A Shadow for an Autistic Child: According to data from the Autism Society, about 3.5 million Americans suffer from autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, approximately one in every 68 newly born babies in the US suffers from autism. Sadly, autism may affect a patient’s ability to communicate and interact with others. What’s more, the symptoms generally vary from mild to severe. Since autism has no cure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends early diagnosis and intervention. An effective intervention method is shadowing. Below is some more information about the role of shadow aide.
An Overview of Shadowing
A shadow aide is a trained individual who accompanies an autistic child to help the child learn the skills the skills required to succeed in school as well as fit in society in order to live independently in later life. As such, most shadows train and qualify to work as applied behavior analysts (ABA’s). These professionals are necessary because children with autism perceive surrounding environments differently compared to allistic children and generally face difficulties interpreting facial and bodily cues. In most cases, shadows accompany children with autism to school, social events such as parties or family gatherings and even places of worship with the aim of helping such children develop the skills they need to fit in different social settings through the application of suitable behavior modification techniques learned during training.
To join a training program for behavior analysis, you must fulfill several eligibility requirements. Firstly, you must have a graduate degree in an appropriate field of study such as psychology, mental health, education, or behavior analysis. Furthermore, you must have earned your graduate degree from an accredited learning institution. The BACB urges applicants who are unsure about their eligibility to visit its website, which has in depth information on acceptable fields of study and acceptable accredited institutions. Successful applicants cover coursework outlined in the BACB’s Fourth Edition Task List and Course Content Allocation document. Some of the topics/subjects covered during this training include:
• Behavior change considerations
• Fundamental elements of behavior change
• Specific behavior change procedures
• Behavior change systems
• Behavior observation and analysis methodologies
• Behavior change assessment
• Behavior intervention techniques
• Behavior analysis philosophical assumptions
• Research methods in behavior analysis
• Ethical and professional conduct
• Experimental design
• Measurement (data analysis)
After completing the course content, trainees must take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) exam.
Most employers in the US hire applied behavior analysts (ABA) who have completed training and earned their Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification. It is worth noting that you can also train and acquire your Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) certification although its eligibility bar is lower compared to the BCBA certification. At the same time, BCBA certification applicants must fulfil the graduate degree requirement discussed above. In addition, applicants must have covered and completed coursework from an Approved Course Sequence (ACS). Certification applicants must also comply with the BCBA’s experience standards. Finally, certification applicants must have taken and passed the BCBA exam.
Skillset of a Shadow
To succeed as an autism aide, you must be a strong verbal and non-verbal (proficiency in written communication or sign language) communicator. Furthermore, you must be good at forming positive relationships with clients (autistic children). Another desirable skill is attention to detail because children with autism may express themselves in many different types of nonverbal communication. More importantly, you should also have the mental fortitude and resilience to remain calm during stressful situations. Physical strength is another desirable skill because you may be required to physically restrain a child or lift and carry your patient. Finally, you must be highly observant to ensure the safety of his/her clients.
Responsibilities of a Shadow
The main responsibility of a shadow is to perform behavioral assessment, determine behavior triggers and develop the right instructional or behavioral intervention strategy. Besides that, a shadow may have to liaise with other professionals such as tutors or speech therapists depending on the nature/type of instructional or interventional strategy developed. A shadow must also keep abreast of developments in autism and child development research in order to improve his/her shadowing techniques. Since some autistic children have normal to high intelligence and do not necessarily need academic help, a shadow may be required to offer motivational help/support. This is in addition to helping children complete and submit assignments on time as well as maintain focus while working on long-term projects. Where necessary, a shadow helps autistic children develop social skills required to form meaningful relationships. These skills include eye contact, small talk, making jokes, reading body cues, and understanding implicit social norms/rules. In some cases, shadows assist autistic children with self-care, toiletry, eating, and transport to and from school. Another key responsibility of a shadow is observing the behavior of an autistic child and recording the relevant data daily. Record keeping is important because it enables behavioral experts to evaluate diverse autism related aspects such as learning progress.
Although behavioral analysts undergo thorough training, they routinely face unique challenges while working as shadows. One of the main challenges is handling unruly and uncooperative children who may hit, bite, scratch or kick. In such cases, shadows may have to physically restrain children and evacuate them from environments where they could hurt themselves or others. Some autistic children may also exhibit peculiar food preferences, meaning trying to modify their eating behavior can be a challenge. In some cases, autistic children do not engage in make-believe play or exhibit imitative behavior. As such, behavioral intervention is extremely difficult. It is also worth noting that some children with autism continue to have communication and social interaction problems even after undergoing behavioral intervention. In fact, an article published by the Mayo Clinic states that some autistic children exhibit worsening behavioral problems during their teenage years. These and other negative outcomes could cause a behavioral analyst to feel discouraged or doubt his/her ability to effect behavior change.
A shadow or behavior analyst is a professional who accompanies an autistic individual with the aim of effecting positive behavior change. Such a professional must have successfully completed training and earned a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification. When shadowing a child with autism, the duties of a BCBA include observing the child’s behavior, developing suitable behavior intervention strategies, helping the subject develop social skills, and helping the subject learn self-care/grooming skills. Of course, shadows face a number of work-related challenges including uncooperative clients and clients who fail to respond to behavioral intervention.