By Will Barrios
After speaking with Stacy and writing this article I am really amazed at her perspective on Autism. She values learning. As a coach, her goal is for her families to have the right tools to succeed as a healthy family unit. She encourages all family members to participate in learning, encouraging social stories and teaching children on the spectrum how to play. The most innate functions of play, for most people, are much harder for those on the spectrum and sometimes we have to be the ones to play in their social world to bridge the gap.
A: Sure! So the name of my company is Everything Autism. Even though I don’t have a child on the spectrum I am extremely passionate about autism. I find uniqueness in the way the autism brain functions. My background is speech therapy, which started about eighteen to nineteen years ago when we started getting the influx of students on the spectrum. So, when I started as a speech therapist I may have seen 1 kiddo on the spectrum in 5 years. Then I got 1 student on my caseload, then 2 students, then 5 in the same year. That was when the whole country started getting in an uproar about “What’s going on”?
Back then we didn’t have Google. There was no Google search. Finding a book on autism was literally searching on AOL and ordering old books. Eventually, I read everything I could get my hands on. Every autobiography, everything I could read. My school district paid for everything. Anything I wanted to take they paid for and that’s what I did - I took every training class I could. And that was it. There was no turning back. I found my purpose, my passion, and I haven’t stopped since.
Recently, I’ve gone back to school. I went back to school to get a degree in Child Development, Masters in Psychology. Then I went back to school and got a certification in applied behavioral analyses. And I recently completed certification in sensory enrichment therapy. With autism, it’s the behavioral component, the communication, and sensory component. Those are the three things you have to sort of get therapy for as early as possible for your child to have the best chance to be successful. That’s why my business is called Everything Autism because I have everything that revolves around autism as well as 25+ years in the education system. My business is families, the autism spectrum community, and helping families with everything autism beyond the label.
What I do is work with families. I consider myself to be an autism coach. I coach families through using strategies in their households. I educate my families. I help them through the challenges. I think it’s important for parents to be an expert on their child. You have to know what autism is. You have to understand it. It’s a spectrum disorder. What’s great is that every family is different. Every family dynamic is different. The strategies are the same but they look different in every house.
A: If parents really learn about autism they have the tools to advocate for their child through the insurance companies, through the school systems, and with family members. Family members can be very negative when it comes to accepting autism. Sometimes, I feel like I should go back to school for a degree in counseling because I do a lot of couples dynamics. I tell my moms, "I want you to take an hour this week and not think about autism". "Go get your hair or nails done". I have to tell my couples, "I want you to go on a date even if it’s walking in the park without your child".
I do a lot of helping families to get through the challenges. It’s hard. Autism just comes with so many dynamics. Most of my families start out with me while their child is young. They’re with me for at least a year or two because that’s the nitty-gritty time where there’s so much you can do. When they’re older its really tough to make changes.
One thing that‘s happened, that I didn’t anticipate, is that my families I’ve coached are now coaching other families. They’ll go to another family and help with strategies. I love that there’s this domino effect of parents educating other parents.
A: And it’s really what I want to do. I hope one day I can meet a philanthropist and just do this for free, just drive around in an autism bus. One day I’m going to have an autism bus and just provide it for free!
A: Autism is a social communication, neurological based, disorder. That’s where our kids struggle. They may play with their toys alone and not really want to share with other kids. It’s not that they don’t want to share. They don’t know how to share.
The way kids on the spectrum play with things may not be the way other kids play. So they’ll do different things when they play with Legos. Blocks are not just randomly stacked. With kids on the autism spectrum there’s a pattern, a color coding system, and an organization. It’s not just stacking blocks for fun. When you have a classroom with students on the spectrum, recess is really the hardest time of the day. It’s usually the easiest time for teachers because kids go out and play, naturally. But kids on the spectrum don’t know how to play so we have to teach them directly. When you have a kiddo who can’t socialize and play nobody invites you to birthday parties. Other families don’t invite you to picnics and you’re isolated at home. This all happens because you have a child who doesn’t have the social skills to navigate through another group of children.
A: Yes! Social stories are scripts. We call it front-loading information to a kiddo on the spectrum. Social stories are what the social rules are and how they are navigating through an activity. A lot of times social stories are really simply things like how to ask someone to play. The social story may be something really simple like, “when I go to the playground I want to play ball with the other children”, so “when I go to them I have to ask them”. The whole social story concept is that you are giving them the wording and rules but all in a story.
You give a child skills, sometimes verbal, to navigate a social part of their day. Sometimes the social story has nothing to do with others; sometimes it’s as simple as going to a new school. I just sent a social story to a parent whose child was starting school. So the social story was, “on Monday I’m going to start a new school” and then we have a picture of a school. It’s providing the information to the child so they know what to expect so their anxiety levels are not so high. It also helps them to understand what their day is like and what they have to do.
A: Yes! I love that you’ve already picked up on that word! Structure, structure, structure!
A: When parents get a diagnosis it’s very challenging. They have to go through a grieving process. All parents need to allow themselves time to go through that process. The important part is not to isolate yourself. Don’t feel shameful and stay at home. That’s not going to help you help your child. It’s hard, it’s very hard. I am hoping that in my lifetime we take the sting away from autism because it is not a shame to have a child with autism.
A lot of parents will try and hide it. They won’t talk about it. They won’t tell their relatives. I have families who don’t tell the siblings and I say, “why don’t you tell them”? They just don’t say anything because they have not allowed themselves to grieve. Once you allow yourself to go through the process then you can get to the work.
Lastly, I tell teachers, parents, and counselors if you can read one autobiography written by someone on the spectrum, just one, you will gain insight that will lead you in a different direction. It will open your world and your perspective will change. It’ll take you in a new direction, which is the right direction for your child, grandchild, or student.
After speaking with Stacy I’m inspired to learn more about Autism and how I can continue to provide a platform to discuss tools for growth within the Autism community. This conversation started out of a connection with a family of a child on the spectrum. I introduced Tatro to the family and they thought it would be a great tool for social stories. I hope to continue working with Stacy, learning more about her, and her kids on the spectrum.
If you have a family member, friend, or colleague that has a loved one on the spectrum, please share. Let them know that they are not alone and that help is out there, like Stacy, who can provide help along the way. Ask your friends and your community for guidance. We must be the ones to facilitate the tools necessary to create healthy and capable adults in our social world. Start early and learn as much as you can.
For more information on Stacy and Everything Autism please visit www.autism4home.com or
Stacy has also volunteered as an Autism Coach in Ghana. To learn about her trip please visit www.allaboutthespectrum.org
For new ways to tell social stories pre-order Tatro: A Magnetic World of Play HERE.