Making the Shift for Autism (Parent/Caregiver)- by Vicky Westra

autism neurodiversity neuroshifts positive thinking vickywestra May 25, 2022

Today, Autism is a very stigmatized diagnosis. I’m sure as a Parent or Caregiver of someone diagnosed with Autism, you already know this. All you have to do is to look at the current employment rate for individuals with Autism, research the diagnosis online to see how it is defined, or even just talk to your child about whether they feel like people truly understand them or their diagnosis.

When my husband and I received the diagnosis of Autism for our own daughter Gabbi at the age of four, we were devastated to receive this news. Our doctor delivered the diagnosis of PDD-NOS, which he added was “part of this broader diagnosis called Autism”. That was almost 20 years ago and we had no familiarity with the term “Autism”.

After doing our own research, what we were able to find (the internet was much more limited back then) was very scary, causing fear to rear its ugly head in our household consistently throughout Gabbi’s first decade of life. We feared not finding the right schools or resources for her, whether we would be able to manage all of the therapies (having enough time and money), and what kind of future she (and we) would have, just to name a few.

The first sign of a Shift for us came when we found a wonderful Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) instructor, a professor teaching the Master’s program at the local University, as well as finding a school that used ABA as an integral part of their curriculum. Working with these amazing individuals started to help shift our focus from the negative behaviors that we were seeing, to actively focusing on those things that Gabbi was doing well. This approach became the basis of a philosophy we use now as part of our teaching – “that which you focus on will expand”. It also did wonders for Gabbi, because she went from negative attention seeking behaviors to more positive ones.

Our Shifting journey continued as I left my corporate America job and started a coffee company and a Non-Profit for Autism at around the same time. These two organizations came together to form the first of its kind Café called “Artistas Café” in 2011, which developed into a barista training and employment program for individuals with Autism.

Artistas Café allowed me to become fully immersed in the world of Autism. I could more clearly see and understand some of the behaviors and characteristics that with Gabbi, I couldn’t quite understand. I often say, sometimes you are so close to your children and have so much emotion tied to the relationship, that it’s hard to understand the things that are happening (as in, “you can’t see the forest for the trees”). Through this process, I developed new understanding of Autism…one that allowed me to better see how the world misinterprets this population’s way of being and the things that they are doing.

As a result, I’ve now come to appreciate Autism in a whole new way, which has renewed my relationship with Gabbi to one that is based upon appreciation and unconditional love. However, this couldn’t happen until I shifted my thoughts around her and the diagnosis.

Today, our programs are all centered around helping the entire Autism community to develop a new understanding and appreciation of the diagnosis. The old perspective of Autism looks at it from the lens of the challenges it presents. However, the new perspective of Autism is one that recognizes the uniqueness, gifts, talents and evolved way of being this population brings to the world. This new approach challenges us to get up to speed with the diagnosis and our loved ones, allowing us to expand our perspectives around what we consider to be “okay” or “normal”. We here at Autism Shifts strongly believe that people with Autism are on the leading edge… here to expand our perspectives, opening our eyes to so many other things about their (and our) world.

One thing I know for sure is that the Shift for the Autism diagnosis will come as more and more of us within the Autism community join in as part of this new collective. Getting up to speed about Autism and into the mindset of hope and positive expectation, both for our children and ourselves, is what will create the momentum to allow “The Shift” to happen.

As with any movement in the past including the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement and the LGBTQ Movement, we have to first believe that we are not lesser, but equal… and that this world needs to expand it’s perspective (as it did with all these movements) to integrate Autism successfully into our communities and our world. Our children have the same rights to live their lives on purpose as anyone else!

As new Shifter Members join this movement, our collective focus on these intentions will expand not only our desire, but the impact on our broader communities, to effect the change we all are seeking!

We welcome you and are excited that you are here to learn, grow and help lead this movement. We can each become examples of what we want to create in this world. And by doing so, we will allow the Autism community to take its rightful place, enabling all to live their lives in the Green Zone of hope, positive expectation and joy!

With Joy and Love,

Vicky Westra