A few months ago, my son began occupational therapy (again) for difficulties he experiences in writing.
We walked into the waiting room and saw a sweet, but very loud toddler awaiting her appointment. There were actual colorful clowns painted on the walls. All of the chairs in the room came up to my son’s knees.
He’s almost 13 years old. He wanted to bolt before the appointment, but I made him promise to at least give it a try.
30 minutes later, after me advocating for his needed service dog and being refused, his request to use a “real chair” being met with sighs and eye rolls, and an overall desire to start screaming at everyone in the place, we walked out, both of us determined to find another way.
This was a terrible example of what OT can be for our kids.
My oldest son was in a wonderful occupational therapy situation for almost two full years. It changed his life. Please hear me – This is not about OT itself.
But as I share more and more about how we accommodate my sons’ learning differences and special needs, I have to say this –
If a therapy is not working, it is not your child’s fault. It is not your fault. You can and should make a change.
Last week, this came across my Facebook Feed from a respected occupational therapy provider. It had a picture of a mug with the following print:
Please do not confuse your Google Search with my OT degree.
In my experience, it is precisely this type of approach that causes stress and overall ineffectiveness in helping my kids.
Doctors, Therapists, And Homeschooling: Who Is The Expert Here?
I do not think it is necessary for any one individual helping a child, to establish themselves as “the expert.”
In fact, I think it is counter-productive.
The best therapists and doctors are the ones who see parents as partners and equals. Yes, they have far more education and experience with a wide variety of children. That is why we spend hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket every month to see them.
But dismissing a mother doing a google search to help her child does nothing to actually help the child.
Ignoring the years and years of anecdotal data a parent can provide, in favor of a degree is dangerous for children who require an individualized, less obvious approach.
The same is also true for parents. We should never assume that our knowledge of our child is somehow the end all be all in a therapeutic equation.
No one needs to pull rank here.
The truth is, no one individual has all the expertise they need to help truly medically and behaviorally complex children. Every single person in the equation – doctor, therapist, and parent is an expert in their own field of knowledge.
Working With Doctors and Therapists When They Don’t Agree With Your Decision To Homeschool
In my experience, collaborations built on mutual respect and reciprocity produce the best outcomes for our children.
In order to create this type of partnership with other experts, we need to choose the therapists and doctors that seem most interested in doing so.
This is the #1 bit of advice I have for you today.
Rather than worrying about the details of the therapies, first look at the relationships being established.
What About When It’s Just Not Working?
If a therapy is just not working for your child, everyone in this partnership should be aware of it and have some ownership. Too often, I think parents and even the kids themselves, shoulder the blame unnecessarily.
Sometimes, all it takes is an adjustment. For example, in my son’s current OT sessions, after seeing his resistance and stress, he is working on using assistive technology rather than handwriting drills. This solution was born out of his OT’s assessment of his overall ability and conversations with me about his strengths and weaknesses.
This adjustment was easy to make because we selected his OT based on both her experience and her willingness to work together. (Plus, she has a great disposition – always a plus with my youngest!)
Sometimes, however, it is time for a change.
Kids grow and mature. What worked for them a year ago, may no longer be a good fit. It doesn’t have to be about blame.
Working closely with doctors and therapists is one of the most important things I do for my sons. Medication management, educational therapies and psychotherapies are only as beneficial as the strength of relationships between all involved.
Please know, if you are struggling with this aspect of parenting a child with learning differences and special needs, you are not alone.
I would say that this part of my life has caused more shame, stress and tears than another other aspect of mothering my boys.
It isn’t easy, but my experience has been, it is worth it to keep trying, keep investigating options and keep working with the experts in your child’s life.
(Edited to include: Incidentally, the gal who posted the picture of the mug on Facebook reached out to me. She explained her heart behind the post and the fact that many disregard the time, energy and practice that goes into being an OT. She truly seeks a collaborative approach with parents and is all around, wonderful. This post is not about her. It’s about the pervasive attitude parents often face and must overcome in order to help their kiddos. She has since removed the post – not wanting it to be perceived as anything other than celebrating her profession. I applaud her.)