When your child gets his or her diagnosis, there’a a whole lot of information that’s thrown at you. It can all be so overwhelming because it is in that moment, that your life has completely changed. And in the midst of all that change is the realization that your child, and you most likely, will benefit from some sort of therapy, mostly to help you navigate this new journey and all the feelings that go along with that, and to help him or her learn to live their lives without their diagnosis controlling them. And at first glance, there is such a wide variety of therapies to choose from; it can be hard to determine what from what. Which one will best fit the needs of your child? Which services are close by? Is outside therapy necessary apart from what he or she might be receiving in school?
We just switched Layla’s therapist recently. She had been in therapy since about 3 years old, years before she was diagnosed with ADHD, and we knew how important finding the right fit was for her. It really makes all the difference. But how do you go about finding that “perfect fit.” Here are some ways that help me better determine which therapy is the right kind for us.
1. What’s the diagnosis? Different diagnoses and conditions warrant different therapy types and frequency of such services. If your child has a language impairment, then speech and language therapy would be a good fit. If your child is younger, and there are some behavioral concerns before a diagnosis has been made, or if there is a concern about development, then play therapy might be a good fit. It also helps to understand the specific concerns of that diagnosis. For example, since Autism is a spectrum disorder, it functions differently in different kiddos. If the concern is social skills and self-help skills, then ABA (applied behavioral analysis) is probably a good fit for him or her. Understanding your child’s needs and having goals in place can really help when determining which service is right for your family.
2. What’s the need? This one touches a little one our first determinant. Understanding your child’s needs is crucial when looking at therapy options, especially in determining the frequency. It was the need that drove you to have your child assessed in the first place. I looked into therapy as an option for Layla because there was a need to help her make better and safer choices. Noah struggled with communication from an early age, so we knew that would be a focus for his early intervention services. Once you can identify the need, therapy choices are then easier to pin point.
3. What are the goals? As I mentioned before, when needs can be identified, then goals should be set. This becomes a lot easier to do if your child is receiving services through early intervention or has documentation for school. Goals usually are set after assessments or evaluations. So if a child has difficulty with adaptive skills, specifically the ability to remember to brush his or her teeth everyday, a goal might be to have the child brush his or her teeth with or without reminders for the allotted time 8 out of 10 times in a given period. Sometimes this goal is established by the therapist, but it is possible for you to be concerned and create some goals that you might want to see happen for your child. In this case, it is then easier to identify what kind of therapist might be a great fit for your child, specifically in therapy types and therapist/client chemistry.
4. What is the preference? So this one isn’t usually based in the actual diagnosis as it is in the personality or preference of the child. However, it’s just as important, because if your child doesn’t like, or doesn’t get along, with his or her therapist, he or she won’t get anything out of it. Therapy requires a willingness of the participant and children can be pretty stubborn to cooperate if they are not feeling their therapist. Layla has a preference for females. It’s nothing personal, but she tends to connect quicker and more easily to females than males. So when we are looking for a therapist for her, we intentionally for female therapists because trust is essential for establishing that positive relationship and if Layla is quicker to trust a female over a male, then it’s a no brainer. Other preferences might include schedule, religion, ethnicity, or language. Having a therapist with which you and your child trust is key in finding success in the service.
5. What’s the recommendation? This is probably one of the most important factors in finding a therapist, and the less stressful on your part too. I honestly had no idea how to find a therapist near us because everyone was full and not taking on new clients. I also needed to find a female therapist who specialized with working with children with ADHD. After struggling to find someone for about a month or so, I reached out to her pediatrician who was able to recommend someone who hopefully will turn out to be a good fit. If all else fails, or you just don’t know what else to do, reaching out for a recommendation from a trusted professional who work with your child (teacher, paraprofessional, pediatrician) is always a good look and will at least help to get the process started.
We have been really lucky for the most part with finding therapists that have been a great fit for our family’s lifestyle, and more importantly, who mesh well with the kiddos. Noah in particular is slow to warm up to new people so we know he is doing well whenever he is looking forward to going. It can be a process, sometimes difficult, especially because we move so often as a military family. But I’m a big believer in therapy and what it can do and being that the idea of therapy is still so fragmented in communities of color, it’s important to break down those stigmas that surround the idea of seeking professional help. Admitting to and seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength and courage because it takes a lot to admit there is something that we need to work on. I believe that when parents feel supported and encouraged, they are better able to make good choices for their children. And finding the right therapy is essential to ensuring that kiddos with diagnoses are getting the right services and feeling the most supported they can so that they too can be the best advocates for themselves that they can be.