I’m now past my due date for our baby boy to arrive and since I’m just sitting around waiting for him to come I thought I’d quickly take a few minutes and share some more thoughts with you…
It’s very important when finding a speech pathologist for your child that you get the ‘just right fit’.
Here’s why it’s so important…
Just as there are many areas of specialty for doctors (orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiologists, neorologists, etc) the same applies for speech pathologists. Areas of specialty can include stuttering, articulation, literacy, hearing impairment, language disorders, voice disorders, strokes, laryngectomies etc, etc… the list is very extensive!
But the thing that completely baffles me is that some speech pathologists say that they have 5-8 or more “Areas of Specialty”! To me this suggests that they do not specialise at all, and are more of a ‘generalist’ speech pathologist (like a GP is a generalist doctor). Some therapists even say that they ‘specialise’ in autism when they may have treated only 10-20 children on the autism spectrum.
In my view, you’re only a ‘specialist’ if you work exclusively on just one thing and only one thing… and as a result, you tend to become quite good at it
Heck! I’ve been specialising in autism for over 12 years and I’m still learning things with every new client I treat.
As we know, children with autism are ALL incredibly different and unless your child is seeing a speech pathologist who’s caseload is predominantly children with autism, there’s a good chance that the therapist would not have had the time or experience to truly equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to really help your child with autism.
If I had a child with autism…
Here’s a list of key questions I would ask any speech pathologist before employing their services:
- How many children with autism have they treated before?
Anything below 50 is really quite a small number. If they are just starting out that’s ok, we all have to start somewhere, but I would fully expect them to be mentored by a senior therapist with well over 50 clients under their belt.
- What percentage of the children that they treat are on the autism spectrum?
This will give some indication of the therapist’s level of commitment to treating children with autism and may also indicate the amount of professional development that the therapist has done in the field of autism.
- Have they treated children on the autism spectrum with your child’s specific diagnosis (eg: Mild autism, severe autism, PDD-NOS, Aspergers)? How many?
Some therapists may not have had experience working with the full spectrum of autism.
- What age range do they mainly treat?
Some therapists may only specialise in either early intervention or school aged children.
- Is there a possibility of having home or school visits?
I firmly believe that it is essential to get into the homes and schools (the main social and communication environments) of children with autism so that you can get a ‘true picture’ of what is going on for the child and family. Sometimes home and school visits are not always logistically possible for every session but I would certainly favour a therapist who was willing to do them now and again.
- What style of Speech Pathologist are they? Is the therapy play based or structured learning at the table, is it adult directed or child directed?
I very much believe in a play-based, child-directed and practical therapy approach where building a relationship with the child that is based on fun, trust and respect is pivotal to successful treatment. If a solid, trusting relationship is not present then your child will not build their desire to interact or learn from the therapist and the effectiveness of therapy will be compromised.
A relationship builiding approach to speech pathology ensures that we are not only working on the ‘Communication’ element of the triad of impairment but also the social part. This is essential when treating speech and language skills and MUST NOT be ignored because social skills development drives communication development!!
Some speech pathologists use a skills-based approach where they set the agenda for the child’s learning and carry out ‘structured teaching’ sitting down at a table drilling them on certain concepts or commands. This type of learning can often be very unmotivating for the child and often does not tap into what learning is important and meaningful for the child.
Now obviously it would be an ideal world if every child with autism could be matched with the right speech pathologist (and you should absolutely keep striving for this), but the practical reality is often quite different. Specialist services can often be hard to come by and most of the time parents will settle for ANY help rather than none! And even when you manage to get ‘a good’ therapist, it takes time and a few sessions to determine whether they are ‘right’ for your child.
This is exactly why parents need to be able to step in and fill in the gaps and to recognise when things aren’t working as well as they could be and to make changes in their child’s program that will result in positive outcomes for the child.
How do you do this? By knowing your child better than anyone else (including their therapists). You need to understand what they need, what motivates them, how they learn best and what type of therapy approach is going to get the best results for them.
If this is kind of making sense for you and you’d like to have a greater understanding of all these things about your child so you can feel more empowered and confident to make these sorts of decisions for them then I’d really suggest that you check out my Autism Essentials In-home Training Program.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. Just make sure to keep them in mind when choosing a therapist for your child.
P.S: Don’t miss my next tip…
I’ll be talking about the warning signs that will help you know when it might be time to find another speech pathologist who is a better match for your child.