The Day My Six-Year-Old Autistic Son Fired His Therapist

Sometimes kids are more sensitive than adults.

When I sat him down to explain what was about to happen a week before the change, he only had one statement regarding this therapist. “I will miss her.” Then two questions: “Will she be sad?" and “Can I play Super Mario Bros on the Wii now?”

My six-year-old son fired his therapist.

“Michael just told Carla she’s not coming back next week,” my iPhone displayed. I’d just arrived to an appointment with my own counselor, ready to talk about how I’d just survived one of the most difficult weeks in the entire history of my being, and was overtaken with thoughts of my autistic child breaking this news to someone 30 years his senior.

I became enraged. Something clearly had gone wrong — there was an obvious breakdown in communication. She was not properly notified by her agency, despite my written notice. It was not my place to tell her. I had not hired her. As the parent of the child receiving services, I was in an awkward position caught between the insurance company, the agency, the therapist, and my kid, but I had done everything I was supposed to do.

On one hand, I was proud of him for being smart, caring, and sensitive in the way he broke the news to his behavior specialist of six months. “I’m sorry my mommy had to replace you and you won’t have a job. You can visit me if you want.” Michael also offered a hug. The work I’d been doing with him was paying off, and at his core he was the most loving little boy — anyone who met him knew that. He hadn’t delivered the news the way I’d originally imagined (a pint-sized, maniac channeling Donald Trump with a “You’re fired!”), but with Michael it’s sometimes hard to know. He can go from being my brightest light to someone I don’t recognize bringing into this world.

After a very difficult move across country (change in routine alone can upset an autistic child), I had to find a new Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) provider. My family is no stranger to ABA Therapy. His new interventionist was very different in her approach from his former therapists, but the agency assured me that she was capable of working with my son. I expressed concerns over his new specialist’s ability to work effectively with my child early on, and was asked to give her some time.

ABA is an expensive, intensive, and at times controversial behavioral intervention therapy that’s been prescribed for our autistic son. Even with insurance, co-payments are costly, and out-of-pocket expenses are consistently needed for successful treatment, which makes a highly trained and qualified professional an absolute essential part of the team. Raising a child on the spectrum definitely requires a team. I vacillated for months and noted improvements in the sessions, but the overall assessment was the same. I had to face facts that this person wasn’t the best fit for my child, and yet I didn’t want to fire her for fear of upsetting my son. Not because he couldn’t handle another change as an autistic kid, but maybe that I couldn’t as the mom of a child with autism.

“So when’s my new teacher coming?” he asked. It had been two months since the day he fired his therapist. That’s the average time for services to start if a behavior interventionist is available — it takes much longer if one is not. When I sat him down to explain what was about to happen a week before the change, he only had one statement regarding this therapist. “I will miss her.” Then two questions: “Will she be sad?" and “Can I play Super Mario Bros on the Wii now?”

All those months I agonized over the decision to remove what was not working, and my autistic son was the one to finally do what I couldn’t: make the necessary change.

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