One of the first and most important choices parents and caregivers make after a child’s diagnosis of autism is which therapy will be most suitable for their son or daughter. Remember that once your child is diagnosed with this, it doesn’t mean the end of the world for them and their future. The right and proper intervention, given at the right time, can help improve the likelihood of your child’s development getting better.
Unfortunately, this choice also comes at just about the least opportune time. During a time of considerable upheaval, families are introduced to a new and vast world populated with previously unheard-of therapies, programs, acronyms, and health professionals. It can only put you in an even more challenging position since you’ve got to choose from the vast options available. However, when you look at it from a positive view, at least this availability of choice means that intervention is, in fact, available.
The good news is that this confusion is well-recognized and many jurisdictions have put in place services and mechanisms to help guide families at the point of diagnosis. For example, the Autism Advisor scheme in each state of Australia has been specifically designed to inform parents of their options at the point of diagnosis. However, while these services can prove to be an enormous help, the choice about which therapy may suit their child will reoccur throughout their lives, and so it’s very important for families to develop their own methods to help make these decisions.
It is important to say loudly, clearly and repeatedly that there’s no “one size fits all” approach for matching a child to therapy. This is one of the great scientific goals for autism research, and we have reason to be optimistic about significant progress in this area over the next two decades. However, there are overarching principles that can be used as a template to assist with these challenging decisions.
1. Give Yourself A Break
No one is born knowing how to choose the most suitable therapy for a child with autism. This knowledge is only acquired through experience, and this takes time. Sometimes you’ll make poor choices, and it’s important to be gentle on yourself during these times. Sometimes you’ll make great choices, and it’s important to congratulate yourself on those occasions.
Among the most important things you can do for your family is to recruit a team of supporters; people who can and will remind you of your inexperience, your progression, and that this process is harder than you give it credit for.
I like to work on the “five-finger” principle. Each person in your support team represents one finger. In a time of need, you first turn to the person represented by your thumb. If you can’t get hold of them, then you turn to the person represented by your index finger, and so on. By the time you get to your pinkie, you will have found someone who will be able to listen, babysit, cook dinner, or simply tell you that you’re wonderful.
However, as you give yourself this quick breather to process things through and have a clear mind, don’t waste too much time. For children with autism, the earlier the intervention from Fired Up People, the better the chance of successful treatment. With early intervention, you can speed up your child’s development. Moreover, the symptoms of autism are also reduced.
2. Learn About Autism
Your child’s developmental pedia may have already given you a brief background of what autism is. But it pays that you also read and learn more about it. A deep understanding of what autism enables you to become an active team player for the success of your child’s therapy. Hence, it's not enough that you send your child off to therapy, and be passive as a parent, but you also need to do your part, too, such as to follow-up and work together with the therapist.
If you can have access to a local autism support group, the better. This group can provide you with support in hard times and even access to essential resources.
3. Goal-SettingAn important step in any process is to define the issue you’re addressing. It’s quite simple: if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can’t find it. You must understand what you and your child would like to achieve through therapy before you can find a therapy that fits that need. More so, remember that each child, even with those that are diagnosed with autism, is different. They can respond differently to different forms of therapy. So, a good goal-setting process can help you have better success in each therapy form that you’ll apply, allowing you to successfully navigate through each therapy form.
Many health professionals will guide you through a goal-setting process. If they don’t, then insist that they do. When formulating goals, first think broadly (for example, “I want my child to learn to talk”), and then think of clear and defined outcomes that will help you along that path (such as, “I want my child to use verbal language to request food and drink”).
I like to picture a staircase of ten steps. We wouldn’t expect anyone to leap the whole staircase in one bound, but taking the steps one at a time – sometimes, with one step backwards – will get us to our destination.
4. Understand The Therapy
For better or worse, there is a wide choice of therapies offered for autism. To become an expert in every one of these therapies is impossible, even for people who dedicate their professional lives to the study of autism.
Nevertheless, when you have narrowed down your choice to a handful of therapy programs, it is important that you do have an understanding of what is being offered.
Some simple questions that you can ask your health professional are: • What is the therapy? You need to know what this therapy actually involves. • What is the rationale of the therapy? You need to know why this therapy may be effective for your child. • Is the therapy safe? You need to know that this therapy will not harm your child. • Is the therapy effective? You need to know if there is scientific evidence that this therapy can lead to improvements.
If the answers to these questions satisfy you, then weigh up the positives and negatives of this information.
Understand the time requirements, the financial cost, and the implications of these for your family life. Always be mindful of over-inflated claims, which are almost certainly too good to be true. Some simple warning signs include statements of a “cure”, an apparent “one size fits all” approach to a range of conditions, excessive scientific jargon, and disproportionately high fees.
With all of this information in your back pocket, it is time to determine the fit for you and your family. The analogy that I come back to time and again is dating: a person may be absolutely perfect, but they have to be perfect for you. The same goes for therapies and therapists.
You can only ever make the best decision with the information you have at the time. But it is critical to remember this information will change over time. What suited your child and family a year ago may not apply now that you are 12 months down the track.
Review your child’s progress, review the positives and negatives of the therapeutic approach, and review your family’s circumstances. Evaluate the fit and make a choice.
Whether you feel it or not, you have become an expert in autism. Indeed, the only people more expert than you are individuals with autism themselves. Although choosing interventions is currently an imperfect science, you and your family are in control of the process.
By having a clear understanding of your goals for therapy, as well as the positives and negatives about what any given therapy offers, you are reducing to negligible the role that luck plays in the process.
Talk, question, explore, and plan. And always remember: you know more than you think you do.
When you’ve been told that your child has autism, breathe in and breathe out. Take it easy on yourself. This isn’t going to be the end of the world for your child as there’s always a lot of hope. This hope comes in the form of modern-day therapy and intervention.
The medical world hasn’t turned a blind eye on your needs, and they’re ready to supply everything your child needs to heal. While it’s true that autism isn’t something that your child can eventually grow out of, therapy can help improve their level of skills, brain functioning, and overall quality of life.
Authors: Andrew Whitehouse, Winthrop Professor, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia