Thursday, December 1, 2011

More Questions Than Answers

So, for awhile now I've been taking Ethan to music classes at this great little place that is sort of a mish-mash of services for kids and adults, those with special needs and not. He LOVES music class, and before that about a year ago he had done a little playgroup there with another boy on the spectrum that had gone fairly well.

This place is a little, shall I say...earthy crunchy. In addition to the special needs classes, they've got a chiropractor there. They do acupuncture. And yoga. There's also a naturopathic physician who's always whipping up remedies for people that she places in little brown paper bags.

I watch people come to pick up these bags from my spot in the waiting area and try not to giggle, listening to them talk about roots and herbs. I laugh because I am SO not the earthy type.

I never considered cloth diapering.
I clean my house not with vinegar and lemon juice but with those horrible cleaners chock-full of chemicals.
We eat organic stuff...every once in awhile.
They still give me plastic bags when I shop.
The list could go on and on.

So this place may not be my "thing," except I've enjoyed, or I should say Ethan has enjoyed, the classes they offer. Not only that, but it's the only place I've found in the area that bases what they do on the Floortime approach. What that has meant to me is: classes are based around play and following the child's interests and lead, aiming to motivate the child internally rather than through rewards, as ABA (applied behavioral analysis) does.

The thing is, ABA works great with Ethan, because he's quick and can memorize what's expected of him. To me though, when learning and play is based soley on memorization, it's built on a flimsy foundation. This used to happen to me all the time in math, which has, sadly, always befuddled me. I'd be able to work out the homework problems that were just like the examples provided in the book. But change up the problem a bit, add something new, and I was lost.

Floortime approaches learning as emotion-based. We go to an amusement park, for example, and Ethan is so enamored by the roller coasters that he takes that memory with him at home and is inspired to do roller coaster pretend play. He wants to recreate the experience because it meant something -- rather than an ABA therapist modeling playing with a roller coaster and rewarding Ethan with a sticker for imitating the action.

I've said it before, but I'll reiterate - ABA therapy has its place. I think my brother would have benefited tremendously if he had had more ABA during his early school years. But it's not best for Ethan, so for two years now I've poked around online and found that the only certified Floortime therapists are an hour or more south of here. (Of course!) they want to charge oodles of dollars for a thorough play assessment and evaluation. And I find it hard to justify driving Ethan hours every week for play sessions that are supposed to be relaxed and spontaneous.

All of this leads me back to where I started, the fact that I found this place one town over that, while not being an official Floortime provider, at least operates under the principles of Floortime.

Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago I decided, since Ethan was enjoying his music class so much and I'd been looking for more playmates for him, that maybe he should start another class there. So we came in so that the owner could have a play session with him and assess his play skills.

No one was in the waiting room that day, and I could hear fairly clearly what was going on in the back room.

"Ethan, do you want to play doctor?" Ms. K. asked. Ah, something we've done at home. He's into doctor stuff.

A few minutes later: "Ethan, do you want to shop at my store?" Eh, he doesn't so much like grocery store play.

"Ethan, do you want to check me out?" No answer. "Ethan, do you want to check me out?" He doesn't know what that means. "Ethan?"

Then: "Do you want to come on my pirate ship?" Um, he doesn't quite get pirates yet. He does like to pretend a laundry basket is his canoe, if he's in the right mood.

Finally: "Ethan, we can swing in a minute. If you play on my ship, then we can swing. Ethan?"

Um. Yeah.

A few things were going through my mind. One was that it all sounded awfully familiar. The pleading, cajoling, pushing. Play with Ethan can be tiring. The other was -- for someone who says they practice Floortime, that was NOT Floortime. Floortime would have followed Ethan to the swing and made a game of that. Floortime wouldn't have continued to push a concept he just didn't get...would have simplified...would have done whatever it took to make the connection with the child.

Ms. K. came back with Ethan. "He did pretty well," she said, "considering I pushed him a lot."

Pushed him? This was supposed to be play. This was supposed to be fun. When it comes to playing with a kid on the spectrum, how much pushing is necessary to teach our kids about living in the typical world (where not everyone follows your lead all the time) vs. doing whatever it takes to help them begin to find play as fun?

I asked what she thought Ethan needed, as far as play or playgroups was concerned.

"Well, we could do a playgroup, and I could keep doing certain things, certain play schemes, and he would certainly model them, but I don't know how much fun he'd actually be having," she said. "I'd like to do Brain Gym with him instead."

Brain Gym?

"I think what he needs is to learn how to focus. His brain hasn't made some connections, and that's what makes this difficult for him. I think the Brain Gym exercises could help."

That all sounded relatively reasonable, until I got home and started Googling Brain Gym and realized a lot of people considered it nothing more than pure quackery. Nothing but anecdotal evidence. Like so many treatments in the autism world, just pseudo-science.

So now I'm left wondering --

Do we go back to Ms. K. and learn our brain exercises that supposedly will help Ethan's left and right brain hemispheres connect?

Do I drive down to southern Connecticut to have real Floortime people assess Ethan and tell me what I probably already know?

Or do I do what Dan is always telling me to do: trust my own instincts and that I really do know most of what the "experts" know? Do I just live life and do the best I can?

The choice seems so simple. Yet a part of me feels like those people coming in for their little brown paper bags full of remedies for their heartburn or allergies or headaches. A dash of this and a twist of that. A little tinkering here and there to find that perfect combination, to find that ideal blend that will assuage any lingering guilt that I didn't do enough to help my child.

God, help me to let it go.

1 comment:

Crystal said...

Oh, I so hear that. We are in a place where I drive Ryan 45 minutes one way for ABA. It's been great for him and he's made some awesome strides, but I look at everything else that is "out there" in other places, and it's hard not to grieve that we can't afford/get to/whatever other things that might help him more. God's sovereignty is the only thing that helps me in this stuff. Good to know I'm not alone!