I’ve often thought how much easier it would have been over the past two years, to be dealing with a single expert on autism, instead of a wide range of therapies and therapists. There are some organisations and movements which offer up a complete service; purporting to have a one-size-fits-all therapy for autism, but they are all controversial in their own ways.
The current government approach is to have a team of therapists, each with their own areas of expertise, who can be made available as needed for each child’s issues. As a family we also chose to seek out private help. There is a lot to be said on this topic, as to what therapies work, and whether any single therapy is best. This is just an introductory post to the range of therapies we have tried.
Speech Therapy was provided by the government. It is absolutely vital for an autistic child to have access to someone who understand the language challenges they face, and in particular to educate the parents on how to understand and improve the child’s efforts to communicate.
Occupational Therapy was provided by the government. For autistic children it’s particularly to do with figuring out and learning to cope with sensory issues. It also provides ways to teach them basic life skills that they may struggle with, such as drinking from a cup and getting dressed.
Physiotherapy, provided by the government. Autistic children often have low muscle tone and restrictive activities. The physiotherapist helped gradually extend the range of activities our son was willing to take part in – such as going up ramps, on swings, and throwing balls. These sessions were usually in a gym, and done with the occupational therapist present.
Educational Psychology, also provided by the government. The main task of the educational psychologist has been to find ways to deal with behavioural issues, such as tantrums and repetitive behaviours. We’ve had two educational psychologists work with us over the past two years. The times they were most useful to us were when they aided us to find our own understanding of our son’s behaviour, and come up with our own solutions that specifically fit our family.
Music Therapy. Not provided by the government, sought out privately. The therapy had a lot of potential, but the specific therapist we saw really upset our son, and the whole experience was frankly a disaster. I did learn and use some good music therapy techniques from my friend who works overseas as a music therapist though.
ABA Therapy. Not provided by the government. Experienced via a charity-run group for autistic preschoolers, and by some one-on-one in-home carers. In some ways ABA is insightful, practical and inspiring. In other ways it appears harmful, impersonal, and ignorant. We took the best parts of it, and left the rest, which again is a useful approach to therapies in general, especially when you’re exposed to therapies in a piecemeal and mutually inconsistent way; this mutual inconsistency happened even between the various government provided therapies.
The list above is of the main therapies we were exposed to and tried. There were a few other bits and bobs along the way; pieces from other theories, therapies and approaches that we’d study and apply, or meet people who would try therapies with our son for a while. Such as Montessori and RDI.
Something you have to learn early on is to not simply “trust the experts”. Not least of all because they contradict each other, so you have to make some judgment calls about what is the most valuable for your child. You have to hold on to your parental instincts and rights at all times, and sometimes you have to fight to hold on to them. Just remember, being an expert on autism is never enough. For any therapy to work, they also have to be an expert on your individual child, and no one can do that better than you as a parent. You have to do constant research and thinking and unfortunately, experimenting, to try to get it right. Getting it wrong can make things so very much worse, so there’s a lot at stake. Yet you can’t let yourself get paralysed into non-action by being overwhelmed by the options available.
It’s a long hard journey, but so is everything that is worth doing. And the potential rewards are beyond any measure.