The Autism Treatment Trap

God, I want an autism treatment pill.

Something that will magically, immediately make my son’s autism disappear.

Right now.

Of course, there is no anti-autism pill.

But, I think we tend to look at the various therapy programs, special education, and other services as the next best thing.

This is a trap.

The Seductive Power of Professionals

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for all of the help that I can get for my son and that you can get for your child.

Go get them!

And you should work for every hour and expert you can get your hands on.

  • These therapists have years of training and experience (hopefully).
  • They’ve been through all of this before (hopefully).
  • They are going to be a big help.
  • They know what they are seeing. They know techniques that can help.
  • They will make a big difference.

But….

They just aren’t there all of the time. In fact, they aren’t there that much of the time.

And time is the key.

Every waking moment of every day your autistic child is either moving closer or farther away from our collective, communicating, social world.

They learn from every interaction (whether during therapy or not) and what they learn matters (whether during therapy or not).

Therapy for Autism is different than Therapy for Adults

Let’s get this out of the way first:

  • I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • I’ve only known that I have an autistic child for less than 2 months.
  • I’ve never had therapy or gone through therapy.

So, I’m making this up as I go along.

That being said, adults “use” therapy.

They know when they are “in” therapy and when they are not.

Hopefully, they use the therapy time to address… whatever it is that they are addressing.

This is not the case with an autistic child.

Their world is their world.

“Therapy” is a construct that we impose upon them that means nothing to them.

It is inherently “unnatural” for an autistic child. Different people. Different locations (sometimes). Different activities (sometimes).

It is not their world.

And it is very, very temporary.

Therapy Math

So, let’s look at the week of an autistic child with a “full load” of therapy:

Speech therapy – 2 hours per week.

Behavioral therapy – 20 hours per week.

Special education at school – 16 hours per week.

36 hours a week of therapy.

Pretty good. (I suspect most parents of autistic children would be pleased with themselves for pulling this off)

Except….

Your child is awake probably 12 hours or more per day (lot’s more in my case).

So, you are looking at: 12 hours a day x 7 days a week:

84 hours awake each week.

or

48 hours of “non therapy” a week.

Except that your child doesn’t really distinguish between “therapy” and “non-therapy”.

They are learning and consuming the world as they experience it.

And the more time they spend doing something, the more that is reinforced. So, if there is something that they are supposed to get out of therapy, but they get the opposite out of “non therapy”… what is going to win?

Even worse, a lot “therapy” time isn’t that effective:

  • Your child is tired or having a “bad day”.
  • Your therapist is tired or having a bad day.
  • Their personalities don’t mesh.
  • Your child is just “not going to learn right now”.
  • … and your therapist is on a 50 minute hour.
  • … and many, many other circumstances.

I’m coming to the conclusion that treating autism is not (solely) a matter of therapy.

Treating autism is a family lifestyle discipline (or practice).

  • Every day.
  • All the time.
  • Building on the techniques of therapy.

If we make autism treatment pervasive, we make it more effective.

… and this is mostly good news.

… because most of the techniques of autism therapy aren’t rocket science.

… they are (largely) techniques of good parenting applied systematically.

So, let’s start by raising the floor.

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