My work in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Special Education, and Psychology started over 15 years ago when I
graduated from Northeastern University and started working as an assistant at a school for those with traumatic brain injury. As I
further defined my career choices by continuing my education in these areas, I always wanted to make a difference and help people.
At that time, it never really occurred to me that above anything else my education and desire to further my career would end up being
invaluable in how I raise a child. When my friends and I started delving deeper into learning about autism and ABA, my friends would sometimes talk about how it would seem like some sort of universal calling that we would know so much about the field and also have a child on the spectrum. Having a child wasn’t high on my list of priorities at that point, so I usually would brush off those talks and didn’t think about it much. I would see those around me have family members or kids with autism but never really entertained the thought of it happening to me.
I started to see how my friends’ education and experience would further help those close to them, which I thought was wonderful, especially as there is a pretty high rate of our children having either autism or another disability. It didn’t really fully hit me until my fiancé and I were expecting our first child over 3 years ago. Those conversations came flooding back to me and I had this overwhelming feeling that having a child on the spectrum would be part of my future as a new parent. I can’t scientifically quantify or define that feeling that I had, I just KNEW. It wasn’t a bad thing (and still isn’t), it was just something I knew deep down would happen and I started to become more grateful for all my education and work experiences. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but was well aware that it would be a lot easier given my understanding and experience in the fields of autism, special education, ABA, and psychology. I once knew someone whose family member was diagnosed with autism, but they had the benefit of having their father one of the leading researchers and leaders in the field. As challenging as the diagnosis is, their family would get the best resources and support. Here I am, extremely grateful that I am in a similar position.
Having a child on the spectrum is not easy, there are so many things one must now consider that you probably wouldn’t even think about if your child was neuro-typical. At the same time, there are so many blessings and amazing things that my son is doing because of being on the spectrum. To me, autism is both extremely difficult and extremely rewarding and beneficial. Parents of clients that I have frequently tell me my outlook and ability to see both sides is what gives them further hope and clarity in challenging times. Life isn’t just black and white, it is typically a mixture of both and I feel the same about autism. It did take some time to fully accept that I will never ever be able to just leave my job at work. My work is something I carry with me at all times. I might finish doing a visual schedule and PECS for a client and then I am working on the same thing for my son. You come in my house and you see pretty much all the same visuals, strategies, and programs that you would see at your house.
Currently I am very fortunate with his prognosis and sadly there are so many that have much harder struggles then my family, but at the end of the day, my son has a better chance in this world with me having his back. That is something I am extremely grateful for. I have had many roles in my career which has only helped make me a better clinician. Whether it has been as a special educator, advocate, behavior analyst, autism specialist, or psychologist, I understand the complexity of the overall system and ways to better address it. Now as a parent, it further rounds out my experiences and only adds to what I bring to the table.
Having a child on the spectrum also helps me to better understand and respect the challenges that parents face. Whether it is the struggle to find appropriate resources, funding, or understanding for your child, I understand that fully. I am right there with you. I can greatly appreciate how difficult it is to run a Behavior Intervention Plan, a program on receptive language skills, track data throughout the day, or carry through on a reinforcement system. It is no easy task and I have better learned as my experience as a parent, how to make programs and plans as easy as possible for a parent to follow with everything else they have on their plate. I no longer view situations as just a clinician, I also add the layer of being a parent to everything I do. When I hear you talk about the struggles of your child not sleeping through the night and only have four hours of sleep, believe me, I’ve been there. When you talk about the joy of seeing your child reach different milestones ahead of their peers or the amazement of having your child know every single detail about dinosaurs, I am a proud parent of an almost three year old that can already read even with a speech delay and is already doing 48 piece puzzles by himself. I know the triumphs and difficulties of having a child on the spectrum.
To add to this, one of the reasons I love working for Northeast Arc is the fact that I am not the only parent with a child on the spectrum. Whether it be in the Autism ABA Program, Building Blocks, Spotlight, the Autism Center or any of the number of programs that Northeast Arc provides, there is a sizable percentage of us with children or close relatives with autism. We aren’t just speaking from education or clinical experience. We are right there with you and we understand the triumphs and struggles firsthand. We advocate and work so hard because we are both professionally and personally invested in autism. We are a family and everyone we serve is also part of that family. We are all in this together and together we give a greater voice to advocate, teach, work through the difficult times, and show the benefits of autism.
To learn more about Northeast Arc’s Autism ABA Services, call 978-624-2352 or email us.