Live :: Optimistically :: Through :: Universal :: Struggles
To start off Autism Awareness month, let’s celebrate by LIGHTING IT UP BLUE! Wear Blue to support and show awareness for Autism today!
By definition, Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning there is wide range of variation in strengths and challenges for individual with Autism. Autism is characterized by communication delays, difficulties with obtaining and maintaining relationships and sensory sensitivities. There is no direct cause for Autism and no two cases look alike. The symbol for autism is a puzzle piece. It clearly explains that each case is unique and interventions should be tailored to fit each individual person.
While I am a huge advocate for bringing awareness to many issues, if you know me, you know that I hold a special place in my heart for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of Autism clientele in multiple roles for the last 12 years. My journey and love the Autism population started in 2005 when I started work as a skills trainer. I was granted the opportunity to work with children under three, providing services to their families in their homes and communities. This was a unique experience to be allowed to enter these families homes and integrate in their family life. I was able to see the struggles as well as celebrations just as their family saw it. This helped me understand the need for and success in individualized treatment.
My second role with Autism was as a skills trainer for school age children in a school setting. This was completely different for myself as well as the clients. In a school setting, the treatment plan had to be incorporated and adjusted to a general education classroom, it was more difficult to tailor the individual child's needs in such a setting. In this role, I valued the importance of consistency, structure and routine. Despite being in a less controlled environment, my clients thrived when team members were consistent, implemented structure and stuck to daily routines.
A few years later, my position changed. I had graduated with my Master's degree in Clinical Psychology, not only was I able to help implement individualized treatment plans, I was the one creating them! With the increase in responsibility, I felt extreme pressure to create behavioral plans for skill trainers, parents and teachers to implement. I assessed the data collected and adjusted my client's plans to assist them to further progress with their goals. During this time, I also had the opportunity to work with adults who had Autism who did not receive services as children. I saw the profound effect on how early intervention services significantly improved prognosis and outcomes.
While all these experiences have enhanced my clinical skills and have provided me with a comprehensive perspective on Autism, the most pivotal experience I have had was a personal one. My nephew, Dylan was diagnosed with Asperger’s (previously categorized as high functioning ASD), when he was 7 years old. His diagnosis changed my family’s life but even more so my life. Treatments, interventions and resources became even more important to me. But even more so then my surge for knowledge, my heart opened and grew of the ASD population. I completely understood what it was like to be on the other side. To have no control over a loved one’s diagnosis, to wonder or even regret how you dealt with past behaviors because you were looking at it through a different lense. Learning about my nephew’s diagnosis, increased my motivation to work with clients on the Autism Spectrum. I went to a national Autism training in Florida, I ordered tons of books on Autism (diets, treatments, children’s books), I got trained in additional interventions and started to add an additional focus on education for families as well as providing them with resources. My family came together and participated in Autism Walks, Surfer's Healing and my sister chose to spread awareness through a blog. (https://aspiewarriormom.wordpress.com/)
I found that I particularly connected to families with high functioning Autism. It was easy to relate to them, easy to empathize with them. It was easy to reassure them that things can get better, that their family member can be successful. It was easy to encourage them to stay positive, educate themselves and work with their loved one’s tendencies.
Notice, I said TENDENCIES, not symptoms. Technically, they are classified in the DSM 5 as symptoms; however, for all purposes in my practice and in my life, I describe them as tendencies. I see symptoms as behaviors that can be resolved (like a cough or insomnia). Autistic symptoms do not get cured, they do not go away, instead they can be better understood, they can be reframed as strengths. This is how I see my nephew and my clients. Special and unique individuals with tendencies that can be viewed as challenges or strengths. I choose to see them as strengths.
The world works in mysterious ways, sometimes in ways we can’t understand. Did Dylan’s diagnosis help me to educate and prepare myself to work with others like him? Or did my training and clinical experiences make me well suited to be the best aunty I can be to him? Either way, I am the lucky one. I am lucky to have been on this journey with him and my family, I am lucky to see the awesomeness in his tendencies and understand how they can be a strengths rather then symptoms. I am the lucky one to help other families go through their individual journeys. And I am the lucky one to promote and help build awareness for Autism. April 2nd is one way that I show my love for those who are diagnosed with Autism. I ask my friends and family to support Autism by wearing blue and spreading awareness. When you are touched by someone who has Autism you know personally how they light up your life! Why not show support by lighting your day up with blue! Today I am dedicating my day to my nephew. Dylan thank you for lighting my life up with hope and inspiring me to fight for those who are uniquely beautiful! LIGHT IT UP BLUE for someone that lights up your life!
**Continue to check the blog this month for additional resources and entries on Autism.