Autism therapy: all children are unique, even those with Autism

Autism Therapy- all children are unique, even those who have AutismOy, therapy for children with developmental disabilities. We could get into quite a discussion couldn’t we? How well it’s done or not done, how it should be done, what age to start therapy, how often and for how long. Lots of shoulds and should nots aren’t there?

When you begin on the road of Autism you hear everyone’s opinion; your mothers, friends, co-workers, therapists, teachers, spouses, and the stranger at the grocery store. And gee, could it be that you even have your own opinions? Today I’d like to share my reaction to some therapist’s view point, and hope to help you if you’ve run into this situation.

When we started therapy for Jeremiah we didn’t know Jeremiah had Autism, we only knew he was developmentally delayed and wasn’t speaking. Two therapists worked with us in the beginning, a speech pathologist and a developmental interventionist. As they worked with us, I asked them about Autism. Their answer:

they use the same therapy with every child, no matter what disability or disorder they might have.

What?? How is that possible? I asked it three years ago, and I still ask it today. How can you treat every child the same? How can you treat a child with a speech delay the same as you treat a child with Angelmans Syndrome? You don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t get anywhere with one of them, and a whole discombobulated mess would ensue.

When we think of Autism, we think of fairly specific behaviors. And, when we add in each child’s specific developmental position, they’re each unique in how they learn and take in information. Sure, you may have a group of Autistic people who learn best through visual stimulation, and you might have another group who learns best through tactile stimulation, but

each individual needs to be taken into account and not grouped together.

So, this idea of doing therapy the same for every child struck me wrong from the beginning, even when Jeremiah didn’t have the diagnosis of Autism. Why? Because my son was not every other child. How did I know? Because I’d tried this theory out on my own before any “professional” came into my home.

Our daughter, Payton, came to us at nine-months through foster care. When she came, I began talking to her in full sentences, and although she struggled with emotional and social development, her intellect was well in tact. She understood me, responded to me, and began talking at an appropriate, if not, young age.

I took this same approach with my son, Jeremiah. My opinion was that children can understand if given the opportunity. Yet, at some point I realized what I was doing wasn’t working. The request, “Get off the table,” didn’t mean anything to Jeremiah, I could tell it wasn’t a disregard for what I was saying, but a lack of comprehending what I wanted from him.

When the therapists came in, they wanted me to change how I talked to him. I needed to simply say, “Get down.” They explained that he heard the last word or two I was saying, so he heard “table,” not “down” if I said, “Get down from the table.” Also, if I was to say, “Please don’t hit,” he would only hear the word, “hit,” and not stop the action.

That right there is a very basic example of why therapy isn’t the same for all children.

Is your child's therapist treating them as a unique individual
Here’s another example. A friend of ours took her daughter, Hannah*, to a speech therapist, she loved it and raved about it, saying that we needed to take Jeremiah. Very sweet. But as she explained what this therapist did with her daughter I quickly realized it wouldn’t work for us.

This therapist would ask Hannah to do something with her mouth, and when she did she would receive a reward. For example, the therapist would ask Hannah to make an “O” with her mouth a few times, and she would be rewarded with something, like playing with a toy for a minute. This is a fantastic way to help a child who can understand directions, or who can copy a persons movements. Jeremiah can’t.

Jeremiah’s understanding is developing continually, but he’s still not at the point where you can ask him to do something that’s outside of his everyday routine, there are a few things he can do, but not much therapy-wise. So, no, not every child is treated in the same way in therapy, nor should they be.

Each child needs to be worked with where they are.

Some therapists understand this and some don’t. The Developmental Interventionist I mentioned above is awesome. When she told me she treats all children the same, I think she was only quoting what her manager was saying. She understood Jeremiah and worked with him with such intuitiveness that we asked her to work with him privately after his Early Intervention ended. She took Autism into consideration. She didn’t push Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), but conformed it to fit Jeremiah.

It’s so important to be aware of what therapy is being done with your child. There are many Autistic adults who say they were abused through ABA. Some therapies today have modified ABA to make it less intrusive, but some haven’t.

Has a therapist ever said to you that they use the same therapy for every child? Is there a therapy being used with your child that makes you uncomfortable or question whether it’s right or wrong?

You can find out more about Autism therapies in these posts:
More perspectives on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
My Thoughts on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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