This piece originally appeared in:

Colorado Parent website, December 2021

When seeking help for children with disabilities or special needs, parents are often faced with an overwhelming amount of choices. You might have a general idea of what kinds of therapy are needed, but how do you find the best provider?

One size does not fit all when it comes to therapy and other kinds of support. Here are several experts’ suggestions of what to consider.

Child and Provider Rapport
No matter what therapy or service a child receives, experts agree that a good relationship between the therapist and the child is important for success.

“I don’t think kids can really grow and excel if they are not comfortable with their therapist,” says Erin Schneider, Founder of Mountain Summit Consulting, a service that works with families to identify providers and services for families with disabilities. “When I work to connect clients with therapists, I encourage parents to communicate about who their child is and what he or she likes or doesn’t like so I can make sure the therapists align with them.”

“Establishing open communication and a trusting relationship is key to ensure that you’re all on the same page with what you’re trying to accomplish,” says Jodi Litfin, Ph.D., Child and Adolescent Psychologist and Deputy Program Officer at Rocky Mountain Human Services, a nonprofit that supports Colorado residents through case management and direct service programs.

“Therapy is relationship-based, and technical knowledge alone doesn’t result in progress. Without shared goals and honest, open communication, real progress can’t occur,” Litfin says. “Often the first few sessions are key in developing that trusting relationship. Don’t give up too quickly; young children can often take some time to warm up to a new therapist. However, if your child isn’t making progress or it just doesn’t feel like a good fit after a few sessions, it’s fine to ask for a new therapist or look for a new provider.”

Parental Trust
Just as important as the relationship between therapist and child is the relationship between therapist and parents. In an ideal situation, everyone should be working together with consistent strategies toward agreed-upon goals.

“In my experience, obtaining buy-in from parents is a top priority,” says Kayla Strandell, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with InBloom Autism Services, an ABA therapy provider. “Our research shows that the more a parent is involved in the planning and implementation of treatment, the better the long-term outcomes for their child. If a therapist and parents or caregivers are not in agreement on treatment and not implementing goals consistently across the board, it is likely that overall success may be slowed down.”

Schneider agrees. “Therapists and parents should have an understanding and alignment of philosophies where it comes to safety, respecting boundaries, and understanding who your child is as an individual,” she explains. “That said, sometimes it is the therapist’s job to push parents and kids out of their comfort zones a little bit. So trust is vital.”

Background and Approach
Given the importance of the work therapists do, and the reliance on trust and rapport, it is extremely important for parents to take the time to vet prospective providers.

“I understand how hard it is finding a provider, especially when you are dealing with the limitations of insurance,” Schneider says. “Sometimes you might just be thinking about insurance, distance, and schedule, but you need to look beyond those things. Ask questions and interview potential providers to ensure they are a good fit: What would a typical therapy session for your child look like? What types of things will the therapist do? This is someone you will likely work with for months, if not years. Take a little extra time and find the ones that will be best in the long run.”

When it comes to your child, all questions are good questions. Litfin suggests asking potential providers:

  • If they have a license and what their license qualifies them to do.
  • What treatments and treatment approaches they provide.
  • What the research evidence is for the effectiveness of their treatments.
  • How they will work with you to establish goals and how will they track progress toward those goals.
  • What is the typical length of treatment and how you will know when the treatment should conclude.”

Ultimately, parents should ask whatever they need to ask to feel comfortable, and remember that nothing is written in stone. “You want good communication so parents can learn from therapists and utilize the same techniques,” says Schneider. “And never be afraid to speak up, even if you get started with someone and later don’t feel like it’s a good fit. It’s so important to advocate for your child.”

Help is available for parents looking for the right providers, therapists, and services for their child.

Mountain Summit Coaching: Erin Schneider works with families to understand their needs, and vet and identify a short list of possible providers.

Rocky Mountain Human Services:  RMHS supports more than 15,000 Colorado residents through case management and direct service programs.

Imagine! This nonprofit provides support services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

InBloom Autism Services: A provider of applied behavior analysis (ABA).