Saying “No” and Walking Away

This can be a tough one for me, and I think for many who consider themselves to be Healers and/or Helpers.

grayscale photography of two children holding hands together
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

*Thought I’d add a little Halloween fun to this one*

As we move into the holiday season, and as Christmas stuff and fluff starts to pop up everywhere (already), I think it’s important that this little reminder is revisited.

Do not try to be everything for everyone this season.

Do not push yourself into a breakdown trying to appease others, no matter who they are.

Do not feel guilty for saying “no” if it is to take care of yourself. Most of us know our internal signs of being spread too thin, so when you start to see them, that’s your cue to cut some of the chaos back.

Do feel free to walk away if someone is not hearing your request for peace. I’ve had to do this a lot in the last few years, and I’m doing it now. If you respectfully state why you can’t invest time, money, or energy into something, and they ignore that request, then your feelings in the matter are not important enough to them. Seek out those who respect your desire for balance.

Do give yourself the all-important “me time.” Even if it’s a few blocks worth of a walk, 2 minutes in the car, or a 5 minute cup of coffee in silence, carve it out. Those little moments add up.

Do what you can and/or must to show yourself some love. All of the other statements above roll right back into this: love yourself.

My Walking Buddy

Today, I was honored to be able to walk with over 30,000 others in my Bay Area city. It was refreshing to see so many people of different backgrounds, colors, and creeds come together to defend women and human rights. One of the best parts, though, was one of the individuals I got to walk with.

One of my friends moonlights as a respite worker for a former client of mine (I was the Program Supervisor for his case). He is 5 years old and autistic. His parents could not attend the Women’s March, but they agreed for my friend to take him with her. I hadn’t seen him in about 2 years, so I didn’t expect him to be too friendly with me. Still, I decided to stick close with her, her father, baby sister, and the boy in case they needed help during the march.

The boy handled the march beautifully. He made sure he was holding either mine or my friend’s hand as we walked. My friend explained that he starts blowing when he is getting overwhelmed (his variation of taking deep breaths). At one point, this happened while she was busy with her sister and could not hold him. I held my hands out to him, waiting to see if he was willing. After a second, he lifted his arms, and I picked him up. As long as he knew my friend was nearby, the boy snuggled into me and smiled.

We had lunch awhile later, and I sat with him while the others picked up the food. The two of us pointed at and talked about the different signs displayed on the wall (the restaurant has a 60’s theme), and I broke down “man” versus “woman” to him when he pointed to a picture of a woman and asked if she was a man. Looking back on it now, I believe he had in fact been processing the march in his own unique way, and was sharing his observations (like the fact that there were a LOT of women).

When he got his hot dog, he kept pushing it away. I noticed him gingerly touching the bun, and I asked, “Oh, bread off?” He responded, “Bread off, please.” I removed the bun, my friend put his hot dog on a fork, and he happily ate it.

As I walked back home about 20 minutes later after a goodbye hug and cheek kiss from the boy, I recalled how others responded to him. No one at the march gave him a dirty look if he accidentally stepped on their shoes. No one looked at him strange when he jumped up and down in excitement. In fact, people smiled at him…and they weren’t the “oh, poor you,” types of smiles. They were the “gotta love kids” smiles. I think that he felt that, because for the vast majority of the march, he was smiling and content (the only exception was when he got hungry).

I didn’t really have an endpoint to this, I just wanted to share a story that touches on this kiddo’s first time at a march, how calm he was, and how he charmed everyone around him. 🙂

As 2016 Closes Out…

It has been a busy few weeks, so I apologize for the lack of posts!

I did want to come on and say a HUGE thank you to all of you who read a post or two, liked something, commented, and/or followed me. It has been quite a year, and I’m thankful that you all chose to spend a bit of your time on little ol’ me. I hope to continue to grow this site and its mission of education in 2017, and I look forward to seeing you along the way! I have read some amazing posts and messages from you all, so I hope you continue to speak your truths as well. It is greatly needed and appreciated!

I’m spending the last few days of the year relaxing on vacation in LA, reflecting and planning. Be good to yourselves and take time to recover from the whirlwind that is often the holiday season. Below are a few more articles that I came across that (to me at least) look to end 2016 on a high note in the autism world.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and I wish all of you a joyful and hope-filled New Year. See you in 2017!!

Companies Hiring Workers With Autism

The Sensory Cart

Kaylee sings Hallelujah

New Layout!

So I played around and picked a new layout for the site. If you’re wondering where the pages are, just click the red button in the top right hand corner (it’s in the center if you’re on your phone), and voila! A new page detailing the classes/workshops has also been added.

I am still uncovering the features of this layout, so if you have any questions about it (or can’t find something), please drop me a line and let me know!

My Thoughts on ABA

I just realized that I have never given my personal viewpoint on the current poster child of autism therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis. I think this is mostly because I know that I have strong feelings about the subject, and because I was usually surrounded by proponents of ABA and didn’t want to rock the boat. Now removed from it for about a year, I can talk about it more freely and without the anxiety the environment gave me. Please understand that this is my personal opinion, grown from my personal experiences in the ABA field.

I worked at an ABA-centered organization for a few years, so my thoughts do not come from a lack of exposure. The organization actually started out with a different model (and one of my preferred models), the Early Start Denver Model. Then, as Kaiser became more involved due to funding, the organization started to shift gears quickly. I gave it a chance, I really did. I listened to its proponents (some of which are/were friends of mine), got trained in several aspects of ABA, and created treatment plans based on it.

And I eventually hated every second of it.

Okay, hate is a strong word. Let’s see…each day that I worked there took a tiny piece of my soul away. Yikes, that sounded worse. It was true for me, though. Let me break down the reasons why I tried and eventually decided ABA was not for me or most of my clients:

  1. The obsession with fixing what isn’t broken. This is the basis of nearly every issue I have with ABA in general. I have never heard so many references to fixing someone as I have in that field. It is problem-focused almost to an extreme in some cases, and much of my training was solution-focused. That led to an instant clashing of values. I don’t believe autistic people are broken, they just have a different experience with the world.
  2. The therapist/interventionist/analyst is the expert. Um…no. A former boss of mine (who was deep in the rabbit hole of ABA) actually said of our clients’ families, “They’ll listen to us…we’re the experts.” Before I could stop myself, I blurted, “No, we’re not. The client is actually the first expert of themselves, then the parents are a very close second…we’re around third.” That boss and I butted heads from then on. Yes, I’ve studied a lot about autism, and I’ve had many autistic clients. Guess what, though? “If you’ve met one autistic person…you’ve met one autistic person.” In other words, we aren’t experts at all. Guides, maybe. Advisors, perhaps. Experts on autism? Not even close.
  3. Disregard/dismissal of any other approach. I may not be a fan of ABA, but I still respect it as a discipline and a psychological approach (even though quite a few of its supporters don’t want it associated with psychology because I guess psychology isn’t considered a true science…as I sit here with my two science degrees in psychology and counseling). Sadly, the other approaches, some of which I have seen work very well with clients, were met with almost mocking ridicule during my ABA experience. The often-repeated reason was that ABA is “evidence-based” and basically everyone else isn’t. This is a sad catch-22 to me: no funding is given to other approaches to give them an evidence base, and more is going to ABA because it is evidence-based. Good luck getting off that carousel right now. Also, the testimonies I see arising from the adult autistic community suggest that the psychological harm being done by some of the execution of ABA is real, and those voices are largely being ignored by the ABA community (at least to me).
  4. It simply does not fit me or my beliefs with regards to autism. Again, this is all my opinion, based on my experiences with the ABA approach. I don’t agree with the approach in general, and that’s fine. We can agree to disagree. What bothers me is the absolute takeover of ABA (along with “cure seeking”) in the autism world. Actually, it scares me. I have never seen such a monopoly occur in a field (except maybe Apple and the iPod), and when monopolies occur, innovation can be stifled. I have seen colleagues with amazing ideas get shot down repeatedly in ABA-centered organizations, their insights rendered mute. Then these same organizations wonder why they can’t keep solid employees.

Look at it this way: say you need to see a therapist. You got to your HMO doctor to ask for a referral, and they’re happy to give you a list. You notice that everyone on the list is a psychoanalyst. You say, “Um, this is great and all, but I really wanted a cognitive-behavioral therapist.” The doctor replies, “Nope, this is all we have.” You go to your insurance company, and get the same response. You have to choose a psychoanalyst because that is all that is offered. Your chances of getting anything out of those sessions just dropped significantly before you even walked through the door because you didn’t get to choose for yourself. Welcome to the current state of the autism treatment world.

This is what led to my difficult decision to work on the fringe of the field, so to speak. My work is now more developmental in nature, and with a much younger client base. My methods of building trust and a relationship first and foremost, of making the sessions fun and engaging, and involving the family whenever I can have not changed. I am much more happy here. Again, I am not to the point of chanting “down with ABA” (at least not yet); I think all of the different approaches can work in harmony.  However, there needs to be some additional educating to some of ABA’s followers on working with the autistic population, and other approaches need the opportunity to shine again without being shunned by the majority. Yes, ABA is now the majority approach. The ABA field can no longer use the “we’re the underdog” excuse.

No, you’re not. You’re the monopoly now.

Seeking Help

First, I’m fine. The emerging online conversation amongst black men (and men in general) about being able to admit when they need help inspired this post (See #yougoodman on Twitter).

I’m one of those stubborn people who really hates asking for help. I like figuring things out on my own, solving problems, and above all, maintaining my inner dialogue that I have *most* of my life figured out. Asking for help tends to dim that dialogue.

The truth of the matter is, we all need help at some point.

We are taught to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, of defeat. You couldn’t handle it on your own, so clearly something’s wrong with you. It is one of the main reasons why depression and anxiety run rampant in American culture. Society is very demanding on the human psyche, but no one wants to publicly admit that.

Maybe it’s not depression. Maybe you’re just going through a hard time. That stubbornness will tell you that you can’t ask for help because it will imply that (again) something’s wrong with you, or that you clearly made some bad choices and had this coming to you. By seeking help, however, you are admitting that you want to do better. You want to be better, and you are willing to do what it takes to achieve that.

Yes, your ego may get bruised a bit at first, but by learning to actively seek help you are becoming a more complete you. Maybe you need help with a project from someone more experienced. You can now add that person’s knowledge to your own. If you had a financial hiccup, I am willing to bet that you will more than likely examine ways to not make those same choices. If you feel overwhelmed, seeking professional help will give you tools to address that stress going forward. You have everything to gain.

Those of us in the helping fields made this our life paths for a reason. There are people who live to literally see you do well. Don’t be afraid to seek us out, and don’t be afraid to seek out those right in front of you for help, either.

In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did.

About Happiness…

you-keep-using-that-word

I’m starting to think that being happy in America is either an insult to miserable people, or a word that people use when they think they’re happy when they aren’t.

Actually, it’s both.

I’ve seen and encountered both, and of the two, the second is the saddest one to me. Being an intuitive (aka I pick up on people’s emotional states whether I want to or not), I cringe when people try to convince me that they are in FluffyLand when I know for certain that they are not. It is especially painful when it is someone that I care about. Oftentimes they do not even realize that they aren’t happy. They just look at what they have, think “well, based on my possession of these things, I should be happy,” and conclude that they are happy. Meanwhile, they look, talk, and act like they are miserable.

Because they actually are.

First, if you are depending on outside things (material things, a relationship, a job, etc.) to create your happiness, I hate to break it to you but you’re probably already miserable. I know people get sick of hearing this, but it’s true: happiness comes from within. It comes from a state of being content with yourself, your life, and your purpose. I’m not saying that you’re dancing around singing Disney songs with forest animals 24/7. No, at that point you’re no longer in reality (though the occasional Disney singalong is totally allowed and encouraged). You can’t be slap happy all of the time, but you can have a general feeling of contentment.

By the way, this goes double for relationships; why put that amount of pressure on someone? They have to be responsible for both their own happiness and yours? Would you want that kind of pressure…heck, has someone already put that kind of pressure on you?

Second, other people often see it before you do. If someone you know has that intuition and is constantly asking how you are and checking in on you, they’ve picked up on something. We’re not trying to be annoying or ruin your artificial high (because it is artificial), but we are concerned. I can think of about three people right now off the top of my head who are constantly declaring how happy they are, and their appearance and behavior say the complete opposite. If I’m asking, it is because I see the truth and I care.

Third, becoming the source of your own happiness is no easy feat. Our society practically trains us from birth to seek happiness everywhere except within us. Happiness is often ridiculed in the U.S. culture as well, implying that if you are happy then you are clearly a psychopath because there is no reason to be happy in this society. Mind you, this is very different from the spiritual bypassing I mentioned in my last post. That is still a form of fake happiness.

All of that being said, I cannot tell you what your inner happiness looks like. All I can say is that you will know it when you feel it. One of my favorite moments of it was a day at the ocean. When a wave suddenly overtook my legs and soaked my sneakers, socks, and jeans, I started laughing and spinning happily in the ocean water and foam. I couldn’t care less about my clothes at that moment. I was in pure bliss, connected to the ocean in a manner that I didn’t think possible. This is one reason why I take the stance that I do with regards to autism. I have seen my clients in moments of pure bliss, and I have seen well-meaning professionals snatch that moment away in the name of progress. Who are we to take their happiness away like that? Why don’t we join in on it?

Why don’t we learn how to be happy from them?