When Therapy Sessions Don’t Go Well – 3 Tips to Save You!
Sometimes therapy sessions don’t go well. It’s a fact of life. The good news is that you can learn from what went wrong. So every session that left you feeling down can lead to many more happy sessions! And the more experienced you become with each handicapping condition, the more trick you will have in your therapy bag to save a session.
But it’s not just the disability. Although we need to know the facts and current research, each child is unique. We can learn as much from working with each child, especially those with autism, as we are able to teach them. And every time we figure out a visual way to teach and connect with our students with autism, we add to our skillset.
We have these ‘AHA’ moments when we realize what we need to do to reach that child. Then we bring those skills forward with us to all of the rest of the children we meet!
Tips For When It’s Not Going Well in Therapy
1. Consider it a learning experience.
When therapy sessions go well, we end it feeling a connection with our students. We’ve made an impact during our time together. Love those days!
But we can learn a lot from sessions that did not go well. Go back to the drawing board to examine where it broke down. Then figure out what needs to be done differently next time.
Be sure to work out the emotions involved so that you don’t go back into the next session with the same baggage. Every therapy session needs a fresh start, for you and for your students.
2. Ask yourself these questions.
Maybe it was just a bad day, but try thinking about all of these things:
How much of the session had the student been attempting something new?
Did I switch between easier and harder tasks?
Did I provide enough breaks?
What are my student’s strengths?
Did I utilize and build on strengths during the session?
Examine the language demands: Did I jump up too fast? Was there an intermediate step that could be taken to reduce the demand?
Did I react to my student’s warning signs or did I try to push through?
Did I switch to a learned, enjoyable activity after a prompted correct response when I realized it wasn’t going well so that the session could end positively?
Is there a way to show the student visually what is expected?
What supports can be added to the activity/task to make it easier?
Are there pre-requisite skills that are missing and need to be taught first?
Is this activity/skill really needed at this time?
3. Reduce demands in the next session.
After a difficult therapy session, do you go home feeling upset? Then do you feel apprehensive before the next session with that child? I know that I did.
Think about how much more so the child must be feeling!
It is important to be able to keep your bond with the student intact so that learning can occur! Plan on entering the next session with the first activity being the most enjoyable one the student has. If that goes well, repeat the last activity that went well in a prior session. This will maintain skills. Then return to another easy and fun activity to end the session positively.
Why follow this advice?
It is beneficial to both of you to have a positive experience in the next session. It will reduce the chance of building more communicative failure and difficult behaviors. Then both of you will enter the next therapy session with a more positive attitude.
It also gives you more time to think about the questions above. You can come up with an alternative plan for how to teach the skill. Or maybe to figure out a prerequisite skill that needs to be taught.
No one likes those days when things don’t go well. Not us, and not our students, either. I would go home wondering if this is was really what I wanted to be doing and why in the world did all those years of schooling not prepare me for this. If you’d like to feel more prepared for working with students who have autism, download my free guide!
These tips (and quilting time, a glass of wine, or a good book that night!) helped me, so I hope you will find it useful as well!