Autism TreatmentAutism Information for Parents, Practitioners & Professionals…

Autism Information for Parents, Practitioners & Professionals…

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Is More Better?
A Commentary on Avoiding Craziness for Autism Parents

Travis Thompson

I understand that you are terrified and will do everything in your power to help your child. Really I do. You probably read somewhere that kids with autism should get 30 hours per week of “therapy.” Perhaps you heard a talk by a person who addressed your mothers' group about how important it is to try everything for your child. When you asked your son's pediatrician what services he should receive, he said, "Give it all a try, it can't hurt."   Yes it can hurt. That is bad advice. That would be like telling someone with a broken Tibia in their lower leg to “give it all a try,” drink some herbal tea, see a crystal energy healer, go to a demonic exorcist, have chiropractic realignment of your spine, and, oh one more thing, get an X-ray, set the broken Tibia and splint and cast it. "And by the way here’s a prescription for a pain killer for a week until the bone starts to heal."
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All kinds of people tell you to try different things. Why responsible people do that eludes me because it makes no sense. So not knowing where else to start, you begin with Early Childhood Special Education, OT and Speech Therapy at school. You add 12 hours per week of Discrete Trial ABA therapy from a private ABA company at home.   You enroll him in a Floortime® program three afternoons a week and RDI® wednesday afternoon, and additional private speech therapy two days after school, and therapeutic horse back riding, and swimming Sat morning.  

Guess what?  There isn't a shred of evidence such a complex combination of largely ineffective and very losely related procedures are at all beneficial to children with autism. None, nada, acun, as in zero evidence at all.  NONE! Some of these various “therapies” may actually conflict with one another, further confuse your child, increase his anxiety and delay skill development. Oh and by the way, it will drive you bonkers in the process.
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Whoever told you this would be a good idea told you wrong.  It is actually a very bad idea. Your child definitely needs structured and well-coordinated speech/communication therapy and behavior analytic intervention combination.  If your child is making solid progress and is doing well after 6-9 months, Early Childhood SpEd might be added several times a week for 2 hours each to help with developing social skills. That’s all, no more. FULL STOP!  No additional SLP, OT or PT at school or other privately run therapies.  No neurotherapy, no chiropractic, no homeopathy or hyperbaric oxygen or other weirdness. No craziness because some well meaning but whacky parent somewhere one day said to you, "Your 3 1/2 year old boy Johnny ABSOLUTELY must have Dr. Fizzbee's All Purpose Immunoendocrine Neuroplasticity Jelly Bean Therapy!" She continues,  "I started my boy Billy on it six weeks ago, 42 jelly beans per day and gradually increased to 230 jelly beans, and together with chelating cleansing colonic irrigation, for all practical purposes, he's cured.  CURED!  Do you hear me, my baby Billy is CURED of autism!"  Actually her baby Billy has a lot of diarrhea from all those jelly beans, and still can't communicate and has more daily tantrums because he feels lousy most of the time and nothing about his autism has changed. But she HAS spent a bunch of money on Dr. Fizzbee's patented jelly beans, so at least something has been accomplished.
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Here's the deal. Honest. I wouldn't lie to you or exaggerate.  Stick to no more than three interventions and most importantly, follow through with each one as best you can.  Far better to do a small number of effective things well, than a hodge-podge of ineffective, intermixed with a few effective therapies, but do so inconsistently.  Please promise me you won't drive yourself crazy running in circles from one therapy or lesson to the next, and standing on your head trying to do everything under the sun. Don't do it!   Cease and desist!

The other most important thing is to remember is that your child with autism is a child like any other child, and should be an integral part of family life. Include your child with autism in everything that makes sense, and follow the recommended speech and behavior intervention methods throughout your daily life. Do not think of them as therapies that are only done when the therapists are present. Build your child’s interventions into normal daily routines. Take baby steps and don't expect miracles. But eventually, something akin to a miracle is likely to happen.  

Ask your spouse, grandma or brother in law to look after Johnny for an hour. Meet your best friend at Starbucks. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly and sip your Latte' (actually I prefer white mocha with white chocolate and an extra shot of espresso). Have a raspberry and white chocolate scone (seriously yum) and stop being an autism mom for a few minutes. Tell each other silly stupid jokes and laugh until the tears run. You really need to have your tears run for a good reason some times. Afterward, go for a walk along the creek or around the park with your friend. Talk about something, anything, other than your child with autism.

In the evening after the kids are in bed, kick back and listen to your favorite music and spend 15 minutes at the end of every day pondering what really matters. Like for example, when was the last time you held the love of your life in your arms and told her or him you badly need some high quality intimate adult time with them? Then it's time to figure out a way to make it happen, like maybe a weekend away together. Autism craziness is too much work and will drive you nuts. You've got enough real issues on your hands.  If this is all too hard, write me a note, I'll help.