Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s TRIAD (Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders) has offered the Families First Program live in Nashville, Tennessee, since 2008. The free workshop series for parents and other caregivers of young children who are newly diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has now expanded to six additional locations through a live-stream model. Select workshop topics also have been packaged and are now available as online training modules.
The primary goal of the series is to equip caregivers with practical tools to support their child, to provide resources to more easily apply strategy and planning ideas, and to give participants an opportunity to meet other caregivers with similar questions or concerns.
“Over the years, we have reached more than 3,000 participants in our Nashville workshops,” said Whitney Loring, Psy.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and program coordinator for the Families First Program. “We know that not everyone can access it live here in Nashville, so we decided to work with additional sites that could deliver the information in a way that remains true to our live model. That meant we needed to be able to stream the information we present in our workshop presentations and to provide that in an environment where caregivers are interacting with other caregivers who have similar questions and needs. We also needed to offer a professional contact at those live-stream sites who can help participants think through how to individualize the information for their lives.”
Last year, Loring and her TRIAD colleagues piloted a live-stream model in Jackson, Tennessee. With TRIAD staff located in satellite offices in the area, the model was delivered with great success. This replication opened the doors to sites outside of Tennessee with programming beginning with the Fall 2017 series of workshops.
Though not every live workshop will be offered at every site (check the TRIAD calendar page), live-stream locations include:
- Jackson, Tennessee: Events found online by searching “Families First Jackson, TN” at vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/events/
- Chattanooga, Tennessee: Siskin Children’s Institute/Chattanooga Autism Center
- Birmingham, Alabama: Children’s Hospital of Alabama/UAB SPARKS clinic
- Woodstock, Georgia: Autism Center for Children
- Dallas, Texas: University of Texas Southwestern
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico
Loring says these institutions were natural partners thanks to on-site faculty with previous TRIAD affiliations.
“All of the live-stream model sites that we will offer in the Fall have previous TRIAD faculty or trainees working at them,” said Loring. “People who would leave Vanderbilt for one reason or another and who were involved in Families First in some capacity while they were here almost always expressed a desire to take it with them. So, when we were looking to expand the live-stream model beyond Jackson, we reached out to those people at their new institutions. It turns out that it’s a perfect fit. The facilitators have previous knowledge and experience with the program, and that is a tremendous asset.”
The program plans to expand and add to its live-stream sites beginning in Spring and Summer 2018. While there are eligibility requirements that sites must meet, if you think your site might be an appropriate fit, contact Loring at firstname.lastname@example.org
Two topics of the Families First program have been packaged and are available in an online learning platform. Toilet Training and Addressing Challenging Behaviors are two of the most popular topics. Loring emphasized that the online modules are not meant to replace the live or the live-stream models, but are meant to be used as refreshers on topics for past participants or as an alternative if families simply cannot access the information in-person.
“People who only watch the online modules will miss out on the facilitator who helps them to process the information and on the family connection,” said Loring. “However, the content is still meaningful. We have developed a seven-part series on toilet training and a five-part series on challenging behaviors. Some parents have said that the modules are helpful to share with other family members or caregivers so they have the same information and can apply strategies in line with what the parents are doing. We are excited to be able to reach as many families as we can with these strategies and to provide our partner sites with tools to share with people in their communities.”
Families First workshops occur monthly on Saturday mornings. These can be “stand alone” or families can attend multiple sessions. Topics vary from session to session, and are listed on the event calendar with upcoming topics and dates. Although workshops are free, registration is required to attend.
Courtney Taylor is VKC associate director of Communications and Dissemination.
Pictured top of page: Telehealth technology allows TRIAD Families First to offer workshops at locations outside Nashville while still allowing families at each site to connect with one another with the support of a trained site facilitator.