October 15, 2012

Trial and Error

We are now about three and a half years since Moe's autism diagnosis. One thing I've learned, and that I'd share with any parents of a newly diagnosed child, is that there is a lot of trial and error. Although there are professionals who can guide you, there is no way to know exactly what therapies or interventions (or lack thereof) are going to help your child progress. It is one of the aspects of parenting Moe that I find most frustrating. I just want someone to tell me "do this!" and Moe will reach his potential.

We initially had Moe in a center-based program, then realized he needed something different and moved to an in-home program. I regretted those few months we "wasted" at the school. When Moe turned three, we moved him to the preschool special day class. After two years, we decided not to send him back. I regretted not doing it sooner.

But there really isn't anyway to know before you try. Some things work for some kids and not others. Some therapies, like ABA, vary widely in approach, with some kids responding best to concrete discreet trial applications and others doing better with more naturalistic styles. It may take a while to find a therapist or provider who fits your family's style and needs.

Sometimes programs, or therapies or medications may work for a while then need to be adjusted. All people grow and change and our kids are no different. What worked at one time may no longer be appropriate. It takes time to get to know your child, and he will continue to change. I have to remind myself that trial and error time is not time wasted; it is the necessary process to figuring out what works.

We've tried a lot of therapies with Moe. Especially when he was younger, he really loved singing, so we tried music therapy. It was okay, but for us, it wasn't The Thing. We will keep trying. There are more things: aquatic therapy, equine therapy, recreation therapy, listening therapy. We will try some of them (especially ones that sound fun for Moe) and pass on others. I may regret time wasted and money spent on some, and wonder about others we decide not to do. But each thing we try is a lesson learned.

Moe did so well in an intensive, one on one, in-home program this summer. This ABA team uses very discreet learning, with the use of traditional reinforcers like food or iPad time. Moe seems to work well with this  concrete style of teaching and I thought, "why didn't we do this sooner?" I had to remind myself that when Moe was two he had an in-home program and he needed more naturalistic reinforcers at that time. Moe changed, and we adapted his program. It will likely happy again and again.

At the beginning of this school year, we put Moe in a school that uses more of a group-based approach and it didn't work. We understand this now, and as we look for a new school placement I have a better idea of where he is likely to succeed. Do I regret the month he spent at the school? A little. But we had to go through the experience to figure it out.

Fortunately, we are getting to know Moe's style of learning better and getting faster at recognizing when he isn't succeeding. And he is getting better at telling us when he's unhappy - even if it is through behavior rather than words.

As we prepare to start working with an AAC specialist, I am hopeful that we will find the right communication system or device that will help him communicate. Part of me is already kicking myself for not starting sooner, but we had to wait until he was ready. Moe seems to be ready now, and I am looking forward to seeing what he can do. I have high hopes that we will find the right thing quickly, but I am sure there will plenty of trial and error here as well.


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