Autism is a hot topic these days with the growing prevalence of it. Because of that, so many different treatment programs have been developed by many parents, therapists, doctors, and just about everyone. It can be overwhelming as a parent with so many options. You want to help your child but it can be difficult to figure out what is right for your child with so many options out there.
In this blog, I will review one program and provide general suggestions when reviewing programs for your child.
I was asked to review a program called ASD Speaking Sounds written by Marion Blank, PhD. & Suzanne Goh, M.D. I won’t go into complete details about the program because I respect the authors and don’t want to reveal too much. This program is just one within a series of programs such as: ASD Pre-Speaking Program, and ASD Unlocking Language. The authors also wrote other books to provide suggestions in working with children with autism. I am not reviewing all of the programs, but only ASD Speaking Sounds.
The authors are both doctors. One is a developmental psychologist and the other a pediatric neurologist. Both have great credentials. The program has some highlights such as it is easy to follow for parent or anyone to do. It is also developed so that it can be customized for each child. The program itself teaches someone to run a program to teach speech sound imitation in increasing difficulty of consonant-vowel combinations. It is recommended for the program to be done on a consistent basis with simple language, in a seated drill-like fashion in a distraction-free environment. I support the use of visuals and environmental arrangements. I even think imitation of syllables without paired meaning can be beneficial some of the time. (but not all).
I have a lot of positive things to say about this program, however, I wouldn’t specifically recommend the program to anyone I know. I wouldn’t say it was a “bad program” but it definitely doesn’t resonate with my style. With that said, it might work great for some! I mostly say I don’t support the program because of a couple of key elements: lack of consistent reinforcement, the program administrator should be “business-like”, and overall seems like it lacks naturalistic connections. I really support the idea that learning should be fun. It should be fun for both you and your child. Of course there may be some frustrations along the way, but overall we should find ways to make learning fun. Drill sessions conducted in a “business-like” fashion without reinforcement doesn’t sound like fun to me. Also, when children first develop speech and language their first attempts are usually to express requests. It is very powerful to an individual when they realize they can manipulate their environment to get what they want and need in a meaningful way (making a request). As a speech therapist, I often work on developing speech and language through requesting paired with any kind of reinforcing item plus social praise and encouragement. The more praise the better, right? Well, not according to ASD Speaking Sounds. This program wants the child to internally feel good about their accomplishments without having to have external reinforcements. I feel the internal sense of well-being happens when you get a lot of the external praise at first. I also believe that drill-work can be very beneficial for some children in some situations. You can often get more practice done in a short amount of time with drill. That’s great! But you have to have that kind of relationship established with the child as a teacher or therapist. I personally believe you need to keep that relationship as a parent or family member with the child at all times. That connection is crucial! You can have moments of sound imitation and drill practice but it has to be within the moment where it feels right. Otherwise, it can feel unconnected and distant. If I had a child with autism or with a speech and communication delay, I still would want to maintain my relationship as a parent. I would hire on a therapist to do drill treatment for my child but I wouldn’t want to do it. Not because I’m not qualified to do it, but because I would want to be a parent for my child. I would still teach my child things, but on our terms together with what intuitively feels right.
Like I said earlier, there are SO MANY different programs and treatment options for children with autism. Between medical, diet, neurological, social, educational and everything in between what do you do?
Here is a list of general tips/questions I’ve composed that you might want to consider:
The Research Phase
In this phase, research your options and find out what options are out there. Sometimes you might be looking for something and other times different programs might find you. Get as much info as you can!
What does the research say? Who conducted the research? Is the information only provided from biased reported or from neutral sources? How many research articles?
What do the personal reviews or testimonials say? I would also trust reviews given on more neutral ground such as amazon vs on the company’s personal website.
If you can’t find any reviews, then reach out to parent support groups or internet forums. Ask other people what they think and what their experiences were.
If you have therapists you can trust, ask them! If you don’t understand research articles they can help you. They can also review the specific program and give you their opinion from their perspective.
The Intuitive / Decision-Making Phase
In this phase you’ve taken in all of the information you can along with everything you know about your child. You know your child better than anyone else in the world. You are the expert on your child! You need to believe in what you feel is right! This can be hard to do and can be complicated when you have so many voices of doctors, therapist, family members, the media and the world! Trust in yourself and your child. If you aren’t sure, then try something and see. If you don’t like it or if it doesn’t feel right then stop and try something else!
Finances and time are limited! It can be difficult to decide how to spend your time and money when everything sounds good. Make a list of pros and cons.
Make a list of priorities. Some things in your child’s life might be more important. For example, it might be more important to get your child’s health, sleep and diet in order before targeting academic and social skills. You need the child’s brain to be functioning at its best before it is receptive to learning.
Don’t make decisions on a whim. Give yourself the time to sleep on it.
If you believe in meditation and visualization, then do that. Do your best to clear your mind of all external pressures so you can decide from your heart. For me, I can do this through connecting with nature, exercise (like yoga), and mediation.
Trust your “gut” feeling! Sometimes you don’t always have rational thought or ways to express why you feel the way you do but sometimes you know it just feels right or it feels wrong. Trust that feeling and go with it! Maybe later you can figure out what it all meant.
Sometime it helps to express yourself when making a decision to an impartial party. You might want to write in a journal, talk to a therapist (marriage/family counselor or psychologist), talk to a friend or spouse. Be careful because sometimes friends or mentors might unintentionally try to persuade your opinion based upon their own experiences. It is ok to listen to opinions in the research phase, but when you are really trying to make a decision it is good to have an impartial person reflecting back your own statements. Generally a therapist will always do this. If you don’t have a therapist, then writing in a journal sometimes helps. It’s only your own thoughts guiding you and your voice leading you to your own decision. I’ve learned many things about myself and made many decisions though free-writing.
At the end of the day, have fun with your life! Do what makes you and your child smile. Be happy! Take care of your health first because a healthy mind and body helps you learn and grow. Establish strong social connections and love your child unconditionally. This process can be hard at times but try to have as much fun along the way as you and your child grow together.