6 tips on choosing the right therapists for your child
Recently someone in a support group I am in asked recommendation of affordable therapists. I thought I’d share some tips here for those who are new to the special needs or autism world so you don’t make the same mistakes as we did. We have seen more than a dozen therapists for my son in the past 2 years. From ones that costed us our entire salary, to ones that costed only RM50/hour. Then there’s also the FOC ones in government hospitals.
Firstly, would be careful with anything that’s too cheap. There are many unqualified “therapists” out here in Malaysia (and maybe in other countries too?). They could be “trained” under a main therapist who isn’t even in the facility daily. Do check their credentials before signing up so you don’t end up paying a fortune for sub-par therapy! We had a bad session with one who basically didn’t know what to do with my son when he was melting down crying profusely. I was told to leave the room before that so I couldn’t see what’s going on either. Eventually, I intervened and ended up doing the therapy myself for 5 minutes while the “therapist” just looked on helplessly. We obviously left and never returned. We did waste the entire package we signed up for but when it comes to our child’s mental well-being the money burnt is nothing compared to potential trauma caused by the hand of a bad therapist.
Always sit in the first few sessions. A qualified therapist would not ask you to leave. I’ve been told to leave the room by a therapist at the government hospital after I sat in for 15 mins. At that time, I was too inexperienced to stand my ground which I should have. After thinking about it on hindsight, we ditched that therapist for good because my child had major meltdowns at home for about a week after that.
There should always be a window opening for parents to look into the therapy room. Many of our kids are non-verbal and they can’t tell you if they had a bad session, or worst, abused by the therapists. I’ve enquired at a place where the room is entirely closed off and a sign on the door says only the child is allowed in. What’s worse, there is NO waiting area within the facility and parents will either have to go off or wait at the corridor. This means we can’t even hear what’s going on inside. That’s a HUGE red flag!
Therapists should be open to parents feedback and concerns. As parents, we know our child more as we spend everyday with them. While they may have the expertise, a good therapist always listens to parents feedback and try to work out a plan that works for both. I have always been very vocal with my feedback to my child’s therapist. If I see anything not working out, I try to understand their reasoning and also tell them mine. We have a good working relationship with all his therapists and they all agree with my approach of child-led learning.
And on that note, a good therapist always uses a child-led approach. They respect the child’s need to move around, stop a task, do an activity the child likes and most importantly allowed to stim! We’ve been in sessions with therapists who pressure our kid so much and won’t “back down” because they claim their way works for most kids. This results in lots of frustrations and no child can work under that amount of pressure. Also, not all kids are the same. A lot of autistic kids have low frustration tolerance, oppositional defiant traits and high anxiety. These will show up as task avoiding in session. Following their lead always works better than trying to force the therapists own agenda on them.
Lastly, self-educate on therapies so you know your therapist is on the right track. Never leave everything to the therapists even if they are experts. There are plenty of free resources online to learn some techniques which you can also do at home. If you see the therapists doing something unusual, ask them why, learn and research it yourself to verify. I know the first time I saw my son’s OT brushing his body, I was quite shocked! Turns out its a common thing therapists do to help with body awareness.
For those who can’t afford long term therapy, don’t worry! I highly recommend The Son-Rise Program play therapy which will train YOU, YES YOU, the parent to be your child’s best therapist 🙂 We use it to complement our child’s current therapies (Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy & Music Therapy). I am not a believer of intensive daily therapies like ABA (here’s why), so we do the Son-Rise program at home and I must tell you it is the best therapy ever for your autistic child! Hope this article was informative in your journey in finding the right therapist.