When I first started working with parents and children years ago, after catching up with mum or dad by themselves usually, and then next time with parent and child, I used to say “I guess what I am hearing is that everyone would like things to be going better than they are.” This seemed to work, and be a useful starting point, without anyone feeling blamed or just focusing on a problem. Instead of an unwilling participant, storming out, or going silent, I had someone willing to concur, if just a nod, that yes, It was something that everyone could agree on. It taught me the value of having no agenda and yet be useful. I would for instance have some activities later, and choices for the young person. So neither was I useless, what would be the point. So I learnt some things about how to be there for other people in a way that worked, was fun, connected and could work around silence.
What I practice
Recently I read a great book Atomic Habits by James Clear (fantastic book) and I started the (atomic) habit of reading a book each for 10 minutes. I got 6 books, put them in a Tupperware box, and carry them around in my car so if I get to someone’s place early, I have something to read (decreases my phone addiction). Everything is in one place, I’ve got variety, and the path is easy and obvious.
I’ve been reading Overcoming Anxiety in Children and Teens by Jed Baker (best book in the world), No More Meltdowns (Positive strategies for managing and preventing out-of-control behavior) and Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew (a classic favourite).
Why am I reading?
I am relatively new to autism, a bit ignorant, despite my family swimming in degrees of high functioning autism, and probably on the spectrum to some degree myself. Do you ever feel that way yourself? Or what the heck you should be doing? Why??? Do they do THAT!
I have practised therapy for over 20 years, more recently turning my attention in the last 3 years to Autism bringing all that I have learnt and the need for good therapy now that NDIS is providing much needed support. I enjoy working with people with Intellectual Disability and appreciate the importance of good mental health, and how to achieve it. I love helping people work on their relationships, handling emotions better, and developing mind skills and social skills that make a difference.
There is so much out there now, sometimes you need someone to break it down, and narrow the overwhelm. “Why did I not see that?” you may say. Save yourself time, get your life and kid back.
Why I got a coach.
One of the first things I did was get a wonderful mentor with many years of experience working with parents and children on the spectrum. Why reinvent the wheel! She even had grown up children of her own on the spectrum now living functional lives. She herself is now retired, which I miss, but what a wonderful foundation to learn directly from her decades of experience, and the wonderful resources and programs being developed around the world. She was a good bouncing board, full of life and enthusiasm.
As a therapist myself, I like to think of myself as a coach. Maybe you are wondering what do I do? Or what am I like. My attitude is that I am like a coach, and I am here to serve. If I am asking you to accept the idea of a coach or mentor as a useful one, it is not because I haven’t done it myself, or not needed to learn things. And still learning! Wanting to learn, and practising that, is a great attitude to have. I admire you reading this far.
Medication is a Conversation
I jump around here a bit (my ADD, seriously), but it is important. There is of course no medication for autism though children are frequently on medication to address issues like ADHD, sleep, and behavioural and emotional reactivity so they can get an education and value out of school while not walking around school like a zombie. I didn’t hate school but it wasn’t a love affair either.
My belief is that medication is a conversation. It is one of the things from my mental health background and experience, that brings a high level of listening, questions, options and exploration of how well things are going, and what further conversation may be had with specialists, that are often trialling/trying various medications, dosages, timings, interactions and managing side-effects. I am no prima donna. I am very understanding. Got a theory about what you think is going on? I will listen.
People love having those conversations with me, and I suspect that many professionals, may not be so fluid with engaging this very real issue/option that people are weighing up. Knowledge and options is power. I learnt long ago that just relying on expert professionals to dole out the magic pill/s usually, or at least often, isn’t going to be enough, as much as we may dearly wish we can just outsource that expertise. You need to be involved, and you need to be in the game. Medication is a conversation.
Autism is not something you catch overnight, although I hope it is catching on.
A lovely article I read recently extolled the virtues of employing people who specifically had autism. That’s great. They were seen as honest, loved routine, weren’t high maintenance and what you see is what you get. What great workers! Who wouldn’t want them. Probably why my Dad is such an amazing accountant, and his Dad before him. He retired some years before his firm was bought out, but they got him back to sort out some problem that they had their whole accounting team trying to sort out for 6 months. It was a real mess. He found it in a week. I would love if he could tell me how he did it (I love a good story) but heh, who cares, he doesn’t. He did it. Fair enough. He’d just say “It was a real mess. But I did it in a week.”
I believe that the best therapy is a job. I know many parents I talk to are really wanting job pathways for their kids. Getting therapy early is really preparing people for life. All the research shows how great having a good job, enjoying your work, provides for good mental health. It gives us routine, purpose, meaning and financial reward.
Just see young people’s faces light up when they have a job. I love that too. Don’t worry if things look messy at the moment. You need mess for success. It’s a precondition.
Rethinking the word Disability
Autism is not all, I, you or your loved one/s are. It may be a part of who we are but it can never be all who we are.
Disability is a word that opens up access to NDIS funding that can help provide support and resources to work on goals and develop functional ability in activities of daily living. That’s the idea. Investing in people to improve lives and outcomes.
I remember one parent saying the only disability you can have is to think you have a disability. I can see where she is coming from, and there is some place for that. I am not even sure that I use the word disability much, though I am focused on what can be going better, and how to get there.
What I don’t like about the word, spoken without awareness or contemplation, is that it carries a risk of kind of being a downer on yourself. What I do like about the word, spoken with awareness and contemplation, is that it can be wonderfully accepting, a certain reality in one respect, realness, while getting on with being in life nonetheless. I don’t have an agenda or pressure to the word.
Awesome Autism Outcomes
I hope this is the case. And I do what good therapists around the world are doing, we ask the people who know most, how things are going. That is you and the child! Yes, client-informed feedback has taken the world by storm, producing better outcomes, better therapy and less treatment dropout. Why? Because we stopped to ask. I call it conversation with outcomes. So at the beginning of each session, I will check in how the week or fortnight has gone, and at the end of the session, I will check in how well you/they feel I understood, heard and respected them, whether we worked on and talked about what they wanted to work on and talk about today, and whether my approach was a good fit for them. It’s a bit scary to put yourself on the line like this as a therapist, but I am well used to how it helps, and makes for better therapy. It often gives me confidence that yes we are on the right track. Excellent.
So we measure what you treasure and check in with you. And involve you.
What if my child doesn’t like therapy in the past?
What I usually find is that we are able to do something useful. I do use games to build relationship and have some fun, so it is not all about skill building or ‘something wrong with them that someone has to fix’. We don’t want people thinking that way. Who would want to do that.
So I find that developing relationship across time is a vital and necessary part of therapy. It may even to some degree be the therapy. And it is certainly true I believe, that if I were running some agenda that kids need to be fixed, or need to be praised, kids spot that pretty quickly and defenses can go up. We want defenses to go down, to just be humans meeting together, having some conversation or time spent together. It is wonderful how effective the magic of therapy can be. That’s what I see. I am me. I am okay.
The Secret Agent Society is a fantastic course.
My teen doesn’t like being praised
I work with a number of people with intellectual ability that is a disability for them. I also work with some individuals of high intellectual ability that don’t like being praised either. I find this an interesting space as a therapist because I am drawn to being comfortable with silence, or not having to rescue the situation, or have them think a particular way. On the one hand people with intellectual disability can pick up very quickly whether you don’t like them or are being judgemental or have expectations around intellect. I prefer not to carry that baggage or assumptions. At the same time, I am curious and encouraging, neither accepting their own or others assumptions about themselves. Often I will launch into how others, or indeed my own, self talk (negative or critical) can be a bad habit. Certainly doesn’t make you happy.
Remember Jed Baker’s book on overcoming anxiety I mentioned earlier, Jed doesn’t just launch into what is going wrong or needs to be fixed, he will develop relationship and explore 7 things people are good at and 3 challenges that could be getting in the way of them reaching their goals. That is the art of therapy. Without being pushy or overbearing.
“I was coming here and I didn’t have anything to talk about”
I love it when people say that 🙂 because then they go “But I feel better for having come.”
Conversations with outcomes
I love what I do. What I say I do is conversations with outcomes. A conversation is a rich talk that can go in a range of different directions, probably unpredictable in direction, but useful as we listen to each other back and forth. Common feedback is invariably that what we have done is useful, that what we talk about (with general clients) has given some useful ideas and perspective or advice. “You don’t just sit there and say nothing, or not give me anything back” says one teenage girl I catch up with. She likes that. I would too.
How to listen so kids will talk, and talk so kids will listen.
What I provide is psychological therapy treatment. I just happen to do it through mutual conversation, and in the case of kids on the spectrum, through a range of activities, books and games.
You don’t have to do it alone. I am here for you.
I hope that is useful for you. Preserve your sanity. Or buy the book.
Or do both. Don’t overthink it. My Dad doesn’t. The magic of therapy. Have a great one.
Autism is a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their environment. It is a lifelong disability that starts when a person is born and stays with them into old age. Every Autistic person is different to every other. This is why autism is described as a ‘spectrum’.