When my son was diagnosed as autistic at 2 years old I was totally lost. I didn’t have a good understanding of what autism was and most of what I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. At home I was really struggling to engage with him. We were trying every parenting technique I could find but they were all wrong for my boy and I felt like a real failure.
I just wanted to understand more about autism and what support I needed to put in place for my son. So I turned to Google- now I do love the internet and you can get so much information- but you have to be really careful because there is tons of false information out there. The one place I would recommend when you need to sense check anything is the National Autistic Society website.
Many young children with autism struggle with communication and interaction. While every child will be different and have different needs there are some therapies that I would recommend all parents have a look. You can get my guide to therapies for young autistic children here.
How to choose the right therapies for your child
Be very cautious about what therapies you do with your child. Do your research and make sure you understand what the therapy is and why you are doing it. Avoid anything that is offering to ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ your child’s autism. Autism is not an illness and as such it cannot be cured.
Autism is a neurological condition where your child thinks differently to neurotypicals (not autistic). If your child thinks and processes information differently to their peers then they will need different teaching methods. The word therapy is not always appropriate as really it is just different supports and methods of interaction.
Be aware of anyone that wants to charge you for services, yes some are legitimate and provide brilliant services but others are just after your money. Speak to other parents that have used the services, places like Facebook are a great place to link up with other parents.
For me it is vital that any approach is fun for my child, if your child is having fun they will learn. I am personally uncomfortable with anything that is invasive or over controlling. You have to think about what you would do for yourself if you needed any form of therapy.
A note about diet, biomedical and ABA
You will get lots of advice from others after a diagnosis. You will have well meaning friends and relatives suggesting things they have found on the internet or been sent by their friends. There are also lots of companies out there targeting you with ads as soon as you start googling autism.
Time and time again you will get told to change your child’s diet, have them medicated or on certain vitamins. I have not done this and I will explain why. I have done research on all and spoken to several professionals about them.
I found advice over and over about taking gluten and dairy out of my son’s diet. I discussed this at length with some professionals and our paediatrician. My son has a very restricted diet and the main elements of which are dairy and gluten. I am not willing to take away the few things he will actually eat from him. When you look into the diet regimes in order to have any impact they need to be really strict, I’m talking no chemicals at all. I don’t want my son to never have sweets or chocolate cake these are pleasures in life he enjoys.
Any human that removes dairy, gluten and chemicals from their diet entirely will seen an improvement in their health and overall well-being but this is at a cost. You are limiting your child’s food choices and ability to join in with things like birthday cake. For any diet to work they need to be done properly you can’t half do it, so I felt this was far too extreme for us. If he wants to give it a go when he is older and it’s his choice that is fine but I am not going to impose it on him.
You will likely come across ‘treatments’ for autism such as vitamin and dietary supplements, chelation and other drug treatments. Many of these are extremely dangerous.
I suggest you read the position statement from the National Autistic Society on these ‘treatments’.
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)
Anyone looking into therapies for autism will come across ABA. You will find it is very controversial with some saying it is the best therapy and others calling it child abuse. ABA is the use of interventions based on behavioural analysis. An intensive and interactive approach usually on a one-to-one basis. It is used to teach basic and social skills in a systematic manner to create a change in behaviour.
Behavioural therapy is an attempt to identify and change habits or behaviour that is unwanted. Many autistic adults that received ABA therapy as children are now speaking out about how damaging it has been. ABA is based on changing behaviour. In many cases has been used to make an autistic person learn more ‘normal’ behaviour. Working on eye contact or keeping still. The red flag for me was to implement a full ABA programme with my 2 year old he would be expected to do 40 hours of therapy a week. That was too extreme for me.
Many autism therapies use some of the ABA principles, for example the Picture Exchange Communication System. Some schools will use ABA methods but using some ABA principals and methods is very different to providing a full ABA programme. Some ABA services have been adapted following better understanding about autism others have not.
ABA is delivered differently by different programmes.
The biggest issue with ABA is that there are so many different approaches under the same name. There are extreme courses of ABA used to ‘treat’ children which would obviously have a negative impact on the child. Whilst at the same time there are great programmes that really help with early intervention and support children to develop. Helen from David B’s Journey had a good experience with ABA:
‘3 hours a week for a year. David learned how to show me when he wanted something. He started looking me in the face and smiling. No punishments, certainly no conditioning etc.’
Victoria from Starlight and Stories is an autism specialist teacher and gives her views on ABA in this post: ABA should it really be demonised?
If you choose to go down the ABA route make sure you have done a lot of research. Ensure you fully understand everything that will be done with your child and why. Here is an excellent guide to help you determine if a therapy is harmful or not.
There is so much controversy surrounding autism people can be quick to judge. Chris from Autistic Not Weird has a great post called a Plea to the autism community, from one of your own. The post is calling for discussion and not arguments as this is the best way we can all learn and be informed in the choices that we make.
Therapies at home
As I researched different therapies and support methods I found that lots of the information was geared towards professionals. Don’t let this put you off, most of the therapies used by professionals can be adapted and used at home. Many therapies have set structures because they are teaching something specific. Whilst this is important and should be kept in mind it doesn’t mean you cannot do it slightly differently to fit in at home.
Before I had kids I did wonder why you aren’t given parenting classes or a manual. You have to have driving lessons so why not have a parenting licence. Well I had no idea how different every child was. No manual would work for every parent and child. Finding the right therapies for your child will depend on their needs. Personally I think having a good understanding of a range of therapies, techniques or supports is key. What works one day may not the next.
Guide to the top autism therapies
Whilst keeping in mind that not every therapy is right for every child, there are some I would recommend you consider if you have a young child with autism. I have pulled together an introduction to 11 different therapies or teaching methods including Attention Autism, TEACCH and Intensive Interaction.
The guide is based on what has worked for us personally. Most of the therapies included are recommended by most autism professionals and widely used in specialist settings. If you would like your free copy of this guide then sign up to my monthly newsletter and it will be sent to you by e-mail.