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  • Carla Hakim O'Brien

How to know if therapy is working and which therapies are best


I once co led a workshop at an equine facility for a day long camp. The attending population was diverse, and included kids diagnosed with Autism, Anxiety, ADHD, and more. We had many activities planned, grooming, a hike, an "inside the classroom reflective coloring/teaching activity" and to end the day, the kids were going to lead the horses through an obstacle course in the arena, to music.


As we went through the day, this one young guy with Autism, was not having a lot of interest in staying on task with the group. It was a hot day, and the barn had many fans, overhead fans, fans in each stall, and fans placed around to keep everyone cool. He was obsessed with fans, so every time we walked by one, he would stop and be mesmerized.


When we groomed the horses, he stared at the fan in the stall. When we went did the classroom activity, he was uninterested. I spent a lot of the day, encouraging him to just stay with us! Until the last activity...


We set up a simple obstacle course for the kids to lead the horses through to music. They needed to go over poles, around cones, change pace from slow walk to fast walk, make turns, walk the horse backwards a few steps, and pause at certain points. It required working memory, auditory processing, savvy to be connected enough with the horse to lead it, and so many other learning modalities. There were overhead fans in the arena, so I wasn't sure how it would go.


This little guy waited his turn, and I would walk with him to support him. He grabbed the lead rope, and the music came on. And when that music came on, suddenly he was totally engaged! He walked to the beat, heard the vocal cues, and led that pony through the obstacle course perfectly, with a great big smile on his face!


You see he taught me that he was someone who would benefit greatly from music therapy. Music caught his attention, permeated his body, and brought him out of the obsessive visual cue and mind spin, and into completely being present in the moment.


Just because it says "therapy" doesn't mean it's a great fit for everyone! So here are what I consider to be signs of a good fit.


Your kid looks forward to going.

They develop a relationship with being at the environment of therapy and either the therapist themself, or the experiential thing, for example, the art, a horse,etc.

Your child is "lighter" more aware and attentive, present after therapy and sees life in a better way.

Progress can take time, but not necessarily years. If they are coming out stressed and sad time after time after time, it's not a good fit or a good therapis.

So much of what occurs towards someone feeling better and doing better is inherent, it happens naturally in the "space" of therapy. It can be unspoken, un expressed, but they start to feel better after therapy and in life itself.

If that is not happening, look for other options or take a break from therapy and see if you can find some options in life where they thrive.


NOTE: I am not "anti therapy" but I do feel it's overdone and over trusted as the answer to everything. I am a big fan of therapies that also incorporate their bodies, that offer experiences, not just talk. Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Equine Therapy, Play Therapy, Therapeutic Journaling, etc, all are expressive and are somatic, in that they incorporate the body, and help release and clear it to a better homeostasis.


We as parents can take the reins and be smarter in our choices to help our kids. Follow my blogs as I will be posting more about a balanced life and helping our kids thrive as who they are.