I don’t know if this is true for anyone else who has a sister but my sister is part of me and I’m part of her. I can’t explain it but we know each other in our bones. I could spend literal days with her and still get annoyed she hasn’t texted me back within five minutes of leaving. She’s my person and I’m hers.
Last night, I was struggling to see myself. To be honest I feel like I always struggle to see myself, but last night everything kind of hit me at once. I literally have no idea how I come across to anyone in conversations or interactions. I never have. Soon I found myself picking up the phone to call my sister. I knew she would be honest with me, brutally if needed.
At first she was surprised to hear I don’t know how people see me. I was surprised she didn’t know this because she knows what I eat for breakfast every day, how much sleep I get–pretty much everything. I asked her why I felt like others met me with resistance and judgement when I shared my voice with them. Her response was everything I needed to hear. She told me, “you are a strong woman and that scares people. You won’t conform and that makes people uncomfortable.” Holy shit. That’s it.
Finding Your Strength
I often explain to family and friends that I have always felt I’m outside of the world looking in. Honestly, a big part of this is being a researcher, introvert, and visionary. If I only ever talked to the people I loved and never met a new human being I would be a very happy woman. I had a million fears when we went into lockdown last spring during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but staying home was not one of them.
I’m often deep in thought of what brings me joy and what I think the world needs. At the same time, however, I don’t give a lot of thought to how I come across. But I’m also human and when I’m in social situations, work relationships, and non-intimate personal relationships I’m quite aware I’m on the outside. Take a hometown football game, for example. If I’m at a game and a circle of other moms my age are sitting as far away as possible, I’m not bothered at all. This is nothing against anyone. I’m happy by myself and would feel exhausted having to make small talk. But if I think bigger, like when I need to advocate for myself or my beliefs and am met with resistance or judgement, this is what bothers me. I thought there was no clue why this is. Hence the phone call to my sister.
After the call I took her answer and mulled it over deep within my core and knew it was true. I am a woman who won’t bend. I stand on my own and refuse to make myself small for anyone. This makes the world uncomfortable because I am a woman not bending. My small, sacred circle of friends and family? They give zero shits that I am true to myself and respect me for honoring myself and my worth.
My sister and I spent hours talking about my dilemma. I was stuck. I am a good woman who wakes up daily wanting a better world for others. I want it for myself, my sons, my sacred circle and every human being. I spend time each day in gratitude seeking authentic joy. My happiest place in the world is my basement couch across from the playroom. In the mornings, when I have the boys, I sip my coffee with a book for me and a stack for them. They buzz around me, flittering between reading with me and playing. At night, after dinner, Dametrius joins us in the basement and my boys snuggle, wrestle, and Declan brings us all “tea.” It’s bliss and nothing in the world brings me closer to God. She’s right there.
Perceiving the Good in Ourselves
So how then, when I perceive myself to be a generally good person soaking in the tiny joys of the world to build a better one, do I get painted as someone to fear? The belief system of the patriarchy we live in. That’s why. I am a woman with a strong voice in a world where women are supposed to be quiet. This past fall, when my divorce situation was still new, I was walking the pasture wailing to the sky, screaming “why me? Because I’m a woman with a voice?” Among other things, yes. The path for women with visions is hard and It’s fucking bullshit.
My friend Dana has a daughter named Kahlan. Kahlan is incredibly bright and bold. She’s unapologetic about her worth and comfortable with it. During the pandemic, Kahlan became so frustrated with the disorganization of online learning that she began providing feedback to her teachers at their request to streamline the programs. When a mistake is made Kahlan shoots off an email, “I should not have to be writing this email but…” She’s 13. Kahlan reminds me of myself before the world told me to be small.
Dana often doesn’t know what to do with her fierce daughter and rightfully so. Ask my parents if they knew (or even know) what to do with me. Nope! But here is my wish for Kahlan, my nieces, my darling Olga, every woman alive, and myself. Do not make yourself small. Take up space and use it. Shout to the world, show your worth, and if you’re too strong for someone that’s their problem not yours.
When I thought more about the issue of being small I felt grace for others. Forgiveness, if you will. You see, for thousands of years strength was the masculine feature valued above all others. When a man flexes his muscles it is to show others he can dominate them. I have no time, nor interest in this. To my knowledge no woman or girl I know does either. We’re not showing our strength to put you in your place. We’re showing our strength because it’s who we are and through it we can honor ourselves and the world.
Moving Forward with Value and Compassion
I’ve spent my whole life feeling this way. Strong and judged for being strong. My strength? It is mine to hone and through it my life is full and the world served. There’s nothing scary here, unless a woman with a voice scares you. So I ask you this: Too strong for who?
My answer? Too strong for no one, my strength is not harmful but it is powerful. So is the strength of your daughters and your strength to teach your sons to value power with, not power over. To build a world where strength is used is to build a society where we all thrive and power is no longer misused.
I challenge you this; Ladies, look at all your strength and ways you have held it in. Ask yourself, “too strong for who?” hashtag it. Blow me up. Start a storm. Stand up. We don’t have time to just sit still and look pretty.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been writing to you about looking underneath the leaves of our psyche and how to slowly start overturning each leaf. As I lift my own leaves I’m reminded of my own worth and humanity. If you’ve been following me you may be thinking, “wait a second, I thought the leaves were our dark parts, how did you find self-worth under them?” I’ll tell you.
You see, as humans, we are all torn between two realities. In the spiritual world, this is often called the light and dark, good and evil, and so on. Whether you are spiritual or not I believe you can break this down by choosing to show up as you were created to show. You can also respond to the pain of the world and hold it as truth. The way we find ourselves is by really taking a good hard look and accepting what is there. If you know there is worth at your core, worth that could bring you endless joy, wouldn’t you want to look?
That is where bravery comes in and if we are operating from a place that does not feel like ourselves it’s time to make a change. The scary part is that when we are willing to look at any single thing keeping us from our true selves we know we are facing loss. There’s this piece of the bible (not to get all spiritual twice now…) about not serving more than one God. I wrote last week about the different things that can keep me from me, so not serving more than one God rang close to home. But to me, God isn’t high in the sky. She is deep in my core. She is me. When I do things in the world as though they have a higher value than me I’m lost. Knowing that my one truth is to never abandon myself again I have to be willing to lose things of the earth if the cost of keeping them is me.
So, how do we know if what we’re serving is working towards our highest good? We need to ask the questions “are we making the best choices for ourselves?” and “are those choices bringing us closer to or farther away from ourselves?”
Working Towards Our Best Selves
For me, it’s twofold. I believe that in our truest form we cannot inflict pain on ourselves or another. That we are all innately good. This is the first piece and hard as hell to learn. Because if we are all innately good, then we need to practice the principles of, “do no harm,” or “not to me, not to you, not to anyone”? This is how I navigate all of my decisions and I believe if we all did this the world would radically change overnight. I know it. In being committed to doing no harm to myself it means I have to honor myself and am unwilling to attack my sisters and brothers who walk this world with me.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. There is absolute evil in this world and not one of us would survive running around with free hugs and forgiveness all of the time. That shit does not work. Holding people accountable for their damaging behaviors and refusing to damage them in return; that shit does work. My sister made a cross-stitch for me for my birthday this past weekend that reads “do no harm, take no shit.” Yep, that’s it. That sums it up. We can absolutely stand up for ourselves and our desires without hurting anyone.
If saying your own truth creates a loss of a relationship, job, opportunity, or the like you aren’t hurting anyone. You are setting a boundary to say what you need and want. If who you are setting the boundary with accepts you they are part of your tribe. If they don’t, they’re not. Plain and simple. This is where loss comes in. In this part of knowing our true form, we have to believe our wants and desires are worth losing almost everything for, so we may then gain everything.
Weighing Our Beliefs and Desires
The second part is incredibly important here; all of our wants and desires need to be measured against, “does this cause pain, anywhere?” This is how we can come to know if our choices are in line with that deep knowing within ourselves because deep inside of us is a God. She would not cause harm (think back to the last section). So, as we’re navigating through coming home to ourselves and examining what really sets us on fire and makes us uniquely joyful we can know if we’ve chosen based on what’s within us versus what we’re being told.
Let me give some examples of this because it’s pretty hard to grasp. For example, say I tell you what makes me wildly happy is fur. I think fur is fabulous or I love the Kardashians, I’m in it to win it with fur! I put myself out there and say, “world this is me! Love me as I am!” You have an absolute right to call my bullshit and I should call my own too because wearing fur literally hurts (or kills) the creature it came from! This is a dramatic example of choosing wisely about what we think makes us uniquely happy.
On a simpler note, I could say drinking wine is totally me but when I drink I feel fuzzy and like I’m doing it to just fit in. I could say I’m wearing a certain outfit to make more friends. I could give an example of restricting calories to hit a goal weight when I’m really fucking hungry most of the time. All of these are the false idols, the many Gods if you will.
If we expand this thought of worshipping false idols further we become tainted and begin attacking ourselves or each other. The attacks on ourselves may be subtle, or you may have an inner monologue that is so nasty you would have no friends if you spoke your thoughts out loud. The attacks on our bodies and minds come from filling them with content and people that keep us from being home to ourselves. In frustration and out of alignment, we then attack the world by lashing out at others to let them know they are separate from us and therefore less than us. It’s vicious, it’s awful, and it’s everywhere. It also couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Following the Real You
Following these two guiding principles to take us home and “do no harm,” enables us to truly know if the choices we are making are for our true selves and if we are choosing them, are real. Because what is real will cause no harm. You can show up gloriously and easily ask for all you desire for your life and hurt no one, starting with yourself.
In Untamed, Glennon writes about a warm golden feeling she has when she accesses her knowing. Glennon talks about the quiet space beneath the noise of the world that is her holy space. I know this space too. It is inside of me and I know it’s inside of you. To find it you must be willing to go there, find yourself, and pull her back to life.
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.
Okay, okay I hear you. That title! It’s a loaded one. I thought I’d just have a little fun this week with wrapping up our series about functions of behavior. I’ll explain the title in a bit.
Over the past month, IABA has republished my series on functions of behavior because it’s such an important part of working with children. It deserves an annual highlight! As a BCBA, owner of an Applied Behavior Analysis company, and boy mama this little piece of scientific knowledge guides so much of life.
Functions of behavior give us the framework for why a behavior continues to happen and lets us breathe easier knowing that all behaviors have a reason. We can start building our plan of action to address whatever it is we’re interested in changing once that behavior is identified.
Learning About Functions of Behavior
Let me back up a little and tell you why learning about functions of behavior was so life-changing for me. In doing so I’m going to go ahead and date myself. Thirteen years ago I was working as a line therapist with adolescent boys with autism who engaged in high levels of aggressive behavior. At the time there was little regulation in the applied field and while I was supervised by a BCaBA. I was not using function-based intervention because she wasn’t designing her treatment following this principle. As a new undergraduate, I knew I didn’t want to continue to work with children with autism if I couldn’t be effective. I was so frustrated for the children that our interventions weren’t working. I then decided to apply for my master’s degree with a goal to better understand behavior. I’ve been enjoying this gift for 12 years now.
One of the first things I learned in my master’s program was that behavior is maintained by the four key functions I’ve reshared this past month; escape, attention, access to tangibles, and automatically maintained behaviors. When a problem behavior occurs you want to make sure not to reinforce the behavior with what the learner is seeking.
My beautiful clients from back home? We were directed to put them in time out every time they engaged in aggression and their behaviors were maintained by escape functions. This meant each time they engaged in aggression, putting them in time out told them we were saying, “yes! That’s what I want you to do.” What should have been done instead is follow through with demands and teaching the boys how to tell us they needed a break. Their lives could have been changed using our science properly. This is a large piece of why I love ABA so much; lives change.
Using Functions of Behavior at Home
Fast forward to today and the wrap of our series. Learning about functions of behavior can be overwhelming. To think that all human behavior can be categorized into four sections and then studied from there is work by itself! This is the work we love at Instructional ABA Consultants but let me tell you this first hand as a mama, that shit is hard at home.
Raising Henry has been one of the greatest blessings of my life (Dametrius and Declan are the other two). Henry, as I’ve written, is a strong-willed child with a great big heart. Henry feels and responds to things the moment his feet hit the ground. This brings me to the title.
About a year ago I was transitioning Henry to a booster seat from his high chair. It’s a value of mine that my boys eat at the table and don’t wander around eating or zone out eating in front of a screen. I love food and want us to enjoy it together as a family. Henry? Henry had wanted no part in this family value.
I knew the function of his daily battling was escape from the table and followed him through each time for sitting. He would not back down. Frazzled, I went to my team saying I was now six months in and I still had to use strict follow-through at every meal to get Henry to sit and the end was nowhere in sight. One of our BCBAs (now supervisor & PhD!) Allaina Douglas said, “Jessie you have to pick your mountain to die on.”
What she meant was if this was an important value to my family that I would need to let go of other demands through the day that were less important and literally buckle into sitting at the table. So that’s what I did. I sat down and thought about what was really important for me with Henry so that when I made any demands, including sitting, I knew I had to be ready to follow through. This allowed me to lighten up on what wasn’t a value (PJs all day? Sure! Tv all day? No way) and hone in on what I did want to see out Henry.
Henry responded beautifully to this regarding the sitting. We then of course entered the 8-month potty training saga but hey, you win some, you lose some, but I digress. In the end, I understood that as a mama and clinician I couldn’t be function-based all day every day. That shit is exhausting. I could pick my values so that I could decide which behaviors will be allowed in my home and which ones won’t be. As my children grow up this will provide them their own moral compass to follow. I parent Dametrius way differently than Declan and Henry (as he is older) but our values are still the same.
Functions of Behavior and Being a Mom
This leads me to the second “purely mama” part of this. When you are choosing to live in a home where you are the leader and not your children it takes an incredible amount of energy. It would be super relaxing and wonderful if we could all say yes to popsicles for breakfast and binging Netflix every day. For most of this, we have different values than that for our kids (zero judgment here if these are your values!).
Being a leader in the family means you will have to implement rules and therefore boundaries. This is work! In order to do this, we as parents have to learn how to rest, reflect, and take care of ourselves so we can implement our values in the home. When we don’t we risk either giving in or blowing up. While this happens to the best of us, I know personally that I want this to be the exception to my parenting, not the rule.
In order to do the meaningful work of choosing what goes in your home and standing on that mountain, we as parents have to be at home with ourselves. That means spending time with our own thoughts, deciding our own values, and creating a self-care plan. The time with your thoughts and deciding values provides a compass for your home. Remember, attacking every single behavior and function in your family home would be exhausting! Picking your mountain means picking what’s important to you.
The self-care plan is included because, let’s be honest, as a mama or papa shit gets real fast. At any given moment our children are doing the next “please don’t do that thing.” We can navigate through our days with intention (most of the time!) when we’re rested and healthy. For me, this looks like morning meditation, evening journaling, and drinking more tea than wine these days. It also looks like saying I’m sorry when I do slip up and yell or holding myself accountable if I gave in when I didn’t want to.
Last night Henry had a high-emotion night because it had snowed and he really wanted to go outside to play at bedtime. I had to say no, it was bedtime. But I sure as shit could say yes when he asked me for a cool down bath with his swimsuit on. Rock on Henry, rock on Mama! We followed our values and I sat on my mountain. I hope this helps you find yours.
You guys, this past week has been a long and dark one. I’m so thankful for being able to write this blog. You see, I believe the universe has divine timing when we are connected to it. It always provides the lesson we need if we’re willing to listen.
I talked about why we care what others think of us and how that affects being a love warrior in last week’s blog. This led to a week of clearing a lot of energy to pave the way for living connected to my own divine nature and authentic voice. Through finding the strength in my voice I’m able to give my children the example they need to grow up using theirs. I can then also use my voice to empower other mamas to raise love warriors. Let’s dig in.
Embracing Love by Denying Hate
Okay, I said this past week has been a long dark one. The universe has been sending a lot of negative energy my way through different interactions. People have been coming into my life with their own insecurities and I have been asking them to leave (politely). I’ve been doing this using vulnerability and defenselessness. For, as my friend Heather reminded me, “Our strength is in our defenselessness.” I have nothing to hide and no space for hate.
As human beings, we all have traits we exhibit when we are in fear and therefore in defense of ourselves. In the current world climate, I believe we’re unpacking generations of keeping up appearances at all costs. Then, when our perceived sense of self (our ego) is brought into question, we may explode at others. Does this make sense? And that’s been exactly what’s been happening to me, people are exploding and I’m calming saying, “hate begets hate, this is not the way.”
It’s like a mask to protect ourselves from what we fear to be true about ourselves. The most common example is when someone points out something to us that reminds us of what we’re ashamed of, so we attack. Everyone does this but most people don’t consciously do it to hurt other people. If they do that’s a whole different issue.
In this defense of self versus defenselessness what happens is we can become the person other people are saying we are. We think by lashing out and becoming the biggest person in the room that we’ll “show them” how wrong the attacker is and how right we are. You guys, this is totally backward and the foundational problem to almost every human problem in the world.
You see, we are all born divinely. The spirit creates us for this perfect path. And then we meet our environment. The environment is the people, places, words, and experiences that we all go through. If we’re lucky, we’ll be born into a home that lifts us up and teaches us to live with a brave heart. If we’re not that lucky, we’re taught to fit in and push down who we truly are.
This could be from well-intentioned parents who don’t want their daughters to be fat and bullied, or gay and bullied, and so on & so forth. Or it could be from your own childhood insecurities or your perceived identity that you want your family to look like outside of the home. Even worse, it could be from an emotionally or physically abusive home. But here’s the thing; at any time we can all collectively decide to call bullshit on who the world is telling us to be. That’s a love warrior. And love warriors need strength and armor to protect them from an environment that can crush their divine nature.
Raising Your Love Warriors
There is only one way to raise a love warrior; be a love warrior yourself. That’s it, you guys. Our children demand that we love ourselves with our whole hearts because it shows them it’s okay to love themselves with their whole heart. If we continue to conform ourselves to fit into the new mom group, the gym, work, finding a ‘perfect’ partner, or living up to our family’s unrealistic expectations of ourselves, all we are really doing is telling our children to fake who they are.
If our children fake who they are they will lose themselves. I don’t know about you but I’m a grown-ass woman just now fully waking up and standing tall as myself. I’m not going to lie–it’s hard as hell. I have to model this strength for my children so when the world gets noisy they have the armor they need to be true to their own hearts.
I don’t know about you but I do not want my children to ‘fit in,’ ever. I want them to soar through the world on the wings God gave them, roots in the earth. In my house we stand up to bullies, we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for what is good and what is kind. We honor our imperfections, hold space for failure, make mistakes, and love freely. In my house we believe who we are is exactly who we are supposed to be.
Noisey world or not, we’re at home in our hearts and nothing matters more than that.
P.S. Total credit to the amazing Heather Shannon, my soul sister. And with love to my Aunt Linda.