Stephanie's Story

A woman and her dog

November 14, 2014 is a date that changed the direction of my life forever. This was the date I received the autism diagnosis for my 2-year-old daughter. Due to mother’s intuition, I knew for some time this day would come despite others (like her primary care physician, speech therapist, etc.) telling me I was “overanalyzing” her due to my profession as a mental health counselor. As I dove in head first, I spent the entire day researching what to do and as equally important, what NOT to do. As a mother I wanted to do everything humanly possible for my daughter to provide her with the best chance for success. Doing the research, I quickly became overwhelmed as I found out there are a myriad of options available in many different areas: Mental Health such as play therapy, parent-child interactional therapy, animal–assisted therapy (canine and equine), and social skills training; Behavioral such as applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and Floortime; Medical such as gluten and casein free diets, pharmaceutical medications, and vitamins; Alternative and sometimes controversial such as hypobaric chamber and chelation; and Applied such as speech, occupational, and physical therapy.

The unique treatments I will discuss in more detail are play therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and combination therapy. I believe these treatments are very effective as I’ve seen the power of them from the standpoint of being a professional who has provided them as well as a mother who’s daughter has received them. Play therapy utilizes a child’s natural language (play) through their words (toys). It helps children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits. It is natural and enjoyable! Animal-assisted therapy uses a dog or horse as a co-therapist. Children are naturally drawn to animals and are typically more relaxed and comfortable around them. Lastly, a combination therapy is using play therapy with animal-assisted therapy or applied behavioral analysis with play therapy to incorporate the best of two approaches into one. These approaches can also be used with other special needs and/or behavioral and emotional problems.

Choosing a treatment path may feel overwhelming. Treatment for each child is as unique as the disorder itself. One of the logos for autism is a puzzle piece, due to the complexity of the disorder. I like to use this same analogy for the treatment of autism. I believe to adequately treat autism, many of the treatments above are necessary to complete the full picture. It is so difficult to find the time to travel to all the providers necessary as well as for those providers to collaborate. This was one of the most frustrating things for me as a mother as I wanted to provide my daughter with as much treatment as possible but found it difficult to manage it all.

Due to this issue, I decided to open up a holistic treatment center, Therapeutic Butterfly Effects (, offering many of the approaches above- play therapy, animal-assisted therapy (canine and equine), applied behavioral analysis, speech, occupational, and physical therapy- under one roof so that families are able to get effective treatment with multiple approaches with collaborating providers. As a mental health counselor, I can combine treatment methods to provide play therapy in combination with applied behavioral analysis as well as play therapy in combination with animal assisted therapy. Additional providers in my office provide speech, occupational, and physical therapy in collaboration with the other providers. My goal was to provide a place where families can come to get most everything they need while saving time and money and reducing confusion and frustration.