With delays in development, I signed my son, Jack, up for occupational and speech therapy when he was eighteen months old. I wasn’t sure what to expect – at first – but his therapists jumped right in. His first occupational therapy session was to sit and sway in a raindrop, sensory swing. To me, it looked fun and cozy; kind of like being wrapped in a full body hug. Jack hated it. As his therapist tried to soothe him and rock the swing gently, his cries of fear became tears of anger. He would see glimpses of me when he poked his head out of the swing. I can remember the daggers coming out of his eyes expressing, “Mama – why are you doing this to me?” The tears started to roll down my face.
During the next session, he started with tumbling exercises. It wasn’t until then that I noticed Jack’s climbing was uncoordinated. When he walked, he didn’t have much balance and would fall repeatedly. He would feel around the padded climbing block but was unsure of exactly what to do. He’d look back at me, then back at the block. He was up, then he was down. He would run to me and give me a hug. This cadence repeated itself. The therapist recognized that Jack was seeking comfort and validation for his efforts. That’s why he would finish each hurdle by getting a hug from me.
In speech therapy, he was in a small room that had toys, books, a kid-size table and chair. He explored the room, picked up a toy truck and threw it at the therapist. Her quick reflexes blocked it from hitting her face. He picked up a book and a few seconds later, began ripping the pages out. The therapist observed and calmly took the book away from him. She started to play with a toy that peaked Jack’s interest. The game was to say the name of a toy animal and place each one in the barn. Jack grabbed all the animals and threw them across the room. It took nine sessions and at-home practice, but the first time Jack said ‘duckie’ and placed it in the barn was a moment I will never forget.
Trust the Process
Watching Jack struggle through his sessions and then seeing his small (and large) breakthroughs was really difficult but rewarding at the same time. There were times when I would consider not taking him to his sessions to prevent him from struggling, but I put trust in the process and over the next year, he mastered his speech and motor skills. Not to mention, he learned to love the sensory swing and now soars through the air with his head out of the swing, arms wide and grinning ear to ear.
If you aren’t familiar with these therapy methods, Occupational Therapy (OT) can help your child respond better to his or her environment. These OT strategies can include:
- Physical activities, such as swinging, climbing or obstacle courses, to help a child develop coordination and body awareness
- Play activities, such as board games or puzzles, to help with interaction and communication
- Developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair
- Adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions from one preferred activity to a non-preferred activity
According to WebMD, about one out of three people with autism has trouble producing speech sounds to effectively communicate with others. A person with autism may have one or more of these communication challenges:
- Trouble with conversational skills, which include eye contact and appropriate facial expression
- Trouble understanding the meaning of words outside the context where they were learned
- Lack of creative language such as metaphors and euphemisms
Because of these challenges, a child with autism must do more than learn how to speak. The child also must learn how to use language to communicate. This is where speech therapy can offer great benefits – at any age.
Just remember! Celebrate every milestone – no matter how small or big. When you look back, you will see how far your child has come!