Health lessons learned from autism
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a topic that we’ve been blogging about, but it’s also autism Awareness Month, which hits very close to home for some of us. As I was noticing all the rainbow puzzle ribbons around town (the image associated with autism awareness), I realized that many of the lessons I learned from loving and raising someone with autism are some of the same lessons that inform my work as a health coach.
Here are lessons I’ve learned from my son, who just happens to have autism.
1. You can’t compartmentalize health.
Or parenthood. Or work. Or autism. Or anything else that matters. Sure, it’s easier to think we can, because then one day it can be something that we cross off our lists. But, it’s not that simple. While priorities ebb and flow throughout life, it’s only when we realize that all of the elements of our life are interconnected, that we can set ourselves up for success. The decisions we make in one area of our lives impact other areas, for better or worse.
2. Have faith that things will change and get better.
The only certainty in life is that things will change. However, when what we want to change is personal and/or challenges us, somehow we throw that certainty out the window. When our son was diagnosed with autism at 20 months, the doctor told us, “it will get better. It always does.” At the time, I had no idea what the future held, but I still cling to those words, and so far, they have been true. As humans, we naturally fear that our current situation will continue indefinitely. But it won’t. Because nothing ever stays the same. We change. Our situations change. Our perspectives change. We mature. Those we love mature. It gets better.
3. Know that change takes time.
Ironically, I’ve often compared creating a new behavioral change to solving a 1,000 piece puzzle (the autism Society is onto something). We start with what we know, the edges maybe, or an identifiable section of the puzzle. Then we invest time until slowly, things come together, and we figure out one area, then another. The frustration we felt at the beginning of the puzzle journey dissipates as we connect more and more pieces. So it is with behavior change, and/or dealing with new diagnoses or life challenges. The struggles at the beginning slowly disappear as we invest time and energy into connecting the puzzle pieces. We gain momentum, and eventually we solve the puzzle and have something beautiful to show for our efforts.
4. You are the expert on your life and your health.
This is the cornerstone of health coaching. You are in charge of your life and your health. You are unique and whole on your own, and we are just here to bring out your best and to reflect back the positive that you can’t see. In the early years after my son’s diagnosis, I was consumed by autism. There was a lot of information out there, and I read it all, because, darnit, I was going to fix this. Over time I realized that no amount of research could control something that was out of my control. No matter how much I read, I could not make my baby talk, point or stop spinning things. And as my son has gotten older, I’ve learned that he’s a happy, healthy, smart and sensitive boy, despite my years of over controlling parenting (not because of them). My son was my son the whole time; all I had to do was set the theories aside and just listen to him. He had been trying to tell me what he needed all along, but I was too consumed with my agenda (of fixing everything) to listen. We were traveling like a stagecoach on the Autobahn, but the point was, we were moving forward, just at a different pace. Once I accepted that his journey wasn’t the same as mine, or anyone else’s, and that he truly is the expert in his life, things got a whole lot easier (and more fun). This is your health journey; you are the expert, so be true to yourself, and surround yourself with others willing to listen.
5. Stay positive.
As I raise a child who has a history of various delays, trust me when I say, I take nothing for granted, and I believe, neither should you. So if you are doing 99 things right, please don’t focus on the one thing you aren’t doing. Focus on the 99. We all know that it takes time and attention to learn a new behavior; that goes for everybody, not everybody but you. I’ve often referred to health coaching as the whisper in your ear that says, “you are worth this and you are doing great!” Inspiration and motivation are seldom gleaned from berating ourselves, so focus on the positives each and every day.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
– TANYA RUNCI, BA, MA, ADE, CHC | HEALTH ADVISOR