Where to begin?
You’re motivated. You’ve been getting educated. You’re ready for action.
So which way do you go?
There’s a frenzy of information out there about what you “must do” to help your child with autism. And every expert seems to know the answer.
Except not many of them agree.
A general disclaimer with ALL therapies:
Be very leery of anyone who tells you that their approach is the end-all-be-all…especially if they have never met your child.
I am going to provide you with a VERY brief description of the therapies we have used and our children have benefited from.
Research each therapy on your own and consider the following:
- your child’s specific challenges
- your family and how the therapy will affect each member
- your budget
- your availability to commit to the therapy
- your child’s age
- where you’re at on your autism journey
Do not look at this list as a one at a time, step-by-step process. All of these therapies can work together and I would argue are more powerful when they do. When you are starting out though, it is important not to start everything at the same time. Your head will explode and your poor child will be stressed beyond belief.
Remember, he/she is a CHILD, not a problem to be solved.
It sounds cold-hearted and I’m sure no parent would ever intentionally see it this way, but it is a slippery-slope. You start making some progress; you see a break in the ice, and before you know it, therapy can quickly become an obsession.
Meet the false god, Autism.
Keep the big picture in mind when working with your child: Your goal is to give your child the best supports and tools you can so that he/she can be successful in life.
I don’t have time here to get into how we Rinnagades classify “success” but I will say it doesn’t have much to do with money. This is a conversation you need to have with your spouse; how in the world will you know which roads to take if you don’t know where you’re going? If you’re looking for some guidelines, do yourself a favor and read The Successful Child by Dr. Sears – it’s a great place to start.
Ok, back to the list!
After almost five years, if I could go back and spend time, money and effort in one direction, I would start like this…
1. The Son- Rise Program
This is actually an alternative to ABA’s school of thought and what I love most about the Son-Rise Program is the idea that you are breaking into the child’s world first, then work to draw them out into the world. They have a training that we’ve not been to but would love to attend.
The Autism Treatment Center website
What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child with Autism by Jonathan Levy
2. Biomedical Treatment
Find a good DAN doctor in your area, or within an hour or so drive. Yes, it’s worth the drive. Warning: they do not all take insurance. In fact, most don’t and insurance companies are making it harder for any to do so. Biomedical therapy works mainly through nutrition and supplements. Essential oils would fall under this category as well as elimination diets.
The idea behind Biomedical is that autism is something happening to the ENTIRE body.
Healing the New Childhood Epidemics by Kenneth Bock, M.D.
Eating for autism by Elizabeth Strickland M.S., R.D., L.D.
The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life all it can Be by Martha Herbert, M.D., PhD
Healing and Preventing Autism by Jenny McCarthy and Jerry Kartzinel, M.D.
Autism Breakthrough by Raun K. Kaufman
Maybe you’re thinking, “can’t I just do the therapy provided in the schools? It’s free and it seems like that’s all we’ll need.” I thought the same thing in the beginning, but I ask you to consider this quote from Dr. Bock’s book:
…Autism is not a psychological disorder and can therefore not be reversed using only behavioral, psychological therapy. As a stand-alone treatment, it is simply inadequate.
or this quote from Raun Kaufman’s book:
The problem is, autism is not a behavioral disorder; it is a social-relational disorder.
Treating the behaviors of autism, then, is clearly not the answer.
Digest this; we’re talking about a paradigm shift of what autism is traditionally described as.
The following behavioral therapies can and do have their place. We’ve used the following at some point either professionally or borrowing principles to use at home.
3. Occupational Therapy with an emphasis in Sensory Integration
If you go to an OT who is not heavy in sensory, find another therapist. Sensory is KEY.
Another branch of this would be S.O.S. Feeding Therapy for specific eating challenges.
Read how you can do Occupational Therapy at home on a shoestring budget.
4. Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA)
This is probably the most popular therapy for autism and it is what most schools use so if your child is in the school system, you’ll need to get familiar with this. We started here through Vanderbilt and we learned quite a bit through their free training classes and studies; we are forever indebted to the Vandy Triad team. Although I will say openly we have very much moved away from ABA Therapy, we do enjoy using some of the tools that are ABA-inspired, namely visual supports.
Some ABA-inspired supports we use at our house:
5. Speech Therapy
The focus here needs to be COMMUNICATION – watch out for SLP’s that just want to work on correcting letter sounds.
Read about doing Speech therapy at home on a shoestring budget
Here’s some other popular therapies that we have not personally used, but may be helpful for your child:
Horse Therapy/Animal Therapy
Relationship development intervention
So now you may be thinking, “I thought Biomedical was all we’d need! Just correct the dysfunction of the body and there’s be no need for other therapies.”
Again, I give you Dr. Bock’s words to consider (I’m telling you, you’ve got to buy this book!):
The biomedical treatment heals the brain’s hardware, so to speak, while the behavioral therapies improve its software, or thinking processes. Both must be addressed. By the time that some kids’ brains start to heal, they are years behind in social and intellectual development, and they need help to catch up. In many cases, their hardwiring is so damaged that they even need to forge whole new neuronal pathways – new ways of solving old problems. In a way, they’re rather like some stroke victims – still capable of learning, but not in the damaged portions of their brains.
A final note…
As a general rule, we have always tried to space therapies at least three weeks apart and have taken observations along the way. This can be as simple as jotting notes in a notebook monitoring a particular behavior.
This post is part of a series. For the complete series, go here.
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