The Caregiver Skills Training (CST) Program was developed by the World Health Organization, with the support of Autism Speaks, for parents of young children with neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism. It aims to empower parents and caregivers with knowledge, skills, and resources to help better support their children and improve wellbeing.
The program has been used in over 30 countries – including now in Canada - to help address the shortage of early evidence-based services or interventions for families.
We caught up with CST Master Trainers, Marla Cable, Resource and Training Centre Coordinator, Giant Steps School, and Rebecca Fenton, Project Coordinator, Autism Yukon, to learn more about the CST Program and how it's improving care and services for families and caregivers.
What motivates you to facilitate CST training?
Marla Cable – Mayada Elsabbagh, who brought the program to Canada, reached out to our school. It fits with our mandate, which is to help the greater autism community. Any opportunity to make a positive impact on an autistic person’s life motivates me.
Rebecca Fenton – I work for Autism Yukon. As an organization, we’re always interested in finding new programs and services to help families we work with. This was something that wasn’t being offered in our community. It was a good fit and needed.
Does the training fill a gap in the healthcare system?
RF – There was no environment where parents could come together and learn and connect with each other. The group support and the opportunity to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time is helpful.
MC – It does fill a gap. More often than not, families need to get a diagnosis before having access to services and supports. With the CST program, they don’t have to. Not only is it bringing parents together, but it is empowering them, giving them skills and confidence to help their own child.
What are some valuable lessons that parents have shared with you about the CST program?
MC – The number one thing is that parents are not alone. There are all these other families going through the same thing as them. They connect in and outside the class to be a support unit to one another. It helps them as a parent and also to support their kids.
RF – They can also start implementing ideas straight away in their home. We try not to make our material too onerous and ensure it can fit into their daily routines. We also always make ourselves available. We’re seen as a resource, and try to answer all questions as best we can.
How does the program improve the lives of autistic individuals and their families?
MC – We’ve had feedback from families that say that they continue to see growth and development in their kids even after the program -- in their communications skills, everyday skills and in their behaviour. There continue to be improvements post program, which is very rewarding.
RF – The groups have a booklet that they follow along. We read stories, we go into breakout rooms to share ideas and thoughts, we do a bit of sharing of information, and discussion as a whole. We try to use a variety of different approaches to keep people engaged. In each session, there is a series of take-aways and tips that they leave with. A lot of parents say they keep them on their fridge.
We do emails with the families after we have visits with them. We also do emails after each group session. We really try to make sure they feel supported.
What do you hope caregivers will get out of the program?
RF – One of the most rewarding parts for me is when parents say ‘I’ve had an ah-ha moment’ or ‘oh, a lightbulb went off’.
MC – I think they have a very positive approach to it. It’s very easy to focus on what their child can’t do. I think we really bring an opportunity to focus on the good stuff.
RF – I encourage parents to join the program to have an opportunity to interact with other parents and support their child. Some of our families are new to Canada and have nobody here to support them. We also have families who live in isolated places who don’t have access to a lot of services or resources. We know that early intervention is extremely important. With people on a waiting list, it can take 18 months for a diagnosis. By joining the program, they get some information to start supporting their child.
MC – Once parents learn skills and approaches, they are able to teach others, like their partners or even older siblings. Some participants work in the field of education and childcare and have brought it to their workplaces. So, it is kind of a nice snowball effect.
For professionals or service providers wanting to be a trainer, there is nothing more rewarding than having a positive impact on a family.
As part of the WHO CST Program, Marla Cable and Rebecca Fenton will be facilitating a free virtual Master Trainer Workshop beginning in January 2023. The workshop is for professionals and service providers interested in becoming Master Trainers themselves and implementing the CST program as part of their routine services.