When people see or hear how far my son has come in the past two years, they frequently end up telling me what they think caused the improvement. It is rarer that someone actually asks me what I think made the difference.
The most common theory I hear is that it’s because I’ve been such a great mum over the past two years. If there is truth in that, it is that I did my best to learn what all his therapists taught me, and tried to apply it to my son’s life. Autism is not caused by bad parenting, nor fixed by good parenting, but parenting with an enhanced and consistently applied understanding of the autistic mind, definitely makes a difference.
I always point out that my son is quite intelligent, and that without his intelligence all my efforts wouldn’t have amounted to much. More specifically, he has an immense desire to learn, which I feed and encourage. My assertion of his intelligence is based on many pieces of evidence, including the opinions of his various therapists. Severe autism doesn’t mean lack of intelligence, and mild autism (or Aspergers) doesn’t imply high intelligence. But when faced with the challenges of reducing the severity of autism, the child’s intelligence has been shown to make a significant difference.
Sometimes people ask me which therapy I think helped him most. Speech therapy perhaps, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, ABA therapy, educational psychologist, or maybe just being around neurotypical children at kindergarten? I should be able to answer this because I have kept track of his improvements against whatever therapies he is undergoing. But the only solid pattern I have noticed is that he goes through big improvements in the times during which he is not actively engaged in any therapies! My (and other’s) theory about this is that he needs down-time to process all he’s been taught, and that while he is being taught so many new skills it can be overwhelming and make him worse. Unfortunately the way he’s received help from government-funded therapies has been all in a block, so it’s hard to separate out the effect of one therapy from another.
My personal opinion though would be that what the occupational therapist taught me about how to teach my son, was perhaps the most important information that was given to me as a parent for helping my son. I’ve always thought communication was the key to him flourishing in this world, but whether the speech therapy he actually received was what made the difference, is less obvious.
There are always those who wonder whether he would have improved regardless; with no interventions or changes in his life. It’s clear to us (and his therapists) that such improvements would not have been significant, and that he would have picked up comparatively more challenges along the way; we’re always fighting new manifestations of his autism-related anxieties, but we spot them quickly and act to stop them if we can, before they become imbedded. Without training, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.
This is my ultimate opinion on what caused his improvements: It was dominantly a result of us applying what the therapists taught us, to an intelligent and driven child. There was no magic pill, no magic single therapy that did the job, just a family that refused to let autism take over.