Therapy Burn Out: Shifting Gears – When to Say When
I can still see myself sitting there with the other parents in the waiting room of the therapy provider. Each week we would gather to wait while our children were in session. It had almost become like a comfortable chat room of non-judgment. It was cozy and warm.
Despite the fellowship of kind and understanding parents, I started to question if our son was really getting anything out of this weekly grind. Were we just coasting? Was I avoiding my gut instinct? In my heart, I felt like I was putting off making a change.
I am not really sure how it happened. One day we were coasting along, and then the next thing we knew we were asking ourselves “where are going and what are we doing”?
We had been taking our son to therapy, religiously, five days a week from the time he was 18 months old until he was 10. Despite our advocacy, and the tremendous gains our child made, we found ourselves asking, “Why are we doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results”?
Please understand that we believe passionately in early intervention. However, as our child neared becoming a tween, we suddenly found that our therapy goals were changing. Our son was also asking why and when he could participate in other after school programs and activities. The therapies were conflicting with offerings that were free and provided social skill building.
I suppose to some it sounds like a no brainer: free vs. fee based. Yes, “free,” is my favorite word. However, I felt conflicted about pulling the plug on relationships that had been long established.
So what did we do? We dropped out. We took a break. We decided, as a family, that we needed to try some of the opportunities that were being offered to our son. We also needed to identify, with the support of our team, what our child needed most.
To be clear: I want to explain my definition of the team. Long ago when our son was a baby, I created a support team. I named it after him, “Team Wyatt.” I recruited friends, family, church parishioners, teachers, therapists and our family physician to be on our consulting team. They knew us, and our son, in a variety of settings.
You see, at this point, we needed to move from a clinical to an intuitive social strategy. It was clear that we needed to develop his life skills in settings that engaged his interests. By putting his passions first, we believed, the outcomes we had previously strived to meet in a quantifiable setting would come through more successfully.
At this point, I think it is important to add a disclaimer. My husband and I are just parents. We are merely sharing what we have lived and learned. I would not recommend making drastic changes to your child’s therapy regimen without consulting your team.
The key point to this essay is that you need to follow your heart and honestly re-evaluate what is being accomplished. Is it time to move on? My husband felt like the last six months of daily, after school therapy sessions had lost their efficacy. His comment to me was, “We are just sleep walking”. He felt strongly that the therapists that we were seeing had taken us as far as they could. He also keenly identified that our son was developing interests and passions that had the potential to deliver opportunities to develop the skills we had been working on in a clinical settings.
What we are proposing is merely to step back and take a look at your therapy plans from time to time.
1. Try something new to achieve the same goals:
Support School Partnerships: Our son loves the theater. He wanted to be in a play. Our school district’s exceptional education team partnered with the local children’s theater to bring professionals in to work with children who were on the spectrum of Autism Related Disabilities. The theater teams came into our school and worked with our son and his classmates. This built relationships and understanding. It also opened the door for him to participate in their after-school offerings. Suddenly, we found he was working to develop his speech skills to annunciate, project, read and memorize lines.
2. Ask your team to help gain entrance into programs:
It helps to engage teachers and community members who know your child in the process of advocating for your kid. We had heard about a spring break camp at a local church. I started asking around. I found out that several of our son’s therapists and teachers were parishioners of the church. They went and met with the program instructors to share and explain our son’s needs. It paved a path for understanding and gained him a pass to participate. Now I have to add, that we also agreed that if it was not working at any point, we would pull out our child. It gave them an “out” and allowed us a chance to try something new.
You need not be a social extrovert to benefit from this tactic. There are numerous parenting networking groups on Facebook, Twitter and other social systems. Use these groups to chat about local resources and contact people. We laughed that once we got our son into a program – other parents of children with special needs would remark, “Well if they took him, they will take our child!” We joked that we were the pioneers. I am not sure that we paved a trail. However, it was more about finding people who were willing to be flexible and agreeable to accommodate our children.
Related: Developing Your Own Network
One of the most interesting outcomes of this process is that we became reconnected with the families I reference in the beginning of this essay. They too found it was time for a change. We crossed paths at other camps and after-school programming. We still continue to share and encourage. We just do it now in other settings and in new ways.
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- Crying in Therapy: Important to Understand Why
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- Art Therapy: How It Works, the Benefits, How to Start
This post originally appeared on our September/October 2013 Magazine