The WellSpan Spotlight

Mental health and wellbeing

Positive Parenting Program - and Philhaven - help families with neurodiverse kids

Positive Parenting Program - and Philhaven - help families with neurodiverse kids

Some days Greg and Stephanie Martin don't know what to expect.

Like many parents, they can be challenged on any given day by the behavior of their children. But Ian, 9, and Asher, 7, often require an exceptional parental response.  

"Typical parenting styles don't work in our household," Stephanie said.

Both children are affected by neurodevelopmental disorders that have impacts ranging from motor tics to hyperactivity.

The Martins receive care for Ian and Asher at WellSpan Philhaven's Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities (CADD). Stephanie says therapists have supported them by "truly walking with us as we navigate parenting a neurodiverse family."

The care journey has brought breakthroughs along the way for Ian and Asher. But for the working family with a fast-paced life, the answers have not always come easy. For instance, Greg's job schedule hasn't always allowed him to be as involved in the appointments as he would have liked.

"Parenting takes a team approach and with Greg not being able to attend the many appointments, it left me having to fill in the holes on the recommended approaches to help our boys. Sometimes it was hard to fill Greg in on what the therapists recommended, leaving us unbalanced in our approaches," Stephanie said.

Last September, the Ephrata couple was introduced to the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program –by Frank DiBella, CADD outpatient therapist. Triple P offers a specialized program for caregivers of children who have a developmental disability.

The program features clinically evaluated training and delivery strategies aimed at assisting parents through multiple levels of interventions with their children. The level recommended for the Martin family included a family workbook to guide them through Triple P sessions.

Stephanie said that Triple P helped to get her and Greg more in sync with each other and help their boys navigate their hurdles. It also filled in some gaps for Greg on how the boys operate, process information, and filter all the sensory stimulation they encounter each day.   

"We know that neurodiverse individuals tend to do best when their environment is as consistent as it can be and when they know what to expect," DiBella said. "Triple P helps to improve this by providing a structured space for parents and caregivers to work together to identify their shared goals, learn more about their child's diagnoses, and implement effective strategies."

According to Stephanie, one of the perks of Triple P is that the therapist helps target and address the most challenging behaviors.

"Instead of trying to apply strategies to everything all at once, it helped taking a chunk at a time," Stephanie explained. "Once the strategies are learned, we were able to implement them into other situations."

The at-home resource also allowed Stephanie and Greg to collaborate.

"We are able to fine tune our interventions after we practice them," Greg said. "It's not like they just throw you out to sink or swim. Asher and Ian's therapists know Triple P, so we ask them for input to tailor some of the steps."

Dibella noted, "We saw improvement in parental confidence, decreases in problematic behaviors, and increases in prosocial behavior following the sessions."

"When we started seeing improvements, it was inspiring," Stephanie said. "When I say improvements, I don't just mean with the kids, but mainly mine and Greg's attitudes, expectations, and approaches."

She added, "It was actually more about changing our behavior and approach than the boys. Our actions and attitudes affect our kids so if we can better ourselves and improve our approach, we really will help our kids be more successful."

The Martins have been inspired by the outcome from working with the Triple P, but credit many of the caregivers like DiBella who have made an impact on their family's lives over the past few years.

"From Lori Weaver to Nathan Stoltzfus, Dr. Michael Fueyo, and many others connected to the CADD program - these are the ones we've worked with the most and have been with us the longest. They've had such a positive impact on our family," Stephanie said.

CADD provides the Triple P family workbook free to many of its 1,000 new families annually – thanks to the generous gifts from the community.