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Autism and Social Work 101

Expert Name: Christina Giammarco, MSSA, LSW
Expert Title: MSSA, LSW
Company Name:  Step by Step Academy
Company URL: www.stepbystepacademy.org
Short Bio: graduated from the University of Dayton in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a minor in Women’s Studies.

While attending UD she worked as an ABA therapist on a home team. She then went on to earn her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University with a focus in Children, Youth, and Families.

Throughout her academic and professional career she has focused in the areas of adoption, domestic violence, teen crisis intervention, and autism. She joined Step By Step Academy in January 2010 and is excited about being able to combine her interests of Social Work and autism. She is currently working on various projects about autism and puberty, in which she hopes to make parents more comfortable about addressing these needs with their children. Additionally she is working with various consumers doing individual and group counseling sessions with focus on gaining social skills and being able to identify and appropriately manage feelings and emotions.

Autism and Social Work 101

Being a Licensed Social Worker working in an autism ABA-based mental health facility is something that you typically do not find.  While Social Workers are known for their work in mental health facilities, most centers that work with children on the spectrum, especially ABA centers, do not understand the need for a Social Worker.  In the past two years of working at Step By Step, I have encountered both professionals and parents asking, “What exactly is your role here with the child?”

Counseling

Traditional Social Workers are trained in the field of counseling to better help their clients understand and express themselves appropriately.  While it may be difficult to understand the need for counseling in children on the spectrum at first, a closer look makes complete sense.  If the child is recommended for counseling he/she is at the point where he/she can understand and retain the information being discussed, as well as be able to communicate back and forth about his/her behaviors and feelings.  Counseling with children on the spectrum includes work on discussing and identifying feelings, social interaction with others, providing therapeutic listening, engaging in creative play, engaging in age-appropriate group activities, etc.  Counseling can be done on both  1:1 ratio, as well as  group ratio to facilitate appropriate social, communication, and leisure skills.

Finding Appropriate Resources

Social Workers are also trained on finding appropriate resources to support not only the client, but the family unit as a whole.  Whether it be working to find a treatment team including respite, in-home providers, speech, OT, physicians, psychiatrists, etc. or linking to necessary basic needs services, Social Workers are the perfect go-to for all your questions related to additional supports for your child.  Most Social Workers are familiar with various facilities that can benefit additional therapies for the child, as well as linkages to resources such as clothing, food, and transportation.  Social Workers can also help families work with programs such as Medicaid, Healthy Start, etc. to make sure your child is getting coverage for these services.

The Missing Link

Parents with children on the spectrum are constantly working with new people, which can be a very confusing and overwhelming process.  Social Workers can serve as the “missing link” to connect parents to the professionals in their child’s life.  They can help you organize meetings, make sure your child is up to date on appointments, and speak on behalf of your child to advocate for additional services.  They can also accompany you to various appointments and keep an organized log of your child’s treatment.  

While the words “Social Worker” may sometimes have stigma attached to them, Social Workers are here to support you and your child.  They are often your best resource and can connect you to the services to ensure your child is getting the best, well-rounded, treatment for his/her diagnosis.

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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

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