My son’s autism diagnosis shocked me less than his proposed therapy schedule. The clinicians proclaimed that he needed 25-35 hours of therapy. Without it, they said, he may not have the tools to be mainstreamed in school.
I struggled with this mightily.
Specialists came to our home and saw him at an early intervention center. He is not the child you see, I explained. Liev was sweet, playful, and bright. He only ran around maniacally because everything was so new. Sympathetic smiles and pity faces were stock responses.
Let me emphasize–I don’t begrudge the efforts of the regional autism center. Several staff members, however, left me feeling patronized and disbelieved.
For two years I absorbed book after book about autism therapy—A.B.A., Floortime, DIR, and RDI. All of these treatments had one thing in common–they sort of work, sometimes.
Ultimately, when Liev was in a teachable place—he learned. When Liev was disorganized, these interventions failed.
Visits from Liev’s early intervention Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) unnerved us. She tried to engage my son with new toys and over-the-top enthusiasm. He scurried away from her at every opportunity. Another specialist launched a power struggle with him over throwing toys. As if you could discipline an overwhelmed toddler!
Our final therapist turned treatment around. Her son had Asperger’s. Introducing us to a strength-based approach, she empowered our entire family. Our services evolved into supportive and constructive plans. Confidence in our parenting returned.
The trend of playing to Liev’s strengths quadrupled in preschool, under Ms. Jerri’s watchful eye. Her team’s high-quality attention, structure and visual supports brought us order and coping skills. Liev thrived. I thrived too! I had a team of professionals dispensing sound advice.
Ms. Jerri introduced us to Occupational Therapy (OT).
WebMD’s definition of OT goals explains it best:
The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.
OT is one of my top three parenting tools (the other two being written plans and hugs). Without fail, these three have helped us through many difficult days. OT strategies are our first line of action.
Because Liev’s biggest obstacle to learning is his anxiety level. Too much stress or excitement whips him into an obsessive, impatient frenzy. He is too overwhelmed to function, let alone learn.
Our school OT, Ms. Wetherbee, keeps Liev grounded and focused in class. He can’t process vital social stories or work toward goals until his anxiety is tamed. Her interventions build awareness and give him control.
Ms. Wetherbee compares her work to soothing an infant:
“You have calming strategies for when an infant is crying and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. You can try a strategy that didn’t work earlier–sometimes it will work later. Sometimes something stops working and then you try it again months later, and it works. Just keep trying!”
This simplifies her work greatly, but the core of her intervention is anxiety management. This is exactly what our whole family needs! The best thing I have learned about OT is how diverse and fun the approach is.
I have plenty of tricks to share with you (coming soon!). Her strategies are concrete (yay!) and dissipate anxiety.
Until then, please enjoy the collage Liev and I put together of Ms. Wetherbee and her magic OT tools!