Parenting, Autism, and the Subconscious
SO, here's the thing about parenting a kid with Autism... wait. A better way to start:
Here's the thing about parenting: if we want to see a change in our kids, we have to change first. You've heard it, "Be the change you wish to see in the world", and my favorite, "You create your reality", It is ok if you re rolling your eyes. I did too for a very long time, but it isn't a joke! We are models for our children, so if you are seeing things you don't want to see in your children, or not seeing things you think you should be seeing, start with you*.
HOW? That was always my question. And since I never really understood how emotional states were the primary foundation of how I was literally showing up in the world, I always found statements like "be the change you wish to see..." really aggravating.
But, in one setting, I was exactly that: the creator of my environment and my reality... I was the behaviorist, working with families living with Autism. My specialization was "severe and significant behavioral outbursts", and I did this work for 20 years before my own kid's diagnosis. I knew that these kids were all emotion. Every action, connection, and verbalization was directly connected to how they felt and the best way I ever found to connect with any of them was with my own emotional response.
Emotion is the exact opposite of what behavior analysts used to be taught. Today, we are allowed a little more emotion in sessions*, and hopefully parents are being encouraged to lead with the heart, but for the benefit of being able to measure and track progress, we need to control every variable in the room, including our responses to everything.
You aren't a behavior therapist, though. Your title: "parent", "grandparent", "sibling", "cousin", "friend".... You want something a little different.
When my son was diagnosed with Autism, I'm not going to lie, it broke me a little, for a minute...but I knew what to do with a kid with Autism, so in some ways I was kind of relieved. So I did it. I used all of my tools, I trained everyone who needed to be trained (his dad was absolutely my best student!), and we got him through the observable signs of Autism. He "no longer met the criteria for the diagnosis of Autism" within 364 days of his diagnosis.
"...no longer meets criteria for the diagnosis". What does that actually mean? The diagnosis is solely based on observable quantities (both natural and prescribed). There is no blood test or scan that diagnoses Autism. And just because he "no longer met criteria" did not mean that he no longer had challenges. In fact, losing the diagnosis ("dx" for short) meant a whole host of new issues. The safe little bubble that was Special Education was gone and now he was expected to function in this new, loud, fast, crowded world. You think that any of us was prepared for that?
During this time, I was just burned out on Autism. Work and home were too closely tied, so I made the choice to leave Autism, but I couldn't leave being a behaviorist. I searched and scoured to find the best way for me to be able to continue using my skills outside of Autism, and after a few months I found it.
It was weird because this Dr. Burris kept using behavioral terms to talk about emotions and emotional control! And it seemed so contradictory! I was curious - and if you know me, you know I'm not a passive learner, so I decided to train in this style of behavioral work. The more I learned, the more I started to see connections; the more connections I saw, the more easily I could consolidate all of the skills and abilities that I had developed over two decades.
So what does this have to do with parenting and Autism?
When my son was going through his varied transitions, from quirky 2-year-old, to 3-yeard-old with ASD, to 4-year-old unprepared for mainstream, to note a few, I was going through transitions, too. I was learning how to connect to my subconscious, and how to use it to help me BE the best version of me, which translated into being more aware of what needed to be addressed, and also gave me the tools to help my son become the change he wanted to be.
For Joshua, as he grew and developed, he demonstrated an ability to learn from his environment (which is precisely what we hope for with intensive early intervention), but some of the challenges he faced were not school related, and pretty frustrating. He was still wearing pull-ups at night at 5, and he didn't like that! We broke into the tools (secrets revealed: the tool we used was a question!) and sure enough, that very first night, he was totally dry. So he used the tool every night for a year and then said, "I'm not going to ask any questions tonight." Now he is 8 and asks different kinds of questions, because he knows how well they work!
Coping skills were another place where the tools were so helpful! As a planning tool, we created questions that would make a meaningful difference in daily life; questions that were specific, solution-oriented, and made us all smile.
Be the change you wish to see. Create your own reality. Make yourself your best friend. All those roll-my-eyes-isms finally make sense to me. I know how to tap into myself and others - especially my kid - and create meaningful experiences...and that is what I teach others to do, too.
You don't need any particular background to learn how to use these tools. The bottom line is that you are your best resource. You don't have to even believe that yet, I'll show you! Once you learn how to tap into you, your mind shifts into a new way of diving into every day with confidence that you are on the very best path towards the ideal life that you are creating.
Call or email to schedule a consultation to learn more about which behavioral tools are going to best support you and your family!
*Start with you, but also pay attention to any changes in the environment. This time of year, we are getting ready to go back to school, that's a big transition! Contact me to learn more about the environments!
**Emotions are difficult to track scientifically, and therefore can actually skew data/interfere with learning! This is why, as scientists, some behavior therapists can come across as less-playful or cold - the science almost demands it! Forms of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are quite varied! There are some amazing strategies that are scientifically validated and absolutely incorporate emotions as weighted measures! I'll do another blog on these one day!