After learning that a child has special needs, the next big step for parents is finding a therapy team that can help their child meet their goals. It sounds easy, but it can be more challenging than most parents think. Here are ten things to keep in mind:
1. Review family goals: The first thing a family needs to do is review their own approach to their child and what their ultimate goal will be. If the family wants the child to have a nice therapy experience, the therapist they choose will be different than one who wants strong results. Families want to find a therapist who will meet their ultimate goals and work well within their long-term plan.
2. Develop realistic goals: Going into a therapy experience expecting miracles will only set a family up for disappointment. Be realistic in what therapy goals you have when shopping for a therapist. Otherwise, you'll be disappointed every time.
3. Be honest: Before hiring a therapist you'll want to interview them. You want them to be honest with you so you need to be honest with them. If you are not dedicated to working with your child at home or can not commit to a set weekly schedule, say so. A therapist will appreciate your honesty up front and a good therapist will tailor your treatment plan to work within your limitations.
4. Talk to them: Take some time to really chat with the therapist before committing to an ongoing relationship. It's kind of like dating. If this relationship works for you and your child you are going to be spending a lot of time together. Do they listen to you? Do they hear what you are saying? Will they brainstorm solutions with you or do they just tell you what to do?
5. Ask questions: If you have questions or concerns; ask. Therapists appreciate a family who is invested in their child's future. Those who hire a therapist willy-nilly can come across as a family who just want someone to fix the problem or does not take the process seriously.
6. Do some research: There are a lot of options in the world of therapy. Doing a little research about your therapist can really pay off in the end. Do they have a website? Do they have published articles or blogs? Many times, these documents will tell what is really important to a therapist more than their spoken words. What are their credentials? Someone with a doctorate is not necessarily the best therapist and someone with only a bachelor's degree can be amazing. Make sure they have the correct credentials to practice in your state. If they require supervision, check on their supervising therapist as well as many times they will be the one to dictate what happens in the sessions. Are they willing to provide references? If they give references take some time to call them. Other families are good measures of a therapist. Parents whose children have similar diagnoses can paint a nice picture of what your therapy sessions may look like with a given therapist.
7. Ask to observe: Some therapists do not allow others to observe their sessions because of confidentiality, but others are more open to allowing parents to see what is going on. Some parents are also happy to share their therapy experiences with others because they want to help others find the "gem" they have in their therapist. Even if the answer is no, it can ease your mind to know that you can either get a glimpse of therapy or that the therapist has standards which they are willing to uphold
8. Learn about their team: Most therapists have a group of professionals that are their "go to" team when they have questions, concerns, problems, or need input in areas where they are uncertain. Knowing about their team helps to not only know that they are open to other ideas, but that they are not the Lone Ranger when it comes to treating your child. It can also come in handy if you need additional services. Finding one great therapist can often lead to more wonderful people in the life of your child.
9. Ask about the toys: Some therapists are minimalists, others are techno-savvy, and still others are willing to use just about anything in a session to get the job done. Think about what kind of therapist will compliment your child's skills and needs. None of these approaches are the right answer, but one of them is right for each child. There are different types of therapists for different types of kids for a reason. Everyone has the perfect therapist out there for them.
10. Price: Most families would put this first, but like most things, you get what you pay for. Many traditional therapists (occupational, physical, and speech therapies) will accept insurance and other third party payment programs. Less traditional therapies (music, ABA, floortime, art) are not always covered by insurance but can make a huge impact in the progress of children with special needs. Look at your budget and talk to your therapist. Many will work with you to help your child get what they need without breaking the bank.
While there is no exact way to find the perfect therapist for a child with special needs, a little leg work can make a big difference. Even if you make a poor choice, you can always find someone else. The right therapist-client relationship is important in meeting your child's goals. If it is not working for you and your child, don't wait. Find what you've been missing!