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. To read part 1, click here.
Here are the final five lessons I’ve learned from my son, who just happens to have autism:
Stay true to your vision.
This assumes that you know your vision, so take the time to visualize what you want to achieve in life and in health. Hazy goals produce hazy results. This is one of the first steps in health coaching and one that requires time and attention. It is impossible to know how to get there, if you don’t know where there is. What are your priorities? Your values? Your passions? How do you see your life panning out? Once you have your vision, use it as a litmus test to make decisions or to course-correct when needed.
Hit pause if you need a breather.
When our son was around three, we were doing 20 hours of ABA (therapy) per week, had speech twice a week, and occupational therapy twice a week. I spent about 15 hours per week driving him around to his appointments, and on the weekends, we experimented with play therapy. Needless to say, when summer came around, we all needed a break. I felt guilty because therapy is therapy and progress is progress, and they are both good things, right? But not every good thing in life is good at all times, in endless quantities. The kids and I were tired and cranky, and we just weren’t living the life we envisioned (see #6). We needed to play. We needed less structure. So we scaled back to the minimum to regain our bearings. As you make any lifestyle change, please know that there may be a season of re-calibration. Don’t freak out; it’s natural. Listen to your body, remember your health vision and let those two truths guide you and your decisions. And let go of the rest for a while. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
Value insights more than information.
Information: while good, has it’s limits. One of the limits is that every week there are new studies contradicting last week’s studies, at least in regard to health. Insight is defined as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” Information feeds insights, but insights come from an intuitive application of the information. They are the “Aha!” moments. The moment you realize that you feel like taking a nap after eating a certain food. Or the moment you realize that life is passing you by and you don’t want to waste another moment doing the same thing. Or the moment you realize that you’ve been trying to cram that square peg into a round hole for five years, and it’s just not meant to be. Insights are precious and will guide your journey, making your vision come to life.
Don’t succumb to “the deficit model.”
I’m not sure if this is an official term. I started using it when I worked in another field, for an organization who always challenged me to do more, despite the fact that I was doing the job of three people. Being the perfectionist that I was at the time, it was crushing because nothing I did was ever good enough. I found myself thinking about the deficit model as I was working with my son, because it was easy to notice his differences (clinically labeled as “deficits”). Sometimes they were so blatant everyone saw them, and I hated that. I hated that he was defined by those deficits, as opposed to who he was. As I work with participants who are concerned with the one thing they didn’t do, or can’t do, or think they should do, the feeling comes back. Many of the participants I’ve worked with have overcome tremendous odds and devastating life circumstances. They are strong, they still laugh and are full of joy, and they consistently work towards their health visions. Let’s toss the deficit model out the window and define ourselves by our strengths and our successes, not our differences or deficits.
Sometimes it stinks.
Dealing with difficult situations isn’t fun. Changing a habit can be exhausting, and transforming your life isn’t a walk in the park. On a fairly regular basis, I still feel like I’m punched in the stomach by autism. Not everyone understands, and that’s okay, because that’s not the point. This is your journey and your life. You get to define it, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? As health coaches, we always ask, “What did you learn from this?” or “What is your takeaway?” So as you reflect on your life and your unique challenges and successes. What have you learned and how can that knowledge inform your life and your health for the better?
– TANYA RUNCI, BA, MA, ADE, CHC | HEALTH ADVISOR