DR RADICA MAHASE
SAMANTHA’S daughter is eight-years-old; she was diagnosed with low functioning autism a couple of years ago. Like most other parents, Samantha had a tough time accepting the diagnosis but once she did, she started looking for both speech and occupational therapists to work with her child. Initially, she had absolutely no idea where to turn. She found some therapists online but wasn’t sure about them so she started asking around. A couple people recommended various therapist and Samantha made appointments for her daughter’s visit.
One speech therapist charged her $1,200 for an assessment but then told her that she was unable to work with the child and recommended another therapist. The other therapist charged her $3,000 for an assessment and told her she had to sign a contract agreeing to bring her child to ten sessions of therapy, two per week at $300 per hour. Samantha was worried that if she signed the contract and her child did not like the therapist or the therapist wasn’t doing a good job then she could not stop therapy so she didn’t sign the contract. She went to a third therapist, paid $1,500 for an assessment and her daughter finally started speech therapy almost a year after being diagnosed.
The hunt to find a therapist can be a challenging one in our country. Many parents/caregivers panic when they receive their child’s diagnosis and they take their children to the first therapist who was recommended to them or whom they heard about. Sometimes they continue to keep their child in therapy even though it is too much of a financial burden or they feel uncomfortable with the child’s progress. This is usually because parents/caregivers are desperate to help their children and with no guidelines they fumble blindly seeking help for their children.
There are no specific controls in place in Trinidad and Tobago with regards to the various forms of therapy/therapists; therapists are free to practise as they want; there are no regularised costs of therapies and consequently, therapists can do whatever they want with no avenue for repercussions. Hence, the parents are forced to become watch guards as they are the ones who have to ensure that their children are getting the best value for money and are benefiting from the therapy. At the same time, it is important to note that every child’s experience with a therapist might be different and while one child may be comfortable with a specific therapist, another child might not; while one parent might see progress, another might not. It is however, the right of the parents to:
Make sure you and your child is comfortable with the therapist. On one hand, the therapist needs to be child-friendly and your child needs to be comfortable going to the therapist. On the other hand, sometimes the child might resist the work of the therapist but you can see progress in your child and you are comfortable with your child’s visit to the therapist.
Check the therapist’s qualifications. Ask questions about qualifications and experience and make sure that the therapist is properly qualified and experienced to work with your child. If the therapist has a particular are of specialisation then find out more about the specialised area.
Referrals from other parents can be useful. Feel free to ask around and to get other parents’ feedback on therapists while keeping in mind that their experience might not be yours. Ask the therapist to speak to the parents of other children with whom they are working.
Understand that it is okay to consult more than one therapist before settling on one. As much as a therapist might expect you to sign a contract, if you are uncomfortable with this for whatever reason, then you should not do so. Also, if you feel that your child is not progressing; you are uncomfortable with a therapist’s attitude/behaviour, or whatever other reasons, then you are within your rights to find another therapist to work with your child.
Ensure that the therapist has a plan for your child. A good therapist will talk to you about your child’s therapy and what is the plan to work with your child, as well as set specific guidelines and goals. As a parent you should communicate with the therapist to find out what these are and you should know what the therapist expects of you as a parent. For a child to progress both therapist and parents/caregivers need to work together.
Dr Radica Mahase is founder/director, Support Autism T&T