Quick Question: Do I need a therapist for my child with autism?
Quick Answer: Yes. But not just any therapist. A therapist knowledgeable in autism.
It’s a mother’s worst nightmare.
Your child is suffering and you can’t stop the pain.
The pain is obvious by the way they act, even if they can’t verbalize it to you.
Crying, screaming, stimming in some way that clearly indicates distress, extreme bursts of anger, upset, loud demands, inability to calm themselves, inability to let go of something and move forward. Reluctance, resistance, recriminations.
Opinions and Perspectives
From family to the school, everyone has an opinion – and none of them are helpful unless the person you are talking to is trained to deal with autism.
Each person states their perspective, and many make you feel that you practically have to go fisticuffs to defend you beloved child from being called undisciplined, spoiled, poorly parented, or just a kid with a bad character.
In your heart of hearts, you know something’s different about your child. But you know it’s not that they are just a rotten or undisciplined kid!
Some days it feels like your whole world is spinning out of control, and you are at odds with everyone and everything.
And there is no relief. For you, for other family members, or for your child!
Then suddenly things seem better for a day, and you wonder if there really is a problem.
Until the tide quickly turns again, and you once again are in the throws of the autism fog.
Maybe your parenting IS the problem…but even if you were committed to doing it differently, what would you do specifically?
The issues are all across the board, and new ones pop up all the time.
My son’s anxiety was off the charts, and there was no ignoring the signals that pointed to some sort of issue.
I needed a therapist.
I needed one to help me figure out what was going on with my child.
I also needed one for my own struggles; to address my sense of parental inadequacy, my paralyzing fear and worry about the future, and the aggravation and sheer frustration I experienced day after day as I attempted to make changes on my own.
I needed a therapist to help me with the issues developing in my marriage, and the problems that were burgeoning with my other kids.
The Journey to find a Therapist
Autism is a family affair!
I was so relieved when we found the first child psychologist we consulted.
He was supposedly a behavior modification expert, and had very traditional Christian values.
I believed that surely he would be able to help. My sense of relief skyrocketed when we started therapy.
He attempted to treat the symptoms he could see – the anxiety, the inflexibility, and the demanding attitude that to the untrained observer looked like complete disrespect.
6 months. No improvement.
What had initially sent my hopes skyward now felt like a rock, sinking me even deeper into a desperate sense of feeling out of control.
With much turmoil and uncertainty, I looked for a new avenue to pursue.
Enter therapist number two and new hope.
This therapist had a much more gentle, eastern philosophy.
“My greatest goal at this point was that my beloved child felt comfortable in his own skin!”
She felt she could help my son feel better! That gave me knew hope!
It was a breath of fresh air that someone was thinking about how my child was experiencing the world instead of how to make him comply and act “normal.”
My greatest goal at this point was that my beloved child felt comfortable in his own skin! That he was able to manage everyday life and enjoy it!
The new therapist helped us get some IQ testing and a few other tests that made it possible to get some additional academic support from the school.
Like therapist number one, she focused on treating the symptoms my son displayed, especially the anxiety which was growing more obvious by the way my son came home from school every day with the front of his brand-new T-shirt soaked to the belly button, wrung and filled with chewed holes beyond being able to be worn again!
6 more months. Still no improvement.
Talking to friends, or therapists that were untrained in autism was not only futile, it only made things worse!
They just didn’t get it!
Yet, I had to keep searching for the answers.
Frustration. Fear. Desperation. Loneliness. Isolation.
These are everyday companions when your child has ASD and you haven’t found the path to real help.
And as a parent, if I dared to ask a question or point out what was obvious to a parent with a child on the spectrum but not to others … the finger would quickly point at me.
Unfortunately, I have heard this from a ton of parents.
When a therapist who doesn’t understand autism runs into the inevitable roadblock, blaming the parenting style is an easy pot shot.
Of course, with every criticism of my parenting ability, I doubled down; I tried that much harder to employ the traditionally successful parenting techniques that everyone recommended.
Nothing worked the way the experts or my friends said it would.
Was I just doing it wrong?
The Plea for Help
Self-doubt set in. But my determination to help my son find a peaceful way to live life grew exponentially as time went on.
Finally, almost beyond the point of being able to discuss it rationally, I met with the psychiatrist who had heretofore only diagnosed my son with anxiety disorder and ADHD.
In my mind, I was ready to crawl over the desk and grab the man by his necktie until he gave me the name of someone who could really help us. I pled my case and begged for help!
Reluctantly, as he escorted me out of his office, he casually mentioned the word Asperger’s (this was back in 2005 when that was a recognized diagnosis).
He told me this is what he suspected we were dealing with while standing in the hallway!
He gave me my checkout paperwork and no other indication of what to do or where to get help.
This was a devasting blow when I researched the internet.
“Self-doubt set in. But my determination to help my son find a peaceful way to live life grew exponentially as time went on.”
After several weeks, still having no idea what to do, I called his office and demanded that he provide me with the name of someone who understood my son, our family, and our problems.
I needed a specialist!
Part of his reluctance was that he didn’t want to send us to a psychologist outside of his own practice, yet no one inside his practice was qualified to work with us.
We had already proved that seeing 2 very different practitioners, with two very different approaches, was of no avail.
Finally, he gave me 2 recommendations for therapists that understood autism. I reached out immediately!
I will never forget standing in the freezer food section of the grocery store looking at the frozen peas when my cell phone rang with a return call from one of the specialists. He knew just what I was experiencing and had reassuring advice and encouragement that felt totally different from anything I had experienced previously. This guy understood us!
Beginning the Journey Together
The moment we arrived in the office of this autism expert life began to change. Finally, my tooth and nail fight for my son’s future began to pay off!
Since we began our journey with an autism specialist, everything has changed.
Years later, my son drives, holds a managers position at a drug store, and has an active social life.
He is ready for independent living!
None of that could have been accomplished without someone who understands the pathology of autism.
Most therapists without the experience and understanding about how autism influences the thinking and world view of the individual who has it…and yes, there is a very specific and predictable mental pathology that arises as the result of the neurological performance of the brain in individuals with ASD…cannot help a family in the throws of the autism crisis.
Many professionals know the basics of what to look for, and may even reach the point of suspecting that ASD is the proper diagnosis.
But few actually possess the tools and understanding to make swift, dependable, and long-term progress that is needed to help a child become independent.
I have heard stories like this hundreds of times.
It is a common pathway to walk when you have a family member with ASD.
Getting a diagnosis is still hard today.
Therapists, the parents out there that are struggling like I did need you!
“Learning about autism is not rocket science…it is knowing a specific set of smaller issues and thought patterns that make autism unique.”
They need you to become the expert that can finally help them make real and lasting progress for their beloved children!
Learning about autism is not rocket science. It’s also not intuitive.
But it is about knowing a specific set of smaller issues and thought patterns that make autism unique.
And with that knowledge, autism is successfully treatable!