Therapies and supports during school years
In the years before the NDIS, parents had to self-fund almost all of the therapies for their children in the school years.
There were only a few rebates available for allied health services like speech and occupational therapy. Mental Health Treatment Plans, managed by GPs, paediatricians and psychiatrists also provided some rebates for psychological therapy, as they still do.
Nowadays, if your child is an NDIS participant, then his or her plan can include goals for which many therapies and supports can be funded.
Before looking more closely at some of these, it is worth mentioning that school itself is supposed to be a therapeutic environment for your child. This means both that they learn directly from the teachers and also that they learn from their school peers and especially from their friends.
School in itself can be a very tiring environment for children with autism. Many parents learn the hard way that adding in too many demands in the form of therapies and activities like sports and music, art and craft classes can seriously overwhelm their child.
When your child starts school, or when they make a school transition, it is often best to build in a lot of rest and relaxation time. You know your child best and you will know when they need to have time away from therapies and being heavily scheduled.
Having said that, here are some of the options for therapies and supports that can work well for primary school-aged children.
Support to access community sports and leisure
Parents and carers may choose to do this themselves, or use support workers. This may be as simple as visiting the local pool, joining a community or special needs sports team or learning to surf or play the piano.
You can continue speech therapy to suit the level of your child’s communication abilities. Continuing with augmentative and alternative communication skills may be right for your child. Many autistic children who appear to have good verbal skills can still benefit from speech therapy, to address their pragmatic language or to help with English assignments as these become more complex.
There may be social skills groups available in your area, or groups that run in school holidays. Some therapists may offer one-to-one social skills support. There are also peer support workshops and programs that your child might enjoy.
It is wise to find a good psychologist who gets to know your child well and can support them and provide therapy as required. Most children, autistic or not, have issues with friendships at school and benefit from support and advice. Many of our kids are anxious and long-term therapy for this will set them up well for the tumultuous high school years.
Positive behaviour support
A psychologist or other professional can assist your family to ensure that you maintain a strengths-based support system for everyone in the family.
Many children continue to benefit from occupational therapy during the school years, especially if they need to work on their fine motor skills. Helping your child and their school to minimize the negative impact of sensory sensitivities is also very important for wellbeing during the school years.
Don’t forget that your typically-developing children may benefit from support and socializing with other siblings of disabled children. Click through to our Sibling support page here.
Continuing with early intervention models
Many families continue with the early intervention they used before school, whether this be DIR/Floortime, ABA, RDI or another modality. This is usually done much less intensely, of course.
Continuing to develop self-care skills is crucial during the school years, from tying shoelaces and showering alone, to learning to cook and starting to take public transport. Parents and carers tend to be always moving these skills forward, however support workers might also provide some valuable input.
Many families find that using videos to teach new skills to their children remains beneficial throughout the school years. Video modelling can also be used as a transition tool to introduce your child to new places and experience.
If your child has not learned to swim in the preschool years then now is the time to start lessons. Drowning is a serious risk for autistic children. If group lessons do not work well for your child then do try to find some private lessons, and persevere.