Autism Therapies: Help or Hindrance?

The past 5 years, we have homeschooled our son with help from special education teachers and therapists that the Department of Education sends to our home. Last year, the Department of Education stopped funding OT and Speech therapies for our son. We thought about using private therapists, but after much searching and much debate, we decided to forgo therapy and just take community classes (in art, science, engineering, gymnastics, swimming, hiking, etc) and homeschool him ourselves and with his 2 home teachers, who follow a curriculum and lessons that I set up daily for them.

During the past 5 years, we’ve tried to give our son the recommended “40+ hours” of therapy every Autistic parent is told is the “only way to help your child live a normal life”. We’ve tried ABA, speech, OT, Floortime, Social Skills classes, Karate and Dance aimed at Autistics, etc. We’ve found, overwhelmingly, that the therapies and classes aimed at Autistics are too slow and low-level, and therefore cause our son to have frustration, anger, and a loss of self-esteem.

Most therapists still treat Autistics, especially those with Apraxia, like they are 3 years old, and this treatment often upsets or bores older Autistics, which they express through actions therapists then call “behaviors”. Often, the good therapists cost a fortune and are booked solid while the available therapists know less than I do about their fields and pay little attention to their clients’ needs; just do their own routines. And even some of the most expensive and most renown therapists we’ve used haven’t been very impressive. They end up doing the same routine over and over for years, and will keep telling you that it’s “not working” because you need more frequent visits. And when you try to leave, they will often guilt/shame you by saying you are “hurting” your child by not continuing to work with them.

My son’s biggest successes have usually come whenever we have been able to find typical classes with lovely teachers who are happy to have him in class (usually with one of us or his aide at his side). He often enjoys these experiences the most and thrives there, learning and making friends.

I have thought for many years about whether all of the Autism therapies we were recommended were in any way worthwhile to my son or if they are just touted as a way to make a lot of money for people in the “Autism industry”. We have both used therapists sent to us by the Department of Education as well as paid privately for therapists. For the most part, we’ve found they do little-to-nothing to help our son, and outcomes vary greatly, depending on the skill of the therapist and their connection to our son. Oftentimes, we as parents become more “expert” about the therapies and how they best work for our children than the therapists themselves.

An aside: I am not in any way speaking here about the horrendous Autism “cures” like bleaching and whatever else that are basically child abuse disguised as “therapies”. Those are disgusting and should never, ever be considered, by anyone, anywhere. If I count the number of parents who’ve contacted me, asking about my views on those “therapies”, and who never speak to me again when I tell them not to even think of using those horrible tortures on their child, I’d just cry.

My overall conclusion about Autism Therapies is this: If your child loves something or someone, and they enjoy doing that thing or being with that person, they will benefit greatly from doing it regularly. If they hate doing something or being with someone, they will NOT benefit from doing it regularly.

So, forget the recommended therapies and get to know your child. Understand what they love to do and what makes them feel good about themselves; what makes them proud. I’ve also given the same advice to parents of typical children who’ve contacted me for advice on how to homeschool: There is no specific thing your child can do or learn that will benefit them more than the feeling that they are capable; the feeling that they can learn.

In my experience with working in schools, with developmental psychology, and with my own son, for all children, self-esteem is the single most important thing that children can leave childhood with. No amount of money spent on therapies, schooling, or anything else will give them a better way to tackle life than the confidence in themselves that they indeed can tackle life.

So, try out a number of interests and classes and subjects and people, and find the ones that truly bring out the spark in your child and make them proud of themselves. The confidence they gain from succeeding in small ways will go a long way in helping them live fruitful, productive lives. And this is true, regardless whether they have a diagnosis or not.