Caregiver Coaching program wraps up after 4 years serving children with autism

Photo illustration by Grace Everett | Photographer

By Sarah Wang | Staff Writer

With an attempt to offer care and services to parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorders, Caregiver Coaching is a program offered by the Baylor Department of Educational Psychology in the School of Education to provide research-based parent training through a team of well-trained coaches. The program is wrapping up its final term this spring after years of service starting back in 2018.

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people with autism often have problems in communication and interaction and experience different ways of behaving and learning.

According to their website, Caregiver Coaching provides services from a Baylor coach over video conference to families who live in Texas with a child from birth to 17 years old who is diagnosed with autism. Parents also select targeted goals for children, which includes skills on social, adaptive, pre-academic, communication and reduce challenging behavior skills.

Dr. Stephanie Gerow, previous associate professor in the educational psychology department, said she conceptualized the program with her colleges — Dr. Tonya Davis, Dr. Kristen Padilla and Dr. Jessica Akers — to cope with Texas rural communities’ limited accessibility to master’s level professionals to work with children with autism.

“We really saw the need to provide support and then also conduct research to evaluate the efficacy of telehealth interventions, or conducting the interventions, over video calls with families so families never have to travel to receive support from professionals,” Gerow said.

Gerow also said the greatest challenge they have faced was transitioning to virtual instruction when COVID-19 struck. She said she had spent several days with Kristina McGinnis, research associate of Caregiver Coaching, trying to figure out ways in which therapists would be able to provide support and services from home.

“Sometimes our technology just isn’t working like we want it to,” Gerow said. “We would do everything we can to make sure the cell connection or internet service is working.”

McGinnis said experimenting with telehealth has provided them with important information, which Gerow was later able to publish and allow it to be disseminated to many more people.

“Our field did a special issue on telehealth after the onset of the pandemic, and we were able to publish two studies in that special issue about what we’ve been doing,” Gerow said.

The program has been ongoing since 2018 and Gerow said it is wrapping up and targeted to finish this spring after serving more than 250 families and publishing a handful of articles evaluating the efficacy of the procedures.

“It’s very rewarding to see the way that these improvements can help these families in their daily lives,” McGinnis said. “Just identifying these things that are so valuable to the families and then seeing that success is such a great thing … We’re just disappointed that it’s coming to an end with grant funding. It’s been so nice being able to serve the state of Texas.”

This work was supported in whole or part by a grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The opinions and conclusions expressed in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policy of THECB.