Thursday, June 18, 2015

Protecting Your Children

 gorgeous photo courtesy of Ben Earwicker, Garrison photography, Boise ID
Back in my daycare teaching days, I spent considerable time teaching parents to protect their children.  First of all, I ran an open door daycare myself, and I always told parents to drop in unannounced at anytime.  That is critical for any daycare, preschool or school program you put your kids into!  Visit early; visit often.  You do not know what is happening with your children if you don't visit their schools regularly!  (This is why I have pointed out to so many parents that schooling kids is really not less work than homeschooling.)

I also try to encourage parents to think about teachers vs. schools.  Or daycares.  Any program can have a great reputation, but it is the teacher(s) who interact with your child who matter.  A "good" school with a "good" reputation can still have one room with a perfectly miserable teacher.  And a "good" teacher for one child is not always the best match for another.  Parents have to visit the class/daycare, watch the teacher, and then make decisions.

And finally, I encourage parents to address media.  Whether it's parents who wonder why their two-year-old is screaming every night, but haven't connected nightmares to their child watching hours of Disney movies (which are not designed or written for two year olds!), or parents who can't understand a 16 year old's struggles with online friends and cyberbullying, kids today are media saturated.  And that means parents have to engage  (not be media police!) with their children, and at times, especially with the younger crowd, turn off the telly or the computer.  (And btw, I've had to explain to parents that Freddie Krueger movies aren't good for preschoolers, too...)

With kids on the autism spectrum, parents have to work extra hard.  I remember a stream of therapists descending on my house.  The first three BCBA's who arrived all proposed "programs" that did not address my children's physical pain issues, and they were sent packing.  I also had to negotiate the well-meaning friends, family, and neighbors with their constant advice to try dolphin swimming, gluten free diets, and chelation.  My kids needed help learning some skills that they had not learned in their environment, but that did not mean I accepted every bit of advice or therapist who came along!  Nor did I want to change them, cure them, or get rid of their autism.  I thought and think my kids are great; however, I needed help with their pain issues (since I used ABA on my own to resolve my son's throwing behaviors myself!).

Parents with kids on the spectrum really need to get clear about family values.  I have met families who value outdoor activities more than anything; I have worked with families who value church and church attendance; I know families that value sports and specific sports teams.  If your family values are to go to church and participate as a family, and your therapists of any ilk are pushing academic skills, then you have a therapist who is unethical and is ignoring your family values.  This is unethical; this is a waste of your time; this kind of therapy is flat out wrong.

So, you as parents have to be clear with your therapists.  I know for some families with little ones, family values are moot and the family is dealing with so many tantrums that life is just hard.  These parents aren't thinking about camping, hunting, sports teams or church attendance.  They are trying to get through the day.  Often at this point, families need support teaching functional communication and they also need to enrich their lives with things their child on the spectrum wants to do.  So help children learn to communicate needs and wants, and figure out fun things for the parents to do with the child that the child enjoys.  That is the most important step, and therapists should be pushing skills for the family to communicate and have fun.  Notice that I am not saying anything about compliance or endless repetitions of "touch nose."

But even so, despite crises, therapists should be respecting family values.  And a good therapist from day one will ask you the parent what you want and need for your child and family, and as kids get older, a good therapist should be asking the client what they want for themselves.

At this level, when families are in crisis, a good therapist should be able to make changes in the family that improve things from day one.  Helping establish good communication changes tantrums immediately.  At the same time, on day one, therapists should be helping you as parent find fun things to do with your child.

Bottom line:  it doesn't matter what kind of therapist in your home or school (ABA, floor time, attachment therapy), you parents should see improvement the FIRST DAY.   If you don't see improvement the first day, then you have the wrong therapists.

As I said, I kicked therapists out of my home.  I also turned down therapists.  I refused speech therapists for my verbal children; I also refused to ever put my kids into "social skills" programs.  I wanted my kids doing things they chose to do, from their fencing classes to pottery to church choir to computer classes to helping at wildlife rescue programs to attending renaissance fairs.  My kids might not have the social skills that the therapists want them to have, but they have the social skills to go be with people who also love fencing, pottery, choir, computers, wildlife rescue, and renaissance fairs.

And yes, BCBA's in my home, got angry with me.

Oh well.

So if you are a parent, I encourage you to protect your children.  Visit their schools.  Know their teachers.  Watch their media with them, and with younger children, learn to say no!  Investigate every therapy anyone tells you about, and check out any therapist in your home.  If a therapist is not listening to your ideas about what is right for your children, and with older kids, if a therapist is not listening to your child's goals, then you need a new therapist.

Protecting children is inherent to being a parent.  It is exhausting, overwhelming and hard.  On the other hand, it means having happy kids who want to talk with you and who share their lives, interests, and enthusiasms.

So it is worth it to keep these precious beings safe and free.

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