Image is a photo of moss under the sunlight. Black text over image says: The best things you can give your autistic child are total acceptance, unconditional love and support, and a community of other autistic people with whom they can connect.

Our Autistic Family’s approach to therapy

Therapy is a controversial topic. I have previously discussed why we go back and forth from little to no therapy for our three autistic children. I do not believe in “Early Intervention” or other pathologizing approaches that view autistic people through the lens of brokenness and ableism. We have continually refused all compliance based therapy.

The times we have sought out support, it was under strict guidelines ensuring my children’s neurology and autonomy would always be respected. When considering therapy for your autistic child, all aspects of it must be weighed heavily. Many professionals are still deeply rooted in ableism and view autistic people in terms of deficits or behaviors that need fixing.

When seeking out additional resources for parenting your autistic child, I strongly recommend reading as much as you can about the Neurodiversity Paradigm and writing by autistic adults who embrace it.

There are a lot of resources out there that will also support you in your total acceptance of your autistic child. There are online groups for AAC and FC where questions can be asked and answered. If you then find that you and your child are in need of some “in real life” support, you may choose to find a therapist.

When we seek out support for our autistic children in a professional setting, we have stipulations which we lay out to the therapist clearly in advance and must be followed. The following are our guidelines:

1. We embrace the Neurodiversity Paradigm. We view being autistic as a valid way of being and reject any therapy which pathologizes autism.

2. The relationship between you and my child will be as equals. It is imperative that permission is given by my child prior to activities and before any interaction takes place.

3. Focus on communication not just spoken language. This includes all forms of AAC and Facilitated Communication.

4. No Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods or compliance based therapy whatsoever. This includes any similar approach rooted in behaviorism.

5. Requests for eye contact or positive reinforcement for eye contact given is disrespectful and strictly forbidden.

6. My children’s body autonomy must always be respected. A “no” is a “no”.  This also precludes forced hand over hand and tickling or affection.

7. Please do not use stickers, bribery or food rewards of any kind.

8. My child needs complete freedom of movement. This means there will be absolutely no insistence that they sit in a chair or use “whole body listening”. There should be opportunities for movement including a trampoline, exercise ball and fidgets for them to use.

9. Under no circumstances should there be attempts to extinguish or discourage “autistic behaviors”.  This includes stimming, flapping and scripting.

10. Please do not use my child’s interests as currency in therapy unless it is their idea to discuss or incorporate it into play. Their hobbies are their own to cultivate and pursue as they choose and on their own terms.

11. We follow a child led approach and respect our child’s individual trajectory.  We will continually meet as a team to discuss the pros and cons of continuing or stopping this therapy.

12. If at any time my child expresses an inclination to skip therapy, we will take a break. (even if that break turns out to be permanent or causes us to lose our spot with your practice)

I also have guidelines for myself as a parent with respect to therapy:

  • Is this therapy respectful? If there is ANY question, we don’t do it.
  • If a therapist violates any of the above list of guidelines, we leave immediately.
  • Therapy for us is now done on a consultation basis where we go for a certain number of sessions. This enables us to obtain guidance regarding AAC from a speech therapist or sensory integration suggestions from an occupational therapist. There is no pressure whatsoever for my child to interact directly with the therapist if they choose not to.
  • If adding this appointment would interfere with the large amounts of down time our neurodivergent family requires or put stress on my child, we don’t do it.
  • I meet with and speak to the therapist at length prior to any interaction with my child.
  • I am present during therapy sessions.
  • When my child doesn’t want to go to therapy, we don’t go. If they chose to not do a task, end early or stop therapy, that request would always be granted
  • I constantly re-assess. Is my child stressed by this despite outward appearances of having fun?
  • I urge any parent not to let societal ableism or fear push you and your child(ren) into a cramped therapy-laden schedule. This will end with you running around and your child being stressed out with the pressure to perform and feeling broken. There is no rush nor is there some perceived “window” during which progress must be made or else. Your child is amazing right here and now without any “intervention”.

Autistic children should know they are accepted fully and that any support you seek is to bolster your own knowledge; not fix or change anything about them. Each child is different and comparisons to neurotypical standards are unhelpful.

My older son did some speech therapy early on and in retrospect I believe what was then chalked up to therapy-related progress can be attributed simply to time and growing older. If I had it to do over, I would have skipped it and let that time just be his, even though he had fun.

When it comes to therapy, it is always best to proceed with caution. Follow your child’s lead. The best things you can give your autistic child are total acceptance, unconditional love and support, and a community of other autistic people with whom they can connect.

14 replies
  1. Joy Inskeep
    Joy Inskeep says:

    Hi, I was wondering. What results are you getting doing this? Will the kids be able to be self sufficient as adults? Were they being predicted to be able to do so before the family learned this. I’m not being critical. I’m just not knowing what framework to put this article in. I know nothing about these children. I really would like to know. My parents raised me in much this way, or at least in as similar a way as parents who had no idea what was going on with their child. I was examined as a child for being autistic, in mid 60s. I’ve recently been evaluated as a 57 year old adult only to be placed in the Avoidant Personality Disorder category. A category that has points, but I don’t think fits particularly well. I have major issues trying to function in a world that expects me to fit in & meet “normal specs”.

    • Will
      Will says:

      I’m curious as well. Given this list, there is not much the therapist can do…. so why even enroll in therapy? I’d be curious how your children are doing given almost no intervention.

      • Ettina
        Ettina says:

        You really think that seriously impedes a competent therapy? Any therapist who really knows what they’re doing can figure out a way to make it fun and engaging for the kid. And there’s really no need to interrupt stimming or get eye contact. I’ve worked with autistic kids and it’s fairly simple to engage a kid just by joining them in their stimming.

    • Court Alice Thatcher
      Court Alice Thatcher says:

      hi Joy,
      Thank you for your comment. I would say the most important results we have seen is our children happy and thriving. They have plenty of down time to play and just be kids. They aren’t pressured to perform or adhere to a strict schedule of appointments.
      They play together and pursue their interests on their own time and in their own time.

      I don’t think anyone is really self sufficient. We all rely on networks or a support system of some kind. We are very in tune with our children’s needs in our home and ensure they are met.

      Autism has been stigmatized and misunderstood for many years. There are a lot of autistic adults, autistic parents of autistic children and parents of autistic children who embrace the neurodiversity paradigm. I highly recommend reading this post as well as the many posts we have here from neurodivergent parents all of whom are parenting their children respectfully.

      Thanks again for your comment and input –

      • Tracy L Hellmig
        Tracy L Hellmig says:

        I really like this idea and this approach. Especially regarding the eye contact and the stimming. My son is 17 now and my daughter is 14 and we’ve taken a bit of a different approach with each because that’s what was necessary. My son attends a learning centre where all the students are on the spectrum and he has true friends who genuinely care for him and are happy when he succeeds. I find he’s with his true peers. My daughter is extremely high anxiety and is homeschooled but she knows when she’s ready she’ll go too if that’s what she wants. She sees a therapist (and says NO if she doesn’t want to go that day) and she’s doing just fine. The main thing is that they both know we love them and that they’re fine just how they are.

    • Tami
      Tami says:

      I am also very interested in the progress made. I recently left a position as a Paraprofessional who preformed these types of compliance exercises. I didn’t feel it was respectful or the best treatment, so I left.

  2. Nelle Frances
    Nelle Frances says:

    LOVE this article, thanks so much for taking the time to write it. I don’t need to ask about the progress made, I know your child will be making more progress because of the lack of pressure to conform.

  3. Amanda Evans
    Amanda Evans says:

    I love this. We also have only done the therapy the boys asked for. What we did do was pull our kids out of school when they were young and let them learn in a way and time that suited them. We now have young men who are studying in their interest fields and doing great. They have friends and have formed good strong friendships with them. The people they chose for their friends are also young autistic adults, that is the community they feel they fit in with, so therefore that is what works for them. They chose to see their friends on a regular basis, in ways that work for all of them. My sons are emotionally happy, great young men. What more could any parent ask for? We have lived our life in a way that works for our boys and so it ends up working for the whole family.

  4. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    thank you so much for this article. we have our first OT assessment (for fine motor skills) this week and your list of guidelines has me feeling much more confident and in control going in to the appointment.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] but we reject the notion that therapies should be aimed at normalising us. This means that we carefully choose therapies to ensure that they remain respectful of autistic people’s rights to autonomy and […]

  2. […] choose therapy wisely. Please do not subject your child to any therapy aimed at normalisation. ABA is probably the most […]

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  4. […] Episode 2 is readings from Respectfully Connected: 10 “Autism Interventions” for Families Embracing the Neurodiversity Paradigm -Briannon Lee, Respectfully Connected…and Our Autistic Family’s Approach to Therapy -Court Alice Thatcher, Respectfully Connected… […]

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