What to Know Before You Buy Into That Miracle Program

First allow me to start with a disclaimer:

I am an OT.

I think OT is awesome.

However, it would be delusional of me to think that OT is the only therapy out there for kids with special needs.

There are programs, clinics, and various professionals (and not so professionals) out there that claim to be THE thing you’ve been waiting for; the thing you’ve been missing; the thing that is going to work for your child when maybe nothing else has.

I’m sure you have heard of at least some of the programs I am referring to, including Brain Balance, Vision Therapy, Chiropractic adjustments, Biofeedback, Neurofeedback…and so on.

From my interactions with parents, colleagues, and my own experience actually working in one of these facilities, I have some things you should keep in mind before you invest your money and hope into someone making big claims.

1. Be skeptical of any place that uses a “cookie cutter” approach to your child.

This means that every kid goes through the same program, no ifs, ands, or buts. Keep in mind that every person is going to respond in a slightly different way to intervention, especially if you are talking about a child with autism or other developmental delay. You don’t want your child to experience a melt down or bad reaction and have no one know what went wrong.

{Here’s a personal example: In one particular facility, each child moved through different “stations”. Workers would hold a timer and the child would complete a station for a minute or two. It might have been a core strength exercise, a certain swing, or a visual motor activity. There was a child with autism in my group that didn’t respond well to the unpredictable sensory input at one station and he began to melt down. The program director seemed baffled, called his parents, and told them that he wasn’t going to tolerate this child’s behavior. While the parents were on their way to pick him up, I snuck the child into a spandex swing for deep pressure and slow movement input (That was a no-no, because it was against protocol! Eek!) and low and behold, he calmed down. Without my background in OT, this child would have been “expelled” for bad behavior, when he really just needed an adjustment to the input they were providing him.}

2. Be skeptical of a program where no one has “credentials.” I am not just talking about the program director; I would want to see the people administering the interventions to have some sort of credentials and training as well.

3. Be skeptical of “deals” or coupons to get you into a facility. The best businesses grow largely by word of mouth. If a parent has a good experience, you better believe they are telling their friends to try it too. If a business needs a coupon to discount their intake, then what does that say about their results?

4. Be skeptical of any program that will “cure” your child in a certain number of visits. Whatever number they give you is arbitrary. Development occurs at different speeds for everyone. Some kids pick things up quickly, while others take time. If someone tells you they only need 112 visits to get your child to their success story, they are either amazing geniuses or pulling your leg. Think about this: if your child gains skills more quickly, will they let you know they are finished with the program? Or will they make you sign up for another set of visits?

5. Be semi-skeptical of places that don’t take insurance. I say semi-skeptical because you need to know why they don’t bill insurance. Is it because they have no credentials and they can’t actually claim that anything they are doing is “therapy”? Is it because they want to charge you an arm and a leg? Is it because they want to do their own thing and not be bound by insurance or have some other governing body looking over their shoulder? It’s worth finding out.

6. My biggest advice? Ask around. What did other parents think? What are their actual success stories? Was it too good to be true?

I realize it sounds like I stand firmly against all of these programs,  but I don’t really. I just want families to have clear expectations. You have to realize that there is a lot of money to be made in businesses like these, and sadly, many places make outrageous claims to get you in their doors. I mean, what parent wouldn’t want their child to gain all the skills they need?

Also, remember that I mostly work with children with fairly severe disabilities. I haven’t reviewed these programs for kids with mild difficulties that don’t typically require therapy. For all I know those may be the kids that benefit the most.

I will say this; one of the good things about these programs is that children are often exposed to a lot of repetition. This might come from the fact that they are attending these programs several times a week, or that parents have paid so much money and invested so much time into this expense that they are willing to do the exercises every day, even several times a day, at home.

Repetition is the key to any successful skill acquisition. If a child is completing an exercise every day, you are going to see changes. This is what I tell parents in OT all the time: If you do the homework, you won’t need therapy as long.

I try to stay neutral when a parent asks me about these programs at my clinic. The best thing I can do for them is to pass along what other parents have told me about their experiences. I have had parents come in to therapy and say, “forget this, my son is doing this revolutionary program and we won’t even need therapy any more!” And honestly, if that was true and they found something that would allow their child to not require therapy anymore, I would be ridiculously happy for them. Unfortunately, most times when I follow up, they never found the results that they were promised.

So no, I’m not saying that you should avoid any new treatment out there. If it was my child, I would want to try anything and everything that might help them; you never know what might work. But what I am saying is that you should be skeptical. Don’t fork over your money without some sort of reasoning to back it up. And think of it this way, if there really was some miracle cure-all out there, we would probably know about it by now. Nobody would be trying to keep that a secret. And as a therapist, if that option was available, I’d be sending all my families there.

But hey, I’m always open to hearing new opinions. If you’ve attended a program that you thought was amazing, let me know. I always love to pass along new ideas to parents.


About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
This entry was posted in Insider Information, Lessons Learned and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What to Know Before You Buy Into That Miracle Program

  1. I see so many parents try things out of despiration. It breaks my heart. Love the post


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