Getting Started in Special Needs – Getting the most out of therapy

What you can do as a parent

You have fought to get every service and therapy you can for your autistic child. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy… from everyone – school, state, insurance.



Now the work begins.

Zoning out at speech therapy….

It is so, so terribly tempting to take a break during therapy. I started out on the wrong foot with our speech therapist. The first week, my daughter had to come with my son and me to the session due to some school scheduling shenanigans, so I was very distracted.

That rolled over into the next week where my evil smart phone tempted me with the opportunity to web surf and relax for a bit … but it was OK…I had half an eye and a bit of an ear keeping track of what was going on…. after all, I was doing great… not sitting in the lobby like some other people…


Utter bullshit.

Because therapy sessions aren’t just for you kids.

They are for you.

Bear and Obedience School

I had an akita, Bear, who I got through breed rescue when I lived in Washington, DC. If you’ve ever gotten a dog from a rescue group, it is pretty daunting. They interview you, they check out your home…

It is harder to adopt a dog in need than to have a child.

But, one of the things the DC area rescue group strongly suggests is that you do obedience school with your dog.

Bear was around a year and a half old when I got him… I’d had an akita as a child… I was trying to be good…. so off to obedience school we went.

Akitas are not known for their obedience.

They are pretty independent creatures.

Bear was kind of like a 120 pound cat.

There was a lot to learn.

But, the one who was learning was me.

I was learning how to communicate with Bear and work with what he could do and would do and needed to do.

And I needed the time, because I had one hour of obedience school a week, but I needed to be effective with Bear everyday and all the time… at least when he wasn’t laying around taking a nap.

Therapy is training for you

It is terribly tempting to “use” therapy sessions to relax. You don’t have a lot of down time when your kids are at home – special needs or not.

Soooo tempting to take a break for an hour or so.

But it is an opportunity for you.

If you want typical results for your child, get your “services” and let your therapists and school dictate what your child gets.

It may not be an autism “pill”, but you can always let your therapy time be the time that  your child is “getting help”.

Or, you can intentionally shoot for superior results.

Which means YOU have to do more.

Not buy more therapy, but turn more of your “ordinary” time with your child into therapy “opportunities” – both casual and conscious.

Because you win on time.

Therapy Math

If you have one hour of speech therapy a week, that is great. But, you are likely to spend 40 hours or more a week with your child outside of therapy….

…. and say, you are 5% as effective as your therapist (pretty humble, right?)… then you are giving the equivalent of:

40 hours per week * (5%) effectiveness = 2 additional hours of speech therapy per week

So, now your child is not getting 1 hour of speech therapy each week, she is getting 3 hours.

a 300 percent improvement in weekly speech therapy.

For free (ish).

… and if you are 10% as effective as your therapist, that number goes up to additional FOUR hours of speech therapy.

Your  “parent therapy time” is amazingly powerful.

Two therapists are better than one

So, your attention during therapy is going to help you learn how to use your time at home with your child to be more effective…even if you totally suck at doing therapy, you can make a huge, positive difference for your child.

But, as they say during those infomercials:

“That’s not all, there’s more”…

Before I entered the world of full-time parenting, I was a senior computer security guy. I went to a lot of meetings but I always, always tried to bring along a partner.

As you can tell from this blog, I talk a lot.

… and I do the same at meetings.

But it is more important to have someone listening during a meeting as it is to talk.

In some sense, it is more important than talking.

Because you can’t talk and listen at the same time.

You need someone to listen. Carefully. To hear what is being said… and hear what is going on “underneath” the discussion.

It is the same with therapy.

Last week during my son’s speech therapy, I was really listening to what the therapist was doing and watching how my son was working with her.

Sometimes, I’d jump in to re-steer easy things… we don’t watch a lot of TV, so Sesame Street references (which were in some of her books)… were not familiar to my son (he doesn’t know Oscar or Cookie Monster very well).

But, other times, it is more subtle.

My son is great with counting, but, as I was watching them work together (and based on my observations at home), I was seeing that my son was getting “locked in” to the sequences and not really understanding “numbers as quantities”, but really only “numbers as labels”.

For example, if you went through “1, 2, 3…” … great.

But, if you showed him “7” out of sequence… not so good.

And, “1” was always “1 kite” (from the puzzle he was working with) not “1 anything“.

Now, I’m sure that she would have seen what was going on … and perhaps I wasn’t really helping much… but having a second set of eyes and ears is almost always helpful… if nothing else, my feedback gave our therapist the opportunity to change the technique she was using to get more effectiveness out of that short 1 hour we have together.

And, selfishly for me, I get to see things that I may be doing at home and get ideas for what can be more effective… making those 40 hours of parenting time just a bit more therapeutically effective (while hopefully fun for all of you).

So, turn off that phone, put down that book, and watch, listen, participate, and learn.

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