Five things I’ve learned working as Behavioral Interventionist for Children with Autism have changed my mental and physical health for the better – and I want to share them with you.
1) Identify the triggers.
Breakdowns happen to all of us. Sometimes far too often. Identifying the triggers of when and how these happen is a huge step in lessening the degree to which they happen. In my readings on Autism, this is a huge point that is constantly trying to be made. What causes the unwanted behavior? What times of day? How could this be prevented? The moment I began reading up on these topics, I started applying them to my life, as a 29-year-old woman. Who am I to be setting goals and doing behavioral therapy with a 4-year-old, if I myself am not willing to try to improve as a human being as well?
My triggers? Drinking. Dating. Negative people (who, bless their hearts, are not a part of my life for that reason anymore). Certain elements of the music industry. Lack of sleep. Lack of physical activity. There. Identified.
That was over a few weeks of noticing when my ‘breakdowns’ happened. Who they happened around. Adding alcohol in the mix heightens the level at which they happen. Twenty-one days into my little self exploration, I’ve noticed a constant state of calm, clarity, and no breakdowns.
2) Laugh more.
Simple as that.
3) Trying is enough.
There are good days, and bad days when working with children, or anyone for that matter. But what I say to the little boy I work with, as well as the kids in the charity I work for is…“Try.” Even if they don’t come close to whatever it is the goal was, I see in their eyes the struggle and the strength it took to make the step and deal mentally with the proactive idea of embarrassing themselves in their minds. Again, who am I to give this rule to children, if I’m not willing to grant myself this safety net?
I love the quote “Fail harder.” Not that I believe anything is truly failing, but there are no set guarantees in life. So if you’re going to try something, try with everything you have. And that, in itself, is enough. Trying, is enough.
4) Eye contact = communication.
The very first boy I worked with was nonverbal. Part of his program was helping him to use more eye contact. This again was something that once I started teaching, I had to absolutely add to my own life. Lack of eye contact and anxiety go hand in hand in my experience. Lack of eye contact and Autism sometimes do as well. So if I’m going to try to get this little boy who exclusively uses body language and eye contact to communicate, I’m going to have to have some ground rules on myself.
I challenged myself to make eye contact – and I mean solid, connected, beautiful, honest eye contact with everyone I encounter everyday. For me, this can feel extremely difficult, invasive, awkward, unnatural, when to someone else it’s not even a thought. Really, try it. When you’re feeling your absolute worst, on your hardest of days, I guarantee your eye contact with others will slip. It’s a way to retract into one’s self – to cut off communication even more so than just remaining silent. So I now, actively, and with effort, try to improve my eye contact with others, in order to have more human connections around me day to day.
5) Celebrate the ‘small’ victories. Because they aren’t small at all.
My first few tasks with a little boy I work with was to learn shapes. Simple circle, square, triangle shapes. I thought, ‘Alright, this is too easy.’ Two months in, seeing daily struggles of trying and ‘failing’, and getting frustrated, and still trying again. I felt as thought I was watching someone climb Mount Everest, with a Crayola marker in one hand.
I truly believe that the more relaxed and the more encouraged someone is, the more they’ll succeed. From 4-year-olds with Autism, to my 29-year-old self, encouragement is gold. I will forever live by the Kevin Smith quote “Discourage an artist, and you will get nothing in return, ever.” We’re all artists in our own way, and this is 100% accurate in my book.
The other day when coloring, Everest, I’ll call him, drew a perfect triangle on his own. “I made a mountain!” he said. He jumped out of his chair, and did a happy dance! I couldn’t express enough words of praise to even come close to what he deserved. But I think the victory within himself was enough. This wasn’t something small. This was days, hours of trying and messing up lines. Avoiding eye contact. Breakdowns. Embarrassment. Feelings of unworthiness. All shattered like glass when those 3 perfect lines came together and made a triangle.
How many victories have you had today, that went uncelebrated? Did you get out of bed? Shower? Make yourself coffee? Smile at a stranger? Laugh at something ridiculous? Celebrate these things. These moments make up the entire life you live. Why not celebrate every tiny moment and mountain that is in your days? Because you forget sometimes, the days you spent desperately not wanting to get out of bed, avoiding eye contact, not following your passions and dreams, not living your best self. So any time you do anything that is a step in the direction you want to be going, celebrate it. Because all those simple lines will turn into a mountain before you even notice you’ve climbed one.
This article appeared in our 2015 Women’s Issue digital magazine. You can read more amazing articles about women here!