Autism Therapy: Toddler Years

It’s amazing how therapeutic work can be. To be occupied in doing and working towards a goal. Once therapy began and we started working to meet the needs of our child with autism we instantly started to feel hope. Hope is so important.

At the age of 2 1/2 our son began his 10 hours of therapy per week. Here is how those 10 hours looked:

  • 6 hours a week is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy
  • 1 hour a week is Speech Therapy (this started with basic Sign Language and move into verbal when he was ready)
  • 1 hour a week is Occupational Therapy (this consists of self care, sitting at a table doing a task, and extending his time on task)
  • 1 hour a week is Physical Therapy (they worked onngross motor, balance, muscle strength, and safety skills)
  • 1 hour a week is Parent Education (a weekly meeting to review, plan, bring forward any concerns, and receive help with our part of all this work)

Most therapy session revolve around play, because the purpose of a toddlers life is to play. Autistic children struggle with appropriate play. In addition, they to failing to learn the necessary life skills that typical children learn thru the process of play. The “honeymoon” portion of therapy lasted a grand ol’ 40 minutes, then he figured out that this isn’t about playing his way.

One of our son’s goals in therapy was to develop the skills necessary to continue. Things like listening and following directions. These are skills that most of us simply pick up as we go along. However our son hasn’t, and as parents we have learned to circumvent and work around his failure to comply. These therapy sessions placed demands on him, such as “3-2-1 all done” – where he was required to relinquish a toy in order to proceed to the next task. Another is “this first then that” – where he was allowed to do his preferred activity after he preformed a less preferred task. Needless to say, he did not handling most of these demands very well. My son who would throw the occasional fit, evolved into a screaming, crying, tantrum throwing monster. Unfortunately, it got worse before it got better. It did get better.

In the beginning we sat in and somewhat participated in all of our son’s therapy sessions. The second week of therapy that changed. Our in-home behavior sessions moved from the living room into the our children’s bedroom where the door can be closed, and were not involved. Additionally our in-center sessions involved us sitting in the waiting area with a book or running errands. This was a challenge for him as well as for us.

He quickly showed improvement in a few key areas. He began playing more pretend, and started role-playing more with toys. He added a few words and signs to his communication tools, and completely enjoyed his OT “playtime”. Our therapists were all wonderful, full of energy, and determined.

The biggest benefit came in the form of our Parent Education time. This helped us understand it all. We covered everything from terminology, schedules, how to potty-train, elopement concerns, and how to integrate ABA into our daily habits.

This therapy structure lasted until our son’s 3rd birthday. At that point we transitioned into the school district for services. However, that is a post for another day.

How do you do toddler therapies? What works? What doesn’t?

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