Having children in general can be a pretty expensive undertaking. Having a child with a disability can nearly break the bank. Insurance costs alone can be astronomical just to receive general therapy services for a child with special needs. This week, we will be discussing ways to utilize natural supports, sparing your child the stigma of going to traditional therapy while helping your checkbook at the same time.
Let's face it. With our economy in a recession holding pattern and high prices for everything across the board, it is becoming harder and harder for most families to stay within their budget. Do you have a child who has significant food restrictions, i.e. gluten and or dairy free? $$ Are there certain items you must have in your home to care for your child? $$$ Do you need to pay incomprehensible out-of-pocket fees for overly expensive therapies for your child? $$$$$ Many of us simply can't afford the best possible care and therapy for our child. What if by changing a few things, you had access to an endless supply of learning opportunities for both you and your child? What if those changes significantly reduced or eliminated your medical therapy costs? Did I catch your interest?
Occupational therapy. Physical therapy. Speech therapy. Behavioral therapy. Hydrotherapy. Hypotherapy. The list is endless. While some therapies are seemingly necessary, you may want to think about its effectiveness in its current setting. For example, let's say your child needs physical therapy for her legs. You have been trying to get her in the car for 20 minutes and will soon be late to the appointment if she doesn't cooperate. It's so expensive and insurance only covers so many visits. She opposes going to therapy every single time. She doesn't like the fact that she has to go work on her legs, when her siblings and friends get to stay home and play. Therapy is so boring! It's unnatural for her to go to therapy when other kids get to play. What if there were a way to use a natural therapy for her that she would want to do? Do you think she would rather go to traditional therapy or go to a swimming pool, ride a horse, or play on the beach?
It seems that many of us have fallen into the routine of expecting our lives to revolve around traditional therapy services. In fact, the exact opposite should be happening. We should be focusing on the child and which natural 'services' would work best for them. Yes, there are some medical services that may be necessary depending on your child's needs. However, most can be found in a natural setting within your home or community, if you really stretch your thinking outside the box.
I want to specifically mention that it is not the therapists themselves that are creating this stigma. The environment of most of them is not the most effective place for our children to learn. Many therapists have recognized that greater outcomes are possible when the focus is put on the individual child. When they implement the exact same traditional developmental milestones for all children, they lose out on what is really important to each child and often see success decrease. When a therapist can find out the best way each individual child learns, instead of doing a task for them or forcing milestones, they can provide a skill the child will use for a lifetime.
Give a man a fish and feed him for a day;
Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
Both literally and figuratively, fishing is a wonderful skill to learn!!
Occupational Therapy can be done at home, at a park, local swimming pool, or anywhere your child will have fun. Instead of going to OT in an office, why not go to the beach and play in the sand for gross motor development. Or bring the beach home and have them use their fingers to draw letters or a picture on a cookie sheet with sand for fine motor development. Don't have sand? Use shaving cream...or washable paint. Need more fine motor? Use a painters brush. Guess what? What your child is doing is Occupational Therapy. Do you think they felt that way? By removing them from "inside the box" therapy services that we think they need, we are allowing them to be kids and have the opportunities to develop in ways every other child is able to. Oh, and did I mention that you won't have to fork out your hard earned money for a co-pay?
Examples of NATURAL SUPPORTS:
Speech Therapy - Sing a song with your child, even if you need to make it up to work appropriately. Use familiar tunes, i.e. Old MacDonald or the ABC song. Shape the song to include specific training words or even just sounds (l, th, st, etc.) they are having trouble with. "Mommy likes a little dog. Little, little dog." Be creative!
Occupational & Physical Therapy - This list is endless if you can get creative.
Fine Motor: Get a medium to large sized Tupperware tub filled with dry rice, beans, or sand (depending on age and level of fine motor development). Place small toys, buttons, or items with different textures in the tub for your child to find. You may set up a prize for them if they find all the toys or they may not need it if they are having enough fun already. Don't forget that they can try to use their feet, too! (If they use their feet, you may want to do it outside in case there are a few spills.) You can also expand their texture spectrum by using different items for fine motor, i.e. play dough, paint, clay, sand, pudding, jello, peanut butter, etc.
Gross motor: Swimming of any kind is a great exercise and is great for overall body movement. Some pools have devices that can lower an individual partially into the water if they need some extra support. Walking in dry sand and wet sand can provide different types of development. Horses allow children (and adults) to have a connection with an animal while experiencing core strength development. Make sure you use an accredited training facility to ensure the horses are calm and safe for your child.
My son goes to an equestrian therapy. His trainers make good use of the time by having the riders complete OT/PT while on the horses. They will put their hands out to their sides and slowly twist from side to side like a helicopter. This is important for children who have difficulty with body crossover skills. The trainers also have the riders shoot basketballs into a hoop (body awareness, body crossover, and hand/eye coordination) and use their legs to help steer the horse (leg strengthening). They have even introduced horse themed flash cards to help with Speech Therapy at the same time. I have also seen children with significant disabilities, who are not able to walk, talk, and barely lift their head, experience freedom by riding a horse. The horse becomes their legs and their freedom. It truly is an amazing sight.
There are so many non-traditional supports out there for our children. Music, art, animal, yoga, play dates, cooking, building, sports, group clubs (boy/girl scouts), fishing, archery, etc. We just need to think outside society's therapy box and think of what our children would have fun doing. Even though it is called equestrian 'therapy', it is non-traditional and a wonderful natural support. My child is not being restricted to a room in a sterile office. He is playing and has no idea that riding a horse is helping his development in numerous ways. THIS is the way natural supports should be for our children! School supports should be the same way, but are more challenging to implement. Look for a future post on how to modify pull-out therapies into skill-building activities that take place within the classroom environment.
Disclaimer: Always talk with your doctor about changing therapy programs. Medically necessary therapies are not to be taken lightly. However, remember that you are your child's best advocate! You know what is best for them and how they will learn.