Following a diagnosis of a child with additional learning needs, parents’ next question is usually “what can we do?” There are several interventions that parents have reported work for their children. Yet, no one form of intervention is enough. Oftentimes, children receive a range of interventions that address every domain of their development. A biopsychosocial approach that emphasises medical, behavioural, psychological and social interventions is often recommended. This approach must be implemented along with the appropriate educational intervention for the child.
Regardless of the professional label for your child’s needs, it is critical to begin early- and in many cases, ‘early’ should be immediately after diagnosis was made! What is equally important is that the early intervention must be the right one(s). This is why the choice of intervention chosen is a critical step in the journey. The best intervention choices are the result of an individualized treatment plan formed by a team of multidisciplinary professionals.
The list below is not exhaustive of all forms of therapies but represent some of the more commonly used ones and that are obtainable at the Little Beginnings Centre:
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)
Behaviour Analysis is the scientific study of behaviour. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the application of the principles of learning and motivation from Behaviour Analysis, to solve socially significant problems using procedures and technologies from this approach. Many decades of research have validated treatments based on ABA. It aims to reduce behaviour problems and promote communication and adaptation skills.
Treatment can also include medical interventions and may consist of both pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches. Doctors may prescribe certain approved medications known to help with your child’s presentations. Other forms of therapy may however include diet and supplements including those for managing specific allergies that your child may have.
Occupational therapy (OT) is a form of therapy that helps people achieve independence in all facets of their lives. Children with disabilities or developmental delays can benefit from occupational therapy. This therapy focuses on improving children’s cognitive (thinking), physical and motor skills as well as addressing psychological, social, and environmental factors that impact your child’s functioning. A huge part of occupational therapy for children on the autism spectrum is sensory integration or sensory-based intervention. Occupational therapists are equipped to help your child with independence in self-care, and in improving your child’s play skills.
Physical therapy or commonly called physiotherapy (PT) is a form of treatment that focuses on improving gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, and strength and endurance. A physical therapist may assess your child for muscle and joint function, mobility, strength and endurance, oral motor skills such as feeding and talking, posture and balance.
Most interventions for children usually involve a play-based approach. However, play therapy is a specific form of therapy, which is developmentally appropriate and primarily geared towards helping children explore life events that may have an effect on current circumstances, in a manner and pace of the child’s choosing, primarily through play but also through language. This approach can help children communicate, explore repressed thoughts and emotions, address unresolved trauma, and experience personal growth.
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech therapy is a form of intervention aimed at improving speech and language skills and oral motor abilities. This encompasses talking, using sign language or a communication aid. Some children may be verbal but still require speech therapy for speech clarity, or to build their language skills by learning new words, learning to speak in sentences, or improving their listening skills. Therapy is usually implemented by speech therapists/ speech-language pathologists.
More and more children with additional needs are in school- either being fully mainstreamed or in a form of dual intervention (therapy centre and mainstream school). Academic intervention often involves most of the subjects participated in by their classmates but necessary modifications and accommodations are implemented. Children access the curriculum sometimes with the support of a learning facilitator in the classroom.
Vocational Skill Acquisition
Children with additional needs may also benefit from vocational skills training. It is important to identify an area of interest or a particular skill the child is good at that may be properly developed given the right training, nurturing and support. As individuals with additional needs approach teenage and adult years, this becomes increasingly important.
About the author
Tosin Balogun is an Occupational therapist and the Head of Programs at Little Beginnings Center. He has over ten years of experience in providing and designing interventions for children with additional learning needs.