Rhema… on the best therapy

Today Rhema teamed up with her friend Miss Jess to share a presentation with a wonderful team of specialists at Boston Ability Center.

Rhema agreed to share part of her presentation here. To help Rhema prepare, Jess provided the questions.

Question: How do we walk the fine line between choosing activities/designing therapy for our patients (autistic individuals) that is functional for classrooms, social scenarios, the work place, etc. while also incorporating the idea that we don’t want to “force” our clients to act as neurotypical individuals. What kind of therapy would you like to get if you were getting services at BAC?

Rhema: I think the best therapy is the kind that helps students really improve their ability to communicate . I mean hellp them learn to listen to their mind. The autistic body has trouble listening to its  mind . The therapist that only treat me like a baby will only expect me to climb a tiny tree when i really can scale a mountain . Therapy that is most helpful is therapy that helps me challenge myself to control my impulses in a way that is not demeaning . For example i love to steal markers. The way to demean me is to speak to me as if i am a baby. You should try to remember that i am a teenager with an autistic body that makes its own destruction sometimes.

Every one should only make time to understand the person they are working to support. Can you make good ideas about someone’s needs if you don’t really know their abilities ?

I knew how to read at age five but some therapists only wanted me to identify letters repeat repeat repeat . I wake up every day really happy because i can have strong subjects to study.

The best therapy in education is the kind that helps students learn challenging material. Too much time is wasted on too many preschool things . I would like to have more hellp with my handwriting and typing and speech in a way that is not going to belittle me. I think you do this by incorporating interesting lessons not simple stories .

Question: How does a therapist know they can / should move on from an activity (ie pointing to letters or repeating their sounds) when the client hasn’t been able to perform it successfully? This is a really tough thing both for parents and therapists to figure out… we want to presume competence but without evidence of understanding, there’s the fear that we’re moving too fast, not doing our jobs in really teaching our students but rather moving to the next thing before they’re ready, which can be frustrating for the student. How do you recommend handling that conundrum?

Rhema: The best thing a therapist can do when they don’t know whether a student can do the work is to assume they can. The student will be more frustrated if they are given simple work over and over than if they are given something more challenging.

I know this from my own experience. I was so frustrated that i could not really do well. Then i got my chance to study challenging subjects. I was so afraid that my teacher would give up and keep giving me simple lessons. She did not make her lessons simple even when i got answers wrong even when i crawled under the table. That gave me hope even though i was so afraid that i would fail.

Question: How can therapists help work with kids like you on impulse control, coordination etc.? What are some therapy activities that didn’t work or that you disliked? What activities have been most helpful/useful?

Rhema: Can you stop forgetting that i am going to have my mind tell me one thing and my body do another? I will often only do the things that are easy like type gibberish because it is too hard to make my finger listen to the letters in my head. I need therapies that help me win the fight against my uncooperative body. I don’t understand my therapists who ignore the fact that i am smart and still make me do tasks like identifying happy and sad faces.

The therapies that i think might help are ones that work on my ability to notice what is important and filter out everything else. I get so loud in my head that it is impossible to notice only what is important at that second. To always have so much information is so hard. I see too much like the granularity in a letter on a page. I hear too much like the pine needles falling outside. I feel too much like the happiness of my friend Reilly in the seat beside me. It is a blessing and a curse. Only a few people have really found a way to help me focus on the letters in my head. Soma Erika my mom and Hope. I hope i can get better and better.

Question: How do you include people who type or point?

Rhema: You treat them just like you would treat any student. Give them an opportunity to learn and share their thoughts.

My school was the first place where teachers and classmates that treated me like I was a normal student. I just communicate on my iPad. Even when I am not able to type well they never assume that I just don’t understand. Time will tell how much their support means to me.



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