Two great questions from parents this time. For kids on the autism spectrum, how much therapy is too much? And is it true that homeschooled kids are missing out on social skill development?
Here are the questions and responses in-full. Please comment with your own thoughts and reactions; the discussions that grow from these topics are always helpful.
Q: How much therapy is too much? At what point does the benefit of the intervention become offset by the detrimental impact on childhood? We are thinking of cuts to our child’s programming to give them more downtime, but the people I connect with in our community think I’m nuts for wanting to cut back. But without downtime, anxiety rises. And without time to just go be a kid, I feel like they are missing out on way more than they are gaining by having so much work time. Is this something you’ve ever seen research about? In our own family, everything we do is play based and we try to keep learning very natural, but I worry it’s too much “scheduled” time.
A: I would say two things.
People can feel tempted to rush their kids through developmental and social milestones. They worry that less therapy means less progress, so they inundate the child with goals and targets and expectations. In my not-expert opinion: kids on the spectrum can just hit milestones at different times…and that can be okay. If they’re allowed to work at their own pace, in a reasonable way, it’s a more positive, less stressful experience. All that rushing can just make them feel anxious and mentally exhausted.
And I have to say, kids are sharp. When they feel pressured to hit those milestones, they get the subtext…they know that the adults want them to “catch up” with their peers, even if that is not explicitly stated. If you feel like you’re not “okay”, and that your parents are idealizing other kids…that can be an incredibly painful realization. That can take a heavy toll on their self esteem. So, for people who push for the constant, never-ending pursuit of therapeutic goals, I would ask that they consider what message this is sending to the child.
The second thing I would say: a good therapist should be able to identify when a child is feeling overwhelmed by the therapy and adjust the pace accordingly. The last thing a good therapist would want is to pressure a child to the point of misery. I would definitely share your concerns with the therapists involved. Ideally, you can work with them on pinpointing how much therapy is too much, and then make a game plan based on a mutual understanding.
However, if you feel like they are not listening to your concerns and are ignoring your child’s reactions and stress levels, that could potentially mean they are too focused on rushing through goals, which is not a very healthy mindset. Bottom line: if your parent instinct is telling you that your child is beginning to feel overwhelmed, then I would trust that more than what members of your community are telling you.
(At the request of this reader, I also posted their question on the Invisible Strings Facebook page. Lots of parents shared their own experiences and insights about therapy overload, click here to see those responses.)
Q: We homeschool, but I was wondering if you think your experiences in public schools helped prepare you for being out in the world, for life after school? I worry keeping my kids away from public school stressors will actually make adult life harder for them.
A: It’s an interesting question because I do hear this idea pop up a lot…the idea that kids who are home schooled will miss out on some crucial aspect of social development.
To be clear, I am not qualified to write about the general topic of home versus public schooling. I’m just not educated about the ins and outs of such a complicated topic. But I did spend my entire academic career in public schools. The impact they had on me? That I am qualified to write about.
Public school did not help me socialize. Period. Navigating cliques and personalities and day-to-day interactions did not provide me with a skill set that better prepared me for life as an adult. I would say it had the opposite effect: for me, public school was a “sink or swim” challenge that I responded to by sinking. I came out of it, not with social tools, but with a huge amount of anxiety and depression.
I’m not saying “This is what public schools do to everyone”. I’m just saying, this is what it did to me. I can’t think of any true benefits that I gained from public schooling. Maybe a few? I mean, I’m a documented graduate; in a hypothetical where I’m not unemployed, that probably means something. I can almost remember who invented the cotton gin (I don’t know. Some guy. He had a name. Elvis? It was probably Elvis. It was definitely an ‘e’ name). That’s all I got.
Again, I’m not anti public school. I know there are many out there with terrific programs and supports. I don’t even think the public/home division is the core thing here. In addition to education, here’s what kids need to succeed as adults: a sense of self worth. If a child can leave public school as a motivated, confident self-advocate, I think they can do extremely well in life. If a child can leave homeschooling as a motivated, confident self-advocate, I think they can do just as well.
The point is that I don’t buy the argument that homeschooling somehow leaves a person unprepared for the social world. I attended public school…and I have serious challenges with social pragmatics; you’d think I would have the most to gain from the experience! But in fact, I can categorically affirm that I did not benefit socially by being a participant in that setting.
Students need confidence and the ability to self-advocate, not some imaginary set of social skills that public schools too often are credited with providing.