In-home therapy techniques help 8-year-old Grace K. learn and growSeptember 9, 2021
Since being diagnosed with autism at age 2, Grace K. has grown into a joyful, loving 8-year-old girl who loves to express herself through dancing, coloring, swimming, drawing, clay, music, and most of all, baking.
“Grace is nonverbal but has worked very hard on learning new words and continues to amaze me with her yearn to learn,” says her mother, Rachel. “Grace is a sweet soul with a huge heart. She will do everything in her power to ensure you that you are loved. She is the truest meaning of the phrase, 'love needs no words.'”
However, Grace also experiences unique challenges related to her autism. For example, she has difficulties expressing her emotions and often acts out when frustrated or misunderstood. Rachel and her family are working to teach Grace healthy communication skills that reduce some of her challenging behaviors. Here, Rachel shares her experience parenting Grace and helping her learn to express her emotions in a positive way.
Q: What are some therapies and day-to-day strategies that you rely on to help Grace learn and grow?
Grace began by having in-home speech and occupational therapy through a program that our county offers. She had these therapies for about six months; however, the bills were stacking up and we couldn’t afford to keep that going.
So, I started doing day-to day-therapies of my own with her. An example of this was holding an apple in front of my mouth and saying “apple” while holding her hand on my face to keep her attention. I would try to make it as fun as I could for her. Grace loves to dance and move around, so she learned A LOT of words by simply singing “If you’re happy and you know it”.
My husband and I currently work full time, so we have to rely quite a bit on babysitters to continue what we are doing at home to help her improve. Luckily, I have been blessed with a family that can watch my children and support Grace’s learning.
Q: How do you help Grace manage her emotions?
While Grace has made leaps and bounds in speech, I have noticed that she is struggling to show her emotions. The first time I noticed this, I was brushing her hair after a bath and she turned around and pulled my hair. At first, I was shocked and upset, but I realized this behavior was meant to show me that I was hurting her. The next time I went to brush her hair, I explained that it was going to hurt, but I went slower and talked with her the whole way through. Since I did that, she hasn’t pulled my hair.
When Grace gets frustrated, she sometimes shakes or smacks her own hands. When this happens, I get on her level and pull her close or grab her hands and speak in soft tones. This seems to help her realize that there’s no need to get upset—that if she takes a few breaths and tries to concentrate, she will feel better and actually get her point across.
There’s nothing worse to a parent than seeing the frustration in their child’s eyes because they can’t communicate what is bothering them, and that is probably our biggest issue as Grace gets older. From screaming at the top of her lungs because she’s angry to smacking her own hands because she’s frustrated, she relies on behavior to express how she feels. My husband and I try to remain as calm as we can (it’s hard sometimes) during her outbursts, understand why she is feeling this way and make her see that those responses are not the correct ones.
Q: What are the next steps for Grace?
Since I’m not an actual teacher or therapist, we looked into something called the Michelle P. Waiver, a program for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in Kentucky that pays for therapies, behavioral supports, day programs and other services to help people with autism live in the community as independently as possible.
Grace will continue to get occupational therapy and speech therapy through her school until we can finally get the Michelle P. Waiver. Last I checked we were number 4,447, and we have been signed up for it since she was about 3. I wish this was something that was faster and available as soon as you need it for everyone with kids on the spectrum.
I am one blessed mother to have a daughter who is not only beautiful on the outside, but absolutely stunning on the inside. I am so proud of my little girl and I cannot wait to see the amazing woman I know she’s going to be.