Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Before Choosing a Therapy For Your Autistic Child... Consider These Questions

Parents of autistic children are often besieged by people recommending therapies, with all sorts of dire predictions about how their child is ‘doomed’ to an unhappy life, or ‘will always be a burden’, without this or that usually hugely expensive and time-consuming therapy. Overwhelmed, confused and frightened, parents can end up making decisions based on vague, fear-based concepts like “well everyone says you have to do this”, or “the school/professionals/whoever are pressuring me to do it”.

I want to help parents cut through the confusion, and make decisions based on common sense, rationality and what their child actually needs.

So I’ve come up with the following questions parents of autistic kids need to ask themselves, before committing to a therapy programme.

1) What are you hoping to achieve with this therapy?
Many parents are scared into thinking that the only hope for their child is to ‘normalise’ them, ie make them over into copies of non-autistic children. I’ve made no secret that I am opposed to this normalisation, and for good reason. Autism is a neurological pattern, and therapies designed to ‘rid’ us of it actually only teach us to hide it – with great difficulty, and at high cost. There are now young adult autistics with PTSD, low self-esteem, depression and other mental health issues as a result of such un-therapeutic therapy.

It’s usually pretty easy to recognise such therapies – they use catchphrases such as “indistinguishable from their peers”, or “extinguishing all symptoms”. They may even talk of “curing” or “fighting” or “defeating” the autism. Please, for your child’s sake, think long and hard, and watch it in practise, before choosing any of these methods for your autistic child. Which brings me to my next question…

2) Would this therapy be abusive if done to a non-autistic child?
If yes, then it’s abusive to an autistic one too. Forty-plus hours of intensive ‘compliance training’ a week, bleach enemas, heavy regimes of dubious and unscientific ‘supplements’, forcible suppression of every natural movement, painful and distressing eye contact or social interaction insisted on - and this is only the tip of the iceberg – what other young children have to endure this?

Sometimes people get so caught up in fighting against the autism, they overlook that the child is still a young human being, with feelings and thoughts of their own, even if they can’t express them. Let your child BE a child, let them play and explore the world in their own way, even if it isn’t what you think is ‘normal’. Don’t let their life be all about being ‘treated’, or they will get the message that there is something ‘wrong’ with them.

3) Does my child actually need this therapy/treatment?
Stop listening to the scaremongers. Put your preconceptions and assumptions aside, and take a good long look at your child. Observe them for days, even weeks if necessary, without judging their behaviour, before deciding what they truly need. You may discard some ideas, and consider others.

Some parents are prompted to try gluten-free diets for example, because “they say it helps”, when really these should only be considered if your child has obvious health issues (eg constant diarrhoea, constipation, bulging stomach, ear infections, inflamed complexion, listlessness, etc). But if your child is physically healthy, special diets or supplements are not only expensive, but useless.

4) Is this therapy suited to my child’s needs?
This is an important point. Perhaps you’ve observed your child, and realised they are frustrated by their communication problems. So you think, “oh, they need speech therapy!” But oral speech may actually be too problematic for them. They might do better with something like sign language, PECS, or some form of AAC. NEVER assume that ‘normal is best’. We autistics are different, our cognitive styles are different, and any therapy needs to respect that.

5) What approach does the therapist take?
This is another important point. Even if you’ve decided that a particular therapy would be both good for and needed by your child, the therapist/practitioner may not have the same goals you do. For example, you’ve decided that speech therapy is the right thing for your child. But while you simply want them to be able to express their needs, you find the speech therapist is more concerned with “making them sound normal”. Be very careful about not only which therapy, but which therapist you choose!

6) Does the therapist allow you to be present?
Be very wary of anyone who won’t let you watch, even through a one-way window. What are they trying to hide? What do they tell you about it? What does your child communicate about it? (And I don’t mean only verbally. A child that is obviously unhappy or stressed out after a therapy is a Big Clue.)

Make sure YOU stay in control of what is done to your child. Their welfare is at stake. A therapy that doesn’t suit them, or that has goals you’re not comfortable with or that you can see aren’t helping your child, is one to exit as soon as possible.

I hope this helps.

No comments:

Post a comment