I don’t know about you, but I spent the first several days after hearing the diagnosis of autism frantically reading everything I could get my hands on, trying to figure out what I should be doing to help my son. I swung daily from feeling that there must be one perfect answer to the question to feeling like I should be hitting every area at once so as not to lose any more precious time.
I was blown away by the fact that the Birth-3 team thought 45 minutes of speech therapy and 45 minutes of occupational therapy a week was plenty. And even though the preschool program offered 12 hours a week in the classroom along with the therapy sessions, I still felt an intense pressure to do more.
So we did. We have tried a lot of different therapies, with a variety of outcomes. We have done music therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy, a listening program, speech therapy, sensory integration therapy, behavioral therapy, Floortime, psychotherapy, a special diet, supplements, and medication, to name a few. Some were effective and have stuck with us, while others likely did more to make me feel like I was doing something than they actually helped Michael.
I don’t pretend to have all (or even most) of the answers, especially since at times I still battle the same insecurities and fears that I always have, but here’s a few things I have learned along the way:
- Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, and don’t let every little issue become your whole life. The conversations about nursing versus bottle feeding that were so all-consuming when your child was an infant aren’t even on the radar when you are talking to the second grade teacher about spelling or math.
- Quantity is important, but quality is even more so. As much as some people would like you to believe you must do 40 hours of ABA a week, or 8 Floortime sessions a day, it is critical to give your child yourself, present with them, engaging with them however you can.
- Along those lines, nothing takes the place of getting on the floor and playing with your kid. For some people, this is natural, but for me it was easy to retreat to the computer and my books and focus on researching and learning to find the “right” answers. If I could go back, I would spend half that time just hanging out with Michael instead and really paying attention to what makes him light up with interest and curiosity.
- You have to pick your battles; that is, figure out what your top goals are and prioritize any therapies that addresses those issues. What skill or activity would make things better for your child and for your family? What would make them more functional and independent in their communication or daily life? Once you know what you want and what your child wants, you can make decisions about where therapy may fit in with those goals.
When it comes down to it, we are all imperfect people, raising imperfect children. We want to prepare them for life as best we can, to pass on our values and ideals, to let them know they are loved and to celebrate their uniqueness. We cry for them when things are difficult and rejoice with them when victories are won. We do the best we can at any given moment, and so do our kids, and that’s enough for me.
Note: This post was written for the Best of the Best, Edition 9: Therapy and Special Needs Kids.