Sunday, January 9, 2011

Whats worked for Munchkin?

Its been a while since I blogged. For various reasons I've neglected my blog and apologise to anyone who may have been following to see Munchkins progress. I'll bring you up to date with this post...

I get asked a lot "what has worked for Munchkin" as she's made such incredible progress over the years. Part of me gets a little irked at times when I think a parent is looking for the "magic solution" that will "cure" their child. Lets be straight folks... there is NO CURE for autism or aspergers but there are many many therapies that will help your kiddy reach their full potential. Its also not a quick fix or something that you can throw money at to make the problems go away. Its a hard slog and somewhat frustrating at times but with hard work and a lot of input, you can make huge strides in helping your child understand and cope with whatever issues they are struggling with.

So back to the question... "What's worked for Munchkin?"

When the bottom fell out of my World and I heard the confirmation that she has an ASD, like many I took a little while to pick myself back up off the floor, dry the tears and realise that having a nervous breakdown (which allowed me to hide in my own little world for a while), or looking for the answers in the bottom of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wasn't going to help the situation. I needed to become her advocate, her tutor, her teacher and look for practical help. If I was to wait on the never ending waiting lists for therapies, it would be time wasted and lost forever. In this country you find yourself in Limbo, waiting for someone to come and fix the problem. DON'T! Find a local support group, if you can't get out get online support, join Irish Autism Action and get some guidance. There are many courses out there that a parent can avail of to learn how to teach your child. ABA, PECS, Lamh etc... YOU are going to have to put in the work if your child is going to reach their goals. I was lucky that I'd already done courses in Applied Behavioural Analysis and Verbal Behaviour and so had a head start in that I could set up a program for Munchkin. Be aware though that there are plenty of sharks, sorry therapists who will offer you xy&z for large sums of money with false hopes of curing your child. In my opinion, you may as well be throwing wads of your hard earned cash into the toilet. Whilst swimming with dolphins might be nice if you're on holidays, its not going to fix your baby.

We dabbled with the GFCF diet for a year and made great progress. On reflection, I have to question if it was indeed the restriction of foodstuffs or the intense ABA program I had implemented that gave Munchkin the push into verbalising and communicating. She has no restrictions in her diet now and still making forward strides.

In her Assessment of Need she had an occupational therapy assessment. I found the therapist to be very informative of what sensory issues and needs Munchkin had. I took notes on how to help and put the exercises into her home program. A year later, she was still on the "list" for therapy and my local support group Cottage Autism Network provided her with an updated assessment so we could see where she was at that stage. Some of her issues had been overcome and new ones came to light and I was then able to tailor her sensory diet and adjust her program myself. By the time she moved up the list after a few years, we had dealt with many of her issues. Boy was I glad I hadn't waited for the HSE OT slots....

Speech and Language she received when she attended a special needs preschool. She received daily group SLT and once a week she had an individual session with the speech and language therapist. Everything that they were working on in school we were also still doing at home with her.

Home Tuition. This was a godsend as we had the cream of the crop when it came to home tutors. The most amazing person came into our lives in the form of Ursula. She was the teacher in the local ASD unit and hand on heart, I will always be indebted to her. Finding a good tutor is paramount when setting up your home tuition program and we've been so lucky in the three tutors that Munchkin had. DON'T just leave it all to your tutor though. Become involved and work together as a team. As I said earlier, you can't just expect others to fix the problem and the more involved you are in all aspects of your childs program the better the outcome is going to be...

Socialisation. Hugely important! There has rarely been a day since I first suspected that Munchkin might be autistic that she hasn't been around other children. At first there was resistance and little interaction but now she has a host of kids that she refers to as her friends. Sure she might meet someone for the first time in the playground and tell me they're her best friend but hey, she's really social and interested in other kids now.

Play skills. We taught Munchkin how to play with her toys. This doesn't come naturally to a child with ASD and lack of imaginative play is a huge problem for many of our kids. Through ABA and a reinforcement schedule, she learned to play. To look at her now happily playing with her toys its hard to remember back sometimes when this wasn't the case. And as for her imagination... well its amazing!

School. She's now attending an ASD unit full time. It was a difficult decision whether to place her in the unit or not but I met with the school and they agreed that it would be a great stepping stone to mainstream next September. While she has no problems expressing herself verbally there are other behaviours that can be worked on while learning the social rules of school. They are teaching her how to transition and helping her focus on tasks etc. I know that come September, she'll be fully ready to mainstream.

Well that's whats worked for Munchkin... We've both learned so much over the last two years and continue to do so. I'll leave you with a quote from "Parenthood", a show I watched last week which struck a chord with me...

"The greatest barometer for success for children with Aspergers is their parents involvement"

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