Hello! It has been a while since I posted. I have been trying to process everything lately, and figuring out my new job. In this post, I thought I’d talk about my experience in therapy and psychiatry as a little girl. Lots of books and education classes, tell you how to teach kids with autism, but they do not really explain what the child with autism is going through in these therapies. I am sharing my experiences in therapies to give that other perspective.
Firstly, the services I had as a little girl were:
In school services:
Speech therapy (1st-3rd grade)
Occupational therapy (1st-5th grade)
Counseling (5th grade-9th grade)
Let me start off by saying these therapies overall/as a whole helped me immensely in ways that I find out every day as a therapist myself. I am so grateful to have had these services and the people who worked with me. Granted, as with everything, some people are more memorable, skillful, and just wiser, than others. If you’re lucky, you’ll have all positive experiences with very experienced workers, but in reality, everybody’s on a journey to learning their own occupation, and everyone just makes mistakes, so some experiences may be less than good or, unfortunately, just plain horrible.
A Special Speech Therapist
Fortunately, I had a wise, experienced school speech therapist. She knew what she was doing, and was nice and personable. It amazing how to this day I remember her teaching me the “r” and “s” sounds. I’ve had so many speech therapies growing up, but I only remember this one.
Now, to get you an idea of my speech ‘level’ so to speak (no pun intended), I could speak words, but certain sounds were blurred because I couldn’t sound them, so I would just pronounce the vowels, or sounds I could pronounce, which would sort of sound like the outline of a word at times.
Targeting More Than Speech
This same speech therapist not only taught me sounds, but she also helped me with life. After having the worst day a 6 year old could have- friend issues and some bullying, and the whole sha-bang-bang, I came into her room about to cry. She noticed I was not myself, actively listened to what was going on with me.
I was told I uttered the words of childhood depression:
“the world would be better off without me”. I said
I did not know this was alarming talk, I was 6, I didn’t even know what depression was. However, as a prudent therapist, she gets my parents involved and makes them aware of my thoughts. Now being aware, my mom talks with me, offers advice, the usual, and it ends with me happily enjoying the nine inch nails album “With Teeth” as a 6 year old. My mom told me I could get anything I wanted from Target, or go to Peter Piper Pizza. Music was my life!! You bet I chose to get anything I wanted from Target, hearing my local rock radio station promote Nine Inch Nails’ new album!
You see, I was not just facing speech inabilities, at this young age I was facing depression and disconnection with kids my age. The period surrounding my 6 year speech endeavors was a dark rabbit hole. I remember: the fear and dread of getting up in the morning, the paralyzing hatred of having to get out of the car and go to that wretched prison of a place, having even nightmares of my classmates. There was no rest from this place and nowhere to go. For most people, this was high school, but for me this was just elementary school!
My speech therapist helped me with all these issues, not just the speech, and I truly trusted her for that! She made that rapport with me, and I knew I had to try and give my all because she cared about me and was counting on me. It made me feel at ease, and more comfortable when I was struggling to learn new sounds.
When she got my parents involved too, I knew she cared, and was a “real” person in my book! I was a little embarrassed, but for the most part I trusted her, knowing she had my well-being in mind. So, for her, I believed in myself to learn words because of how much she believed in me.
My occupational therapies were always rather easy for me, I never knew exactly what they were targeting, but I remember them just being fun, and rather easy, whereas speech was downright frustrating for me at times.
The therapies that were the most memorable to me were the ones where the therapist was wise and personable. Those were the ones that knew how to teach me, and perhaps consequently, were the ones who did not just treat me like a special needs kid. Rather, they took the time to talk to me, and get to know me, like they actually cared about me as a person. This care was the best cheerleader for me. Cheer me on, but if the heart and care is not there, it’s just words, and I could tell, and shut down.
Needless to say, this therapy is only effective if individual has communicative (talking and listening) skills. I advanced to this therapy in my pre-teens, and I of course loudly proclaimed this to everybody I met. It is a great mile stone, you’re not a grimy, gross kid anymore! This helped me talk through my depression. I remember the breakthrough I had. It wasn’t easy, I was so mean, and put my guard up so well that the counselor pulled the “last resort” trick up her sleeve…SO, I sat with quiet stubborn resolve in the waiting room while my parents and counselor conspired against me in the counseling room. That’s okay I cursed them with the little magic I knew. That is not a metaphor; I actually did want to believe I had super powers. I went through all kinds of phases to avoid my truth, okay.
The truth was I did not want to acknowledge my aspergers, for one thing, the name sounds like you’re cursing, and who wants ass burgers?! It makes you a major outcast, and isn’t cool, and I just want to blend in and be normal, like everyone else. Eventually, I compromised a healthy acceptance where it was okay for my mom and dad to talk about it with me, but to no one else. Of course, my mom told everyone trying to be sneaky about it but I always heard her say it to the parents. That topic is for another post. Counseling elucidated to myself: my weaknesses, and how aspergers affected me.
The most helpful thing counseling did for me, however, was provide a safe, designated place to discuss complex social situations. I sure as hell did not know why my friends did things, or why classmates behaved in different ways. So that professional space (room) and time (session) made it easy for me to discuss those things. I went through normal kid phases, I did not trust my parents’ words and wanted a professional’s advice.
Counseling 2 for depression #2
When my depression manifested differently in my teens, my mom switched me to a counselor who targeted behaviors such as self harm, and lack of motivation depression. This counselor helped because she provided as safe place to talk about me. Talk about my strengths and my gifts that I had to offer the world. Together, we re-built my self-esteem.
I committed to her and opened up to her right away. Perhaps, I was just used to therapy, I mean, afterall I have had it all my life. I just was used to blindly complying with everything that anyone told me to do. So she told me to repeat a self-affirmation speech we wrote together in front of the mirror every day. I did it. She said that everyone is insignificant, but we all have gifts to share, and no one is worthless. It resonated with me, and maybe this will help someone out there, who knows. Eventually she told me to take walks, I did it, and eventually I grew back my motivation and concentration. I started doing these things reluctantly, and mindlessly like a zombie, but eventually I started having more energy, and some self esteem and hope so I took what I could get. Eventually I learned to accept my feelings, and accept the challenges I faced. It was not easy though.
Shutting Down in therapies
I hated this feeling. You are not able to do the action correctly, you begin thinking the therapist is laughing at you, and you just feel trapped like you want to run, but you also want to stay and complete the task correctly, and you don’t know where to go or what to do. Thus, sometimes, headbanging, scratching or other behaviors happen to fill this void. A million thoughts poking you had once:
“If I do this, I’m a whore craving attention”
“I’m weak giving in to what they say and they don’t get the matter!”
“if I don’t do this, I’m a failure”
“What’s the point?!”
“I’m not going to be able to do this”
“she doesn’t think I can do this”
“if mess up ill let her down”
“I want to keep on avoiding the task and see her reaction”
“I cant move!”
“this is all a joke, and set up to make me look foolish GRRRRRR”
I want break out of my skin and run away to mars, but I CAN’T! I was a puppet, and my mind was playing the strings. I had no control over my behavior. You literally can’t behave differently; You just have to ride it out.
Warm therapists broke this feeling by believing in me yet being firm and direct on what to do. In summary, Shutting down is the worst. I do not want to behave in those ways, or do these things, but my mind was preventing me from behaving otherwise. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as in my youth, but in extreme stress these behaviors, this meltdown, still happen(s).
Little kids in therapies are trying their hardest, and it is a mental battle that a kid shouldn’t have to face. That is the humbly reality with which every adult should approach kids. Yes, the battle needs to be fought, kids need your help, support, not another enemy to battle. Adults that supported me in my battle the most were those who were a rock-They did not cave in on their demands, stayed firm, void of judgement, and they did not react to any of my repelling behaviors, no matter how repelling they may have been! They did not let me escape the demand that was placed on me, but supported me every step of the way in completing that demand.