.
To help parents and professionals further, FDM has developed training courses to teach practical, non-pathologizing ways of supporting autistic kids. There is one for parents, and one for professionals such as teachers, therapists and counselors. The training costs range from $100 to $250 USD, and it should be noted that payment plans and scholarships are available, which can be very helpful for low-income families. Customized training packages can also be provided to parent groups, clinics, schools and other organizations.
There’s another extremely important point that must be emphasized.
The work that’s being done at Foundations for Divergent Minds is not based on only one autistic voice. It is influenced by decades of work and numerous autistic people who have worked tirelessly to inform non-autistic parents and professionals. FDM has taken those voices and created an easy-to-follow method, with a strong emphasis on honouring neurology.
Because actually autistic people know their own experiences better than anyone else.
What do parents and professionals say?
In the short time it’s been around, Foundations for Divergent Minds has already proven popular with many parents and professionals.
But don’t take my word for it!
“I honestly cannot say enough good things about the Foundations for Divergent Minds Parent course. It’s such a huge relief knowing I’m getting information from actual autistics – people I can trust. The course is full of incredible information and structured in a way that caters to all learning types. We’ve made so many great changes in our home thanks to this course and we can’t wait to do more in the future.”
Liv, Parent of an Autistic Child
“I have been supporting families with autistic children for more than 25 years. The last eight years I started learning more about the social model of disability, meeting autistic adults, reading their blogs, and changing my paradigm. The FDM course helped me bring theory to practice! It helped me enormously to review myself on areas where I still had internalized the medical model. The five foundations are a very practical framework to help parents review daily routines at home and school, embracing strengths and introducing supports, while helping autistic children become their own advocates.
Furthermore, the in-depth review of each of the foundations helped me understand from a different perspective certain aspects I took for granted. After 25 years I continue learning and investing in this course was the best investment I could do this year. It helped me to have very important conversations with parents that I never had before, and those conversations helped parents change their own paradigms and be more attuned to their children’s needs and wants.”
Cecilia, Director of Comunidades Inclusivas
So as you can see, parents waiting to get their autistic children into EIBI have other options, including ones created by actually autistic people.
However, in order for these other options to take hold, neurotypical parents and professionals need to liberate themselves from conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says that autistic children need this kind of “therapy” right away so they can have a good life.
But families don’t HAVE to do EIBI or any kind of ABA. A reset of their thinking may be all that’s necessary. If people who care about and support autistic children are willing to explore other options such as Foundations for Divergent Minds, then a lot of new and better things will be possible.
With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.