My Fellow Autism Therapists- We Must Do Better

So in the past few weeks it is increasingly coming to my attention that we, as therapists, are not doing our due diligence in teaching our clients families. It is time that this trend come to an end. While I understand that many of us out in the field do not live autism 24/7 like the families but we have a responsibility to educate ourselves. We have a responsibility to ask questions, do the research and educate ourselves so that we can educate our families. Our job is not just a three hour session and out even if that is what payroll says.

Just yesterday as I sat in a training for mental health professionals  of many different disciplines I was blown away by some of the answers I was hearing from those in the profession of Applied behavioral analysis. Now, I get it, I DO live autism 24/7 so I try to be forgiving of those that do not. I try to be slow to anger and quick to educate as gently and kindly as possible but I sat in silence as my blood boiled during an exchange that was happening in the midst of “class”. The teacher asked a fellow ABA technician “what does your job include?” “I just play with kids all day” the young girl replied. “surely you do more than that. So you are a respite worker” “No, I am an ABA technician” I was so mad I was shaking my leg under the table to get some of the emotion out. “So there is learning going on in your play right?” the teacher said “No, I pretty much just play with kids”.  I can’t even begin to describe how angry this made me feel. Props to the teacher for stopping all of class to correct this person and to say “If all you are doing is ‘playing’ with kids than maybe this isn’t the correct profession for you. If all you want to do is babysit or provide respite then I recommend you find a job elsewhere. You have peoples lives in your hands remember that.”

It is amazing to me how little parent education is being offered during team meetings. It is incredible to me how little parents are being told about the progression of skills in autism. It is sad that parents are not being supplied with adequite information to handle the natural progressions and plateaus of learning that accompany the many facets of autism. It is as if the professionals WANT to keep the parents and caregivers in the dark. And if they don’t actually WANT to keep them in the dark there is surely no effort being put into educating the parents about things such as regressions and how that sometimes precedes a rapid progression, any type of resources in the area or even just sitting down to talk to the parents to see what questions they may have.

There have been so many times on this journey with my son that I, myself, have been left in the dark and driven crazy by things that were actually a positive part of the autism journey towards progression.  Its like living in a constant state of anxiety and later finding out that the antidote to all my anxiety was right there in front of me the entire time in the form of my child’s therapist and the information that was not offered. Progression in autism is not always forward. Its forward, backward and sometimes plateaued why are we not telling parents even this most basic of autism facts? Why are we not telling parents that a child may regress during a period of great momentum in another area but the skill is not lost for good. Just this simple piece of information could make the journey of autism much less scary and stressful and isn’t that what our job is? To make life better for the population that we serve? The client AND the families. We are NOT babysitters. Our job is systematic. Its involved. Its a process and once we forget the humans we are serving the process and our efficacy is finite.

We should be talking to parents. We should not be afraid of parents being a part of or watching sessions. we should welcome it. We should bring them in. Engage them. Teach them. Why must we fear them? The buck doesn’t stop with the client. For many if not most clients, they depend on their caregivers to get through their day. So why aren’t we teaching these caregivers? Why aren’t we providing them with the tools needed to enhance not only the lives of their children but also their whole family’s quality of life?  Therapy needs to include EVERYONE. It needs to include input from all parties.

I get it. there are caregivers that are more involved than others but maybe, in some cases, that is how the caregivers have been conditioned. They don’t know what they don’t know.

We MUST do better. We must provide more to the families. We must give, at best, a basic knowledge of the processes of autism and why we are doing what we are doing in the way that we are doing it. Otherwise, yeah, it does look a lot like “playing”. I myself have a son on the severe end of the spectrum. I have probably, since the start of receiving ABA services 4 years ago, had two sessions of parent training. yes only TWO. This is a sad but true fact. Now, I am one to educate myself on things I care about but my years working in psychiatric care as well as a bachelors degree were a huge push forward to me. I could not imagine what it would be like to have no background in psychology and be thrown right in the cold with no one guiding me on what to expect or how to implement certain concepts to help their child. we need to stop judging and start educating. We need to stop “ghosting” the very people we should be educating.

***And for those parents out there receiving ABA services I highly recommend this book. It helped me immensely to get at least a basic knowledge of ABA. Cheers and happy therapy session. ***

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