Over the past several months I have taken a different approach to my blog and written as I walk through my own journey of leaving trauma. I am healing my own personal trauma and believe in a year of a global pandemic each of us can relate in some way. Last week, I wrote about finding the courage to have the spirit of a warrior. To learn how to see fear and guide her when you are called to the battlefield. I’d like to say more.
I used to believe that life was meant for fairytales. One, because I am an empath, so connection, love, and healing are my jam. Two, because the world inundated me with messaging that, as a woman, the path to happiness was true love. The world also bombarded me with messages about marriage, gender norms, who I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to wear, how I should talk, and the like. Never being one to like being told what to do I find it surprising that I battled putting this bullshit down for so long. Society and fear signed a bad deal with the devil.
I feel that I’ve written enough about society making our decisions for us. I think I could write for days; lists of examples, from the food we eat, the clothes we buy, our mannerisms, life goals, and the like. But I’d like to talk about fear a little more. You see, where society was a cosigner on this deal with the devil, fear was the primary signer. Fear is a very wise counsel but an awful driver.
Let’s put a face to fear. Say a grandma or grandpa. Now imagine a tiny, sweet-powder smelling, kind grandparent. I’m imagining my own grandma, who wore a dress and sweater until her passing day at 96 years old. This grandparent has years of wisdom to bestow upon you that you soak in every visit. Then one day, after another enlightening conversation, your grandma wants to take a drive. She’s so wise and wonderful, soft and warm, so of course you say yes. You pull up the car, ready to drive with all her wisdom pulsing in your veins, then your grandma asks to drive.
Speaking from my own experience, my grandma did not have a license or ever drive a car. If your grandparent did, you can borrow mine for this example (but please give her memory back to me because I cherish her). You pause for a moment, grandma does not know how to drive, but she’s so wise and just gave you all this wisdom to help you navigate the challenges of life. Deep breath. OK, why not? “Er, OK Grandma you can drive.” Bad fucking plan. Within five minutes you are in the ditch, the car is flipped, and sirens are on the way. Grandma, as wise and wonderful as she is, cannot drive the car. Fear works just like this.
Fear tells us so much about what we need to know about the potential of danger and harm. If we go back thousands of years, fear literally evolved to keep us safe. From the limbic system all the way to your taste buds. Just as an example, at around 2 year of age (when prehistoric babies would begin solid foods) taste buds develop a disdain for bitterness and seek out sweet food. The origin of this is so that when foraging babies would not eat poisonous plants. Smart little taste buds! Now we have an entire society built around this knowledge as parents blindly give sugar to children based on the food industry’s capitalization on this knowledge. See, more society in that example. Our bodies are so wise and fear lives in them to keep us safe. What fear cannot do is become a thought that makes a wise decision. Fear is grandma in the ditch.
Fear begs us to let her drive, just like grandma, because she is afraid. Fear does not want anything bad to happen to us and, to prevent a potentially catastrophic event from happening, it tells us grandma can’t drive. If we are not grounded in our own love and wisdom, however, we give fear the keys. My goal for all of us is to learn when fear is driving, but be able to place her gently back in the passenger seat. To learn to take her wise council as love directs the wheel.
Life is not about fairytales and achieving the life society tells us we need. A life built on what other people want for us, which society says we should want for ourselves, is the quickest way to unhappiness. It’s also the quickest way to block your potential, gifts and contributions to this beautiful world. Think about it. If we set 100 grandparents without licenses free on the highway we know there would be some crashes. And yet, so many of us are either upset about our own lives or the state of the world. It’s not what we want for our lives. So why do we continue to live this way?
Well, if grandma was driving your car and you legitimately gave her the keys because you thought her wisdom would carry over to the steering wheel, would you blame yourself for the crash? Nope. You made a poor choice, you can offer yourself compassion, and learn from your mistake. The thing is, you need to be the boss of fear. To tell her you hear her message, you will bring it to the council of love, and you will report back to her for the next step of the journey. But there is no way in hell you are giving her the keys. It feels scary to say no to fear, just like it feels scary to say no to your grandma’s wish to drive. But it’s OK. I promise. You’re keeping everyone safe.
Life is not about being happy all of the time, that’s not a real expectation any of us can achieve. This I know to be true. If fear is telling you “wait, we’re not happy! do something else!” she is driving. Fear needs us to sit on the porch, hold her soft, aging hand, and listen to why she feels this way. To walk with her, hear the struggles and dangers she sees, then turn this over to love to decide the next course of action. Love is a wonderful driver. She lives in all of us, waiting to be set free and not limited by fear.
I am firmly planted in the belief that pain comes for each of us and is not something to be afraid of. We can stand boldly in our pain, feel it, and live to tell what we learned. When we do this, we access more joy on the other side of pain and fear than we ever imagined. This is the truth that society is keeping from us. You don’t need anything to be happy except yourself. Experiencing pain does not take away from your capacity to be happy. Joy is always on the other side.
If you’re a mom of young children like me I’m sure you’ve had the thought of going to the zoo once or twice. It goes something like this:
The local zoo announces a baby. Let’s say an elephant is born so of course, you go rushing! You get to the zoo (pre-COVID, maybe) and see the beautiful baby elephant, just days old, walking behind their mama. In a short moment, you think back to your child’s infanthood and think, “baby boy(or girl) you had fewer skills than an elephant.” Infant humans, while incredibly squishy, cute, and forever smelling of Dreft and lavender, come into the world with no survival skills.
There are thousands of articles on the importance of early intervention. I spent my bachelor’s degree diving into many of them, followed by stocking my brain with new findings for the past decade. This is in part because I am a researcher by trade. The other part is because I am a nerd for human development. It fills my bucket. In my blog today I’m going to try and give you a snapshot of why development from infancy through kindergarten is so vital. I’m also going to talk about why it’s important for children with autism and our amazing clinics at Instructional ABA Consultants.
Focusing on Child Development Early
OK, let’s get started by going deep. Human infants are born without any skills because their brains need more time to develop than all other mammals. If babies grew into functional toddlers in the womb they could not come out of the birth canal. Women’s bodies are incredible but they aren’t magic; there is a limit to the size of what we can birth (yes, I’m grimacing as I’m writing this because medication-free birth with a newborn is magical, but birthing a toddler? Um…).
So we get these tiny humans, who are desperately in need of being cared for–it’s almost like they are in the womb for an extra three months after delivery. Then they begin to wake up. I remember when both Henry & Declan found their toes and fingers in amazement around three months old.
During this first year of life, thousands upon thousands of neuroconnections are made. Babies are quickly developing their brainpower, motor skills, and language through these high-speed connections. To do this babies need a few simple things. Infants need to be nurtured, to know that when they have a need their parent responds. This creates a secure connection and lets baby know the world is safe. Babies need food and lots of sleep. Once these basics are covered we move into the two most important things; environment and socialization.
Early Socializing & Environments
I like to think of babies, toddlers, and children as little scientists learning through cause and effect. The environment is a huge blank canvas for our children to discover how their world works. Socialization is the tool children need to survive in our culture.
In their early childhood years, these two pieces are so incredibly important because of the rate children can learn. From infancy to year five, children will learn more than any other time in their lives. “What about college,” you say? Nope. These foundational years are the years where connections are made in the brain that last a lifetime.
As a professional, I love looking at how all this heavy lifting helps to shape the outcome of children’s lives. As a mama, I drove myself crazy after Declan was born and I realized I was basically running a school in my home for Henry. This wouldn’t be possible with two kids under two.
This was insanity in hindsight. This was also when I was personally able to take a deep breath and remember what I knew. The two most important things are environment and socialization. It’s not about how “cute” my day is with my boys. It’s about how often they are able to explore and engage. These days you won’t really find me teaching at a table much. Instead, you’ll see a “yes” environment set up (more on this later but basically a safe space to learn), technology out of reach (no TV/no Tablets on the regular as these devices delay both language development & socialization), and lots of talking.
Henry and Declan get to flex their learning muscles through exploration and language. I get to flex my relaxation muscle by not trying to do it all. I’m lucky in that way because my children do not need intervention. If they did I would not be able to sit back because these experiences would need to be contrived. That’s why ABA is so helpful for young children with autism. Here’s why.
The Importance of ABA Therapy for Autism
When a child has autism the neural pathways or roads in the brain that tell that child how to communicate and process information are not forming, either naturally or as quickly as a neurotypical child. The connections are still there to be made but without intervention, a child with autism can’t connect the dots. What this looks like in each child with autism is different but always results in some form of socialization or communication developmental delays. This leaves the child with autism lost in their social world and wondering how to connect.
In applied behavior analysis (ABA), behavioral scientists (BCBAs) are able to assess the language and communication skills missing in early childhood based on developmental milestones. Children with autism are gifted learners but they learn differently because their neural pathways are routed differently. Through assessment, BCBAs are then able to figure out how our little students learn, what skills are missing, and how to connect those missing dots. This happens in three really key ways.
The first is one on one therapy (think personal trainer at the gym) to really teach to the student. The next is to help the child with autism apply what they are learning with their peers. Remember, socialization is hard but children who are neurotypical learn from other children. To strengthen the socialization neuropathway, children with autism need to practice these skills with kids their own age. The last is transferring learned skills back to mama and papa. If a child with autism is in therapy and can do all these skills at a treatment clinic but not at home, the neural pathway is not fully formed.
Therapy at ABA Consultants
Instructional ABA Consultants runs autism clinics for children ages 2 ½ to 6 years old (in addition to our home-based therapy for older children). Our clinics (Naperville & Oak Lawn IL, Castle Rock CO, and coming soon Northside Chicago) have a Preschool Instructor designing the socialization component of our students’ days and BCBAs designing the individualized instruction. Parents are at the core of treatment goals and together we’re helping their precious children make connections in their early development.
Whether you’re a parent of a neurotypical child or a child with autism know that your child’s early years are precious. While we all can dream of our children functioning like that baby elephant walking around fully skilled, the reality is human babies and children need shaping. We’re a social species.
So set down the tablet today, pack up all the toys the marketing teams said you needed, and let your children explore and enjoy. If your child isn’t exploring, jump in and help. If you need help teaching these skills because your child has autism (or this is a new way to parent for you) reach out. We’re all in this crazy world of parenthood together.
From deep within my being I have always known I’m an intuitive soul. I swallowed the feelings of the world from a young age. I can’t join any conversation or issue without feeling the full range of emotions being generated. I just can’t, I’m an empath.
I also have a force within me that demands I pay attention to the injustices of the world. To pay attention to who is being suppressed, why, and what strengths lie beneath their suppression. This is where I coined the term love warrior. As my aunt told me, “strong back, soft front.” It’s within my being to feel the energies the world places in my path and offer a way out of suffering.
Finding My Voice
Here’s the tough truth: this force of empathy was not only cultivated in me from who I was born as. It was reinforced through victimhood and abuse. I’ve spent well over two decades finding my voice despite personal abuse and suppression, layered with societal repression as a woman. I’ve been too ashamed to speak this truth fully, yet I know shame can’t live where there is light. And damn it, I’ve got something to say.
Shame holds back lions like me and angels like you from showing up as we were created to be. I thought my heightened sensitivity made me weak. I also believed there were so many things I could not do because I was told I was bad at them. Or things I should be doing because it was expected of me. Screw that.
You see, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that society has a right to tell us who we are and how we should behave. Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to be able to operate as a collective species. Yet when we’re operating as a collective species based on fear versus love, all we’re doing is breaking our own hearts and, in turn, our world. Suffering begets suffering. Love begets love. If we honor our suffering and say to it, “I’m so sorry you came to me but I’m unwilling to bring you to another being, couldn’t we rewrite history?” I know personally, I’m going to rewrite mine.
I’ve doubted myself for a very long time and am often in awe when I look to see what I’ve done. Like, I can’t believe it’s mine. Yet here I am at 33 years old running a multimillion-dollar organization that I built with my bare hands on the backs of no one.
The Lies We’re Told
I’ve been told a great many lies. Let me share a few with you.
I’ve been told to temper my emotions. That they are too much to handle. My big emotions? They light fires to pave new ways and I will never tone them down, not ever.
I’ve been told to be nice, to put the needs of others before mine, and that I’m more loveable when I’m thin. Have any other women been fed that lie? It’s bullshit. Being nice is blinding us all. I cannot give when my tank is empty, and my beautiful body grew two babies who birthed without intervention. The female body is a goddess in all forms. I will not trade my stretch marks for anything, I earned them. Every one of them.
I’ve been lied to and asked to conform to make others more comfortable. I will no longer conform and thus I will never lose myself again.
I can say this because I’ve been lost in pain for such a long time. I see joy, celebrate, and then a wave of pain comes back over me. The waves that come at me are of course from the outside world and then my mind becomes confused by the pain. I’m empathic, remember? I swallow emotions. I think all love warriors do because we know how real, raw, and true feelings are. The trick here? Learn to protect our own hearts so when evil comes to us, fear finds us, or pain washes over us we can weather the storm.
I would like to think we can all walk through this world without pain. Truly, I love divine love. It’s not possible to do that because without the world showing us what we don’t want to be we would never know if we were becoming it. When pain comes for you, when a person or organization is pressing you down, remember this: pine cones bloom in fire. The pain, as hard as it is, is shaping you to become the tree you were always meant to be.
I’m walking a hard path right now. Someday I’ll tell you about it. Tonight I had a choice. Cry on the floor for the sixth week in a row or pick myself up. Today I walked into the gym and hit some heavy weights to remind myself this pain is forming me. Just as the pain of my past has taken me this far to show exactly what I do and do not want for my own life and the world.
I’ve got big plans for myself and the world.
I’m ready to call out anyone who believes it’s OK to lose sight of a child with autism based on a profit margin.
I’m ready to declare injustice and march for joy. To call abuse, abuse. I want to lead all of our broken hearts into a collective community where you can be you, I can be me, and we are all loved and accepted just as we are. I’m just getting started because the world asked me to be little, polite, and answer the story of shame. I’m making up for lost time. What has the world asked you to be? What lies have you been fed?
Won’t you walk with me and learn that you are perfectly imperfect? That if you’re lashing out in pain you can choose again? If you’re seeing someone as less than you to look again? If you’re seeing someone as more than you look again? That we are all the same. Won’t you honor the gifts of the spirit, of your beautiful, broken heart and write a new history with me.
Can’t we all just choose again? I know I’m going to. You can find me by my trail of ashes.
In my last blog, I wrote about accepting being an imperfect parent. I’m going to take a few weeks to do a mini-series on all my failures and wins as a parent because the joy of imperfect parenting is honoring both. I’m walking this path right alongside you. Ain’t no shame here!
Almost eight years ago I opened Instructional ABA Consultants for business. I was a loud, proud, young business owner with a full heart and mission. I still have that full heart and mission today. At the time I did what most business owners do; I got a cute outfit, took a gorgeous photo, and wrote my professional bio for my website. It’s still there today (picture updated because no one is 25 forever…). In my bio, I wrote a great many things including my areas of expertise. One of them was toilet training. During my undergraduate studies, I worked in a preschool and toilet trained dozens of children. Later on, when I received my master’s degree, I also toilet trained children for my caseload. I even held parent lectures. I’m laughing that this is still listed as an area of expertise… Enter my son Henry.
Toilet Training Your Children
We started with Henry sitting on the potty at every diaper change to get used to just sitting. Once we made it through this phase I created a schedule for Henry with a prize box for successes. I took him to sit every 30 minutes, set a timer for 2 minutes, and then gave him a small prize! I then stole these prizes when he went to sleep at night and put them back in the box (he never found out….). Henry started to pee on the potty and life was good!
I entered phase two per my own training; remove the diapers. Holy hell. When I removed diapers we entered a solid 8-month process of trial and accidents. During this phase, I used just about everything I could think of that I had used with my own clients. I tried going more often to catch the accident. I tried going 15-20 minutes after he drank water. I tried reading books, singing songs, and even the damn potty song on youtube (“Come on Henry what do you do, come on Henry it’s time to go poop!.) Yes, I just wrote that from memory. No, I can’t come back from that. There’s more.
I tried bare butt over Labor Day and Christmas break (except naps and bedtime). Yes, he smeared poop on his playroom wall. I tried having him clean up. We have a sprayer for cloth diapers so this was loads of fun. I followed the rules and while we were making progress with going pee on the potty Henry was still having accidents with pee when he wasn’t supervised. This was any time he was playing alone, playing in our yard (we have a fence and I can watch him within eyesight), or mommy was crying in the bath (j/k but for real). He also was not potty trained for poop. At all.
I decided to talk with my team, who I’m sure were thrilled I was begging for more ABA potty training advice. I mean, I’m their boss, it’s in my bio, I can do this, and I’m still whining at team meetings I can’t crack this nut. Honestly, the team was super gracious. I love them all to pieces for many reasons (including letting me be human). I wasn’t willing to go back to diapers because we were 80% there for dry pants and I didn’t want to move backward. But I had nothing else to throw at this.
Toilet Training During COVID-19
Enter COVID-19 and Shelter in Place. I did what any person who is sheltering and anxious does; I made a list of all the shit I was going to accomplish (more on that later and if you’re still doing this please be kind to yourself and stop…). First on the list; finish toilet training Henry!
You know what I did? Me with my decade-plus in the field and fancy degrees? I told Henry pants were a privilege and he could earn them back when he pooped on the potty. My son wore no pants for a solid month. I once had my acupuncturist tell me she did this with all her children and it took a weekend. Lies. I tried this weekend bare butt thing before, remember?
During the first two weeks of bare butt, Henry quickly learned to hold his poop for his diaper at nap. Then it hit me. The thing I tell every parent seriously; you cannot toilet train and use diapers. I just had never dealt with nap time or bedtime (as I wasn’t a parent at the time) so I kept using them. I ordered bed pads and a squatty potty (to help him stand and poop on the potty). Then I told him, “Henry you’re a big boy, no more diapers.” I put a toilet next to his bed and thought, “Godspeed little one.” And you know what? No rewards, no schedule, no waking up at night and Henry stopped using diapers while he slept.
As Henry’s mom, one thing I’ve learned from him is that he has to do literally everything for himself first. When he was a baby we would watch him practice new milestones (clapping, standing, words) in his crib on the camera sometimes weeks before he would show us. I needed to slow down and remember how he learns, even for toilet training. This would have saved us both some tears and yelling. Remember I’m not perfect and yes I’ve lost my shit in the bathroom when we need to leave and he’s refusing to go. No, I’m not proud of that. Yes, it’s over because I know this is a trigger and give myself more time now when we need to leave. No rushing, period. It’s a rule I follow for me not them.
So now we have it right? Henry is going on the toilet, all is well. It’s the longest it’s ever taken me to toilet train a child but I’ve done it, right? Nope. Turns out Henry really enjoyed bare butt and became a nudist. This included stripping outside, peeing & pooping outside (claiming he’s a puppy…) and a few times where he peed on my carpet like it was grass. I was horrified. I mean I was on business calls, mute, “Henry no! Pants on, no pooping in the yard!”
Luckily, I do have ABA in my back pocket so I created a “wear your pants program.” This was much easier than our previous feat. I gave Henry a fruit snack throughout the day when he had his pants on and set a timer for every 30 minutes outside to make sure he had them on. Outside was the biggest problem because of our, er, problem. In about a week of rewarding pants on behavior Henry started wearing clothing again.
It’s a month later and Henry is 100% clothed and toilet trained. When he poops on the potty AND wipes, I drop the microphone and pour myself a glass of wine. Rock on mama. One down, one to go. Declan, be easy little one. Please!
Over the course of the last week we as a nation have, and are still, struggling to make the best decisions possible in response to COVID-19. As individuals it began as laughing with friends over the toilet paper crisis to within days social quarantining. Many of us started stocking our freezers and cupboards to create supply. In my home my husband has lived through times without food in Bulgaria, this is no joke to him. We have enough food to feed an army after his trip to Costco, I’ve blanched A LOT of veggies, and he’s still scared. Our government and businesses are rapidly making new decisions each and every day. People are losing work temporarily every day. I’m working around the clock with a beautiful team and trying not to make this my employees reality, all sixty plus of them. It’s a scary time, one none of us have lived through. So how does surrender fit into this scenario?
Surrendering, to be clear, does not mean we are stopping. To surrender means to recognize that no matter how hard we try, sometimes things are out of our control. On a larger note, for my soul sisters and brothers out there, it also means to give an outcome over to the Spirit or Divine. I have used surrender in every darkness I have walked and it has always brought me home to myself and to whom I call God.
As a type 8 on the Enneagram, a Challenger, I can tell you honestly that surrender and I fist fight until I call, “Uncle!” It’s in my nature to fight obstacles, to rethink systems, and to always find a solution for the greater good. To serve the underserved at IABA (and my soon to be third company with fabulous Nicki Worden for postpartum mama’s) is easy as breathing for me. Please don’t roll your eyes, we’re all built differently and I honor you however you are built! Slowing down and realizing that there are actual things outside of my control is an actual process for me.
Going Through the Surrender Process
The process isn’t easy. It typically starts with a healthy dose of anger over the thing I’m trying to control. Just ask anyone how well I take to being sick! In the past it could have been a bad boyfriend, components of my marriage, business outcomes, and hell yea mommyhood. It now also includes COVID-19.
I think about how much I want a different scenario, self evaluate and then work my ass off (in the wrong direction) to change it. It’s the fight after anger. I say it’s the wrong direction because in all these scenarios big and small there are pieces to each of them I cannot control. Once I let my mind finally stop the fight and realize the outcome is either up to the other person or the universe I can surrender. In this surrender I’m honoring a couple of things. The first is that not everything is up to me. The next is that other people need to be given space to be their best self or to fail. It’s not my place to stand in anyone’s way of either. The last is in giving it back to Spirit I know it will be taken care of. By following this process what I’m accepting is that controlling outcomes isn’t accomplishing anything. That there is always a higher way to think about life and any situation in it. That everything is not up to me, really. My job is to be my best self and to show up for the work Spirit puts in front of me; that’s it. And I can tell you every instance of surrender things have worked out. They do not work out how I wanted them to be when I was stuck in fear or control, they turn out better.
So how do you or I surrender in the face of COVID-19? First we can go back to the first lesson of surrender; this is out of our control. COVID-19 is a virus rapidly spreading that none of us have antibodies to fight with a luckily low mortality rate. It just is. We can’t control that. We can control our own actions surrounding the outbreak.
Making Amends With Reality: Putting it into Practice
This means most importantly social distancing. In our social distancing comes another level of fear about our work and interruption of daily lives. Again, this is out of our control. What is in our control is either working with our employers so long as they have resources to employ us or with the state for emergency unemployment. It’s also within our control, for those who have more, to be aware of who has less. If we notice families without it’s our duty to step in and help provide; whatever that looks like. Personally I’ve seen so much love these past five days in my community alone.
In regards to our daily lives being interrupted, again out of our control. We can find peace in simplicity. Meals are less varied and always at home, more time outside, less consumption of goods, more time together. Perhaps instead of paper towels you’re now using wash clothes; mother earth thanks you. No, it’s not our normal lives and I miss what is available just like anyone else. But, in its place now that I’ve surrendered to the fact we’re here I’m finding ways to be grateful each day. That gratitude is building joy in my home.
Work is still unknown for our field. We’re actively working to ensure children with autism continue to receive our care. ABA is medically necessary for a child with autism and I can’t imagine pause in service for so many of our clients. If there is a state or nationwide quarantine, then there is. From there, together we’ll rebuild our therapy sessions but hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime my staff are doing a beyond fabulous job supporting each other and their clients through the crisis.
Me? I’m enjoying extra baby snuggles in my home, working my ass off for my company, and praying for the best for all.