Autism assessment is just the beginning. Each autistic child is different and it would be a lifelong process to learn and grow. There are wisdom, tricks, and strategies that parents can only learn through lived experience, wisdom from autistic adults, and specialized insight from developmental specialists.

All therapy, regardless of type, comes with a unique set of benefits and risks.  It is not possible or healthy to try to address everything or haphazardly.

The science around autism is going through an existential crisis with scientists debating WHAT autism is.

Science is also shifting away from searching for a “cure”.

How you define autism would dictate how you approach it and what the outcome is when you treat it. For therapies, there are distinct and mutually exclusive paths you can choose which generate very different experiences and outcomes for quality of the life of your child.

  • 🔨 Behavioural Framework: This has been the golden standard for the last three decades. The behavioural approach is addressed through modifying behaviour to improve function. Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is often recommended and prescribed by assessors and is the most common type of intervention service.
  • 🍭 Relationship Framework: This is usually a relationship-centred, child-led, parent-lead, or attachment-based intervention approach. How the program defines autism determines how the relationship would be modified to achieve developmental goals. However, some relationship-based frameworks are still based on deficit models of autism.
  • 🌈 Neurodiversity-Affirmative Framework: This is an ethical and consent-based framework based on the non-pathological model of autism. There has been an explosion of research, treatment, and solutions within this framework in the last 5 years.

Step 1: Ask autistic people

These are the real experts with lived experience of what works and what does not work for them.  Those who have gone through therapies can also tell you about their experience with them.  Some critics argue that this approach favours “high functioning” autistic people (btw, this is an outdated term), and this is not true. There are content providers and online community groups for non-speaking autistic people as well.

If you spend any time scrolling on an electronic device, you can load your feeds with autistic advocates, educators, and parenting programs led by autistic specialists, for passive learning. 

Step 2: Ask autistic parents

These are autistic people who identifies as autistic and have lived-experience raising autistic children. According to Double Empathy Problem, these parents would provide incredibly valuable and unique insights and perspective around parents.  These parents are more likely to intuitively understand the differences between ease of living and quality of life.  After that, talk to neurotypical presenting parents with autistic children and compared the information and perspectives you have received.

Step 3: Ask autistic therapists

These are autistic therapists who provide therapy services for autistic clients.  Many parents have found that talking to autistic therapists who are thriving and have found ways to navigate this world is the most cathartic and inspirational to talk to.  They get to see all the out-of-the-box approaches to thriving, working, and interacting with others.  After this, talk to a neurotypical therapist who provides therapy services for autistic clients, and then compare the information and their perspectives.

Here are some candidates for information interview:

Interview ideas:

  • Ask them to describe, compare, and contrast their framework compared to the other two.
  • Ask them to describe the downside or risk of their approach.
  • Ask them for some information or resources to learn more about their framework.
  • Ask them to describe “neurodiversity” and “neurodiversity-lite.”
  • Describe the same practical challenge you have to each specialist and observe how they would respond.
  • Ask them about how “this therapy process looks in the long term?” and “help me imagine what is the long term vision?”
  • Ask them to describe the experience, role and responsibility parents may have in this framework (especially any common challenge for parents).

Cultural humility is about being open-minded and willing to learn from others who come from different cultures or backgrounds, recognizing that we may not fully understand their experiences, and showing respect, non-judgement, and empathy in our interactions, even if we don’t share the same perspectives or experiences.

Step 4: Discuss with your family and friends

Involve all stakeholders in the child’s life in the research and discussion process.  Parenting a child with additional needs is a brave and vulnerable path, and many caregivers experience criticism, misunderstanding, and judgement from their support network around their parenting strategies even when the specialists prescribe them. If the child has two engaged parents, both parents must be fully committed to the choice around the framework. It is also essential for children to experience consistent parenting and care from those who love them.

Some parents find it helpful to seek couples or family counselling if there are conflicts or deep disagreements about this choice.

Don't be a Passive Team Member

If you are the only caregiver of your child researching these topics and you are not a solo parent, please have your partner read this.

There is no such thing as “fix my child’s problem” therapy. Your child will forever be autistic with or without therapy. Caregivers have to be involved to facilitate parenting and environmental adaptation and accommodation for their child to thrive. We as adults have so much to learn.

“Single married parent” is a common parenting dynamic for children with additional needs. If you are not the primary caregiver, there may be more challenges and difficulty for you to be fully involved. It is also common to see both parents in attendance but it is clear only one parent is present or for one parent to cite stressful or busy work responsibilities for their absence.

  • Be forthcoming with yourself, your spouse, and your therapy team about your thoughts, experience and preferences in the process of seeking consultation or counselling.
  • Confront, investigate, and address personal patterns of avoidance and passivity.  We have single working parents who continued to gather information in ways they can.  We have disabled parents who have difficulty with information processing but tries again and again in different ways.  We have parents who squeeze in a check-in with their consultant during their work break in the supply closet. 
  • Confront and be honest with yourself about your reluctance to seek or accept guidance. Check your own negative assumptions about “the help” and why you don’t “need it”. In therapy, you have fully empowered to determine and create how you want your help to be delivered.   If you don’t like hour long face to face chat or too much “concepts”, it can be shorter, asynchronous, or more experientially based.  
  • How your same-gendered parents parented you often have an immense influence on how your experience and approach challenges as a parent yourself.  Providing your child with the compassion and accepting and loving presence may be incredibly difficult when that was not modelled for you when you are a child.  Your child’s misbehavior and complex challenges can also be activating and overwhelming for you, if you have experienced rejections or trauma around similar difficulties as a child.
  • Have more than one strategy in your parenting toolbox. Is your version of solo parenting an authoritarian regime? Are all your tools just different versions of carrots and sticks?

These are some common topics and challenges around which counsellors and family consultants can address and support their parent clients.  A good therapist can provide you with a process that works for you and empower you to be the parent you want to be.

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