The autism world is deep and vast. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the things you are “suppose” to do and not to do – especially when it comes from a professional. Receiving criticism, even constructive, has never been a strong suit of mine (is it anyone’s really?) but I try.
Our J began ABA therapy three months ago, which means certified applied behavioral therapists come and work with our sweet four-year-old in the home (or in this case, at the sitter’s home) a couple of times a week. Potty training seems to be a high priority for the summer but the therapists also work on things like eye contact, colors, numbers, strengthening his speech, etc.
The head therapist or lead supervises the two therapists that work with him, attending one session a week and meeting with my husband and I once a month for parent training.
These parent training sessions are where the constructive criticism takes place. I’ll be honest, I’ve been on the verge of tears after a session or two. And this month’s session was tough. So far, I haven’t had too much resistance with taking J to the bathroom, I’m just excited that when we take him he goes most of the time. Now, it hasn’t quite clicked when he’s wet or worse but I know that will come with time.
What hasn’t come with time is the lead therapist and our son’s bond. I’m not expecting them to be best friends but when I hear from our sitter that his demeanor completely changes around her and not for the better, that’s what I knew I had to speak up.
I like to think I’m open-minded, even if I can’t take criticism well, but after three months I expected more between them. He likes the women who work with him but when she comes into the room, he’s somber, quiet and doesn’t even care to see her. J’s social skills are not lacking; I’ve seen him sit on complete strangers laps. He wants to be right in the middle of it all, he just might not say anything or know what to say and so it comes out jumbled and confusing. He does a lot of parallel play and it breaks my heart sometimes to see the disconnect with kids as he wants to play with others but doesn’t know how. But when it comes to adults, however, it’s rare for him not to be friendly.
I was torn. She wasn’t terribly mean (I’d say more strict) and I know they are big on keeping things structured (five minutes of work, two to three minutes of play) and there would be a “battle of the wills” but if he didn’t connect with her in some way, would he perform the tasks well and show the therapists his strengths? Could they track his progress accurately if one therapist’s data show one thing and her data showed another?
Again, I know she doesn’t have to be best friends but I’d like to think he would look forward to seeing her, that all the things they are working on would be fun and even considered play time. It had already been a stressful week for me at work with ridiculous demands from clients but our latest meeting with the lead therapist did not help my stress levels at all. No reassurance that even though all this is overwhelming and hard, she was here to help guide us. Instead, I felt like I was taking an exam and failing miserably.
Putting my emotions aside, I prayed continually all week about what I should do. And it turns out, I knew the answer all along, I just let my anxiety take the passenger seat. So I called the company that employs the therapists, and spoke my concerns. I had never really called and complained about anyone. It’s not exactly in my nature to complain, which is a good and bad thing. I used to wish I was more outspoken but every time I tried to be brazen , I felt like an imposter. The woman who runs the therapy company chucked it up to “personality differences” and assured me she would come up with a solution. As my husband points out, we pay for their services and this therapy is not mandatory, we just want to give our son (and all our kids) the best we can.
So we shall see how this all plays out but sharing my concerns gave me a new set of confidence (or the very least a good start) that I hope will continue to grow with my newly minted special needs mom title. Some would disagree, but J’s autism diagnosis was actually a really good thing, not just for him, but for us as a family. His journey is already showing us what it means to be patient, understanding, to celebrate the small and not-so-small victories, to laugh more, and for me personally, to grow a thicker backbone. I always knew I would be a mama bear when it come to my kids, I just never had to stretch out my claws.
At the end of the day, I have to what is best for him, and I think it’s time to sharpen my claws a bit.