Recently, on May 8th and 9th, saigonchildren organised a free training course on “Preverbal communication in children with ASD” for nearly 300 parents across the country. This event marked the start of the series of courses on autism aimed at parents that will be rolled out over the next months. This was also the first time we held a fully online course and thus had the opportunity to engage with parents from many different parts of the country who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.
We were joined by two experienced trainers. The first was Ms. Hoàng Thị Lê Quyên, a lecturer at the Faculty of Special Education, Hanoi National University of Education. During the training course, she oversaw the theoretical aspect of things. The topics she introduced included the nature of communication in children with ASD and nonverbal methods of communicating with ASD children. In conjunction with the concepts introduced by Ms. Quyên was the hands-on, practical training led by Ms. Nguyễn Thị Tấn – Lecturer of Special Education at the Ho Chi Minh City National College of Education. Utilising the knowledge base built, Ms. Tấn introduced how parents could use different strategies on attention or pictorial communication to understand their children’s needs.
So how was this online training course organised? Both training days were held online through Zoom – a video meeting platform. Zoom allowed trainers to share their screen with participants and other interactive functions such as polling. These functions made the transition from offline to online training, as a result of COVID-19, to be smoother. For instance, receiving information was similar to what participants would experience during a real-life presentation. Similarly, the many opportunities to answer questions increased interaction between trainers and trainees, thus reducing the distance between them. Trainers also alternated between providing information and playing demonstrative videos to increase clarity. During training, parents could also request technical help through Zalo from saigonchildren if there were any issues with Zoom. Furthermore, parents could also ask questions in the chatbox on Zoom for the trainers to collate and answer at the end of each session.
The agenda was organised into two days. On the first day, the trainers focused on outlining necessary information on communication in general and the communicative abilities of ASD children in greater detail. Specifically, Ms. Quyên informed parents on the stages of language development, what constitutes normal communication, and went on to point out the difficulties in communication that ASD children have to face. The importance of attention in communicating and learning was emphasised. Based on this information, Ms. Tấn offered several strategies to help parents build attention in their children. Furthermore, she also proposed realistic suggestions on what parents could do with their children to improve attention. On the second day, the focus of the session was more on nonverbal communication, an example of which was pictorial communication. After listening to Ms. Quyên explained the concept of using picture cards to identify a child’s needs (PECS), parents were guided through the procedure by Ms. Tấn. At the end of the two-day training, the parents received all the materials used in the course along with recordings to help them review the information.
The training course ended with extremely positive feedback from parents. Apart from kind words regarding “the very dedicated, enthusiastic and friendly trainers”, the majority of parents also shared that participating in training allowed them to “understand [their] child’s issues better” and “know what to do to accompany [their] child”. Saigonchildren also received constructive suggestions to help optimise the move from offline to online training. In the future, saigonchildren will host increasingly improved training to support parents on different topics regarding ASD.