I’ve talked with BCBA therapists and I’ve talked with individuals with autism, but it is not often I talk with a BCBA therapist with autism. Armando Bernal was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old in 1993. Now he is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and host of the podcast, A Different Path. We had a delightful conversation covering all about his diagnosis and treatment, things he faces now as an adult with autism, and how he works as a BCBA therapist as an individual with autism.
Armando, like my son Lucas, was diagnosed in the 90s. At that time, ABA was not as well known and researched as it is today, especially in Armando’s case. This was before the time of mandated insurance coverage, and Armando and his family did not qualify for ABA or really know much about it all. That did not stop his mom from fully captaining the ship. She brought him to the library with his older sister, read books, tried different approaches at home, and advocated for him every step of the way. Armando explains that he remembers being told about his diagnosis and it really helped him understand who he was and the why behind his differences, which was really empowering for him.
In public school, Armando really flourished at the hands of his principal and mother’s advocacy. When he was struggling in a classroom, they found a better fit for him. He notes this as an important time for himself and that he really owes a lot to the friends he made then for who he is now. Public School is also where he learned to mask. No, not COVID masks. Masking autism is when an individual minimizes or hides certain characteristics or habits related to their autism in order to fit in with social norms. This is something that was super prevalent in public schools and society in the 90s and early 00s. Now, however, many autism advocates speak out against masking and it’s way of decreasing self-acceptance and encouraging insecurity. Armando says, sometimes masking just makes things easier.
We’ve often discussed the controversy around ABA on this podcast. Armando says he often hears apprehensions about the therapy as well, but he is an advocate for understanding ABA and finding good providers. It’s important to have an open dialog on the topic, and many times the people who consider ABA abuse aren’t willing to hear the other side of it, and that is part of the problem. Armando provides ABA therapy to children across the spectrum. As someone with autism himself, his main focus is to make therapy discussions focused on the child and family, and he only discloses his diagnosis in situations where he lends hope to parents who are struggling with their new reality.
Dating and life is hard no matter who you are. Dating as an individual with autism brings about its own unique challenges. Armando talks about his fiancé with so much love and joy, it’s really so special to hear! The online dating world, he says, has made dating with autism so much easier, at least in his case. He found digital conversation the best way to be himself and get to know someone without the best social cues. Turns out he found his match.
Armando is an incredible person who is definitely going places. As someone on the spectrum with his achievements, he introduced his new podcast, A Different Path, in which he tells diverse stories of individuals diagnosed with autism. There are so many incredible people and stories to hear. Autism is a spectrum and there are people on all sides. Take for instance my son Lucas; he is 25 years old and lives a very different life from Armando. There is hope, there is treatment, but overall a spectrum of autism will create a spectrum of outcomes.
My goal in my work, this podcast, my book, is to help all individuals with autism regardless of their place on the spectrum, is to attain three things: safety, independence, and happiness. And that is going to look very different for everyone. I truly enjoyed talking with Armando today and look forward to hearing more from him on his podcast. You can find out more about him and the show at Autism International.
Armando Bernal on Turn Around Autism
Armando Bernal is an experienced Board Certified Behavior Analyst in Spring, Texas who works primarily with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder aged 2-10 years-old. Armando Is a proud graduate of Texas A&M University, where he earned his master’s in special education in 2019. In addition to his position, Armando Is the host of the podcast A Different Path, presented by Autism intl., which presents the diverse stories of other individuals diagnosed with autism.
- What is masking autism?
- Can an autistic person be a therapist?
- How to disclose autism?
- Is ABA therapy abusive?
- What does dating look like as an individual with autism?
- Understanding your own diagnosis as a child or adult with autism.
- What are the three things all autistic individuals need to achieve?
- Sign up for a free workshop online for parents & professionals)
- Insurance Coverage for Autism: Who Pays for Treatment? | Interview with Lorri Unumb
- Autism in the Media, Dating & Love on the Spectrum | Interview with Dr. Kerry Magro
- Challenges of Autism Bullying, Dating Someone with Autism and Learning to Drive with Autism
- ABA Therapy: Four Myths and Truths
- Tameika Meadows: Good ABA Therapy
- Autism International
- Autism International on Facebook
- Autism International (@autismintl) on Instagram
#151 Turn Autism Around Podcast Transcript
Transcript for Podcast Episode: 151
Armando Bernal on His Journey as a BCBA Therapist with Autism
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera
Guest: Armando Bernal
Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast, episode number one hundred and fifty one. Today we have Armando Bernal on the show, and he is both an individual diagnosed with autism at the age of three, and he is also a board-certified behavior analyst. So while I've done a lot of shows with individuals with autism and a lot of shows with board-certified behavior analysts, this our first opportunity to hear from somebody with both a history of autism and as a BCBA. So it is a fascinating discussion. I loved it. Armando is working as a board-certified behavior analyst, and he's also the host of the brand new podcast, A Different Path, which presents diverse stories of other individuals diagnosed with autism. So he is just a delight to talk to. Let's get to this important interview with Armando Bernal.
Welcome to the Turn Autism Around podcast for both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host. Autism Mom, Behavior Analyst, and bestselling author Dr. Mary Barbera.
Mary: All right, Armando, it is so nice to meet you. I'm happy that you could join us tonight.
Armando: It's very nice to be here. Thank you for having me.
Mary: Yeah. So you have a very unique position. You are actually on the autism spectrum. So I always like to start with the same question describing your fall into autism also. Can you tell our listeners when you were diagnosed and how severe you were and those sorts of things?
Armando's Autism Diagnosis and Early Treatment:
Armando: Yeah, of course. So I was diagnosed very young, around three years old, and I guess that was when I started my role in autism. Doctors told my mother that I might as well learn sign language because I was never going to speak, and here I am now being able to speak. And ever since then, I've just been able to learn as I go, learn from others, and have the support of my family. From the beginning, my mother had studied autism and learned to learn about it after the diagnosis and helped me along in order to learn social cues and things like that. I eventually graduated in high school, graduated college, became a special ed teacher and then got into the field of ABA and became a board certified behavior analyst.
Mary: Wow. So you put a lot of your years all rolled into one, so let's kind of dissect it a little bit. Did you ever receive ABA therapy when you were young?
Armando: No, I didn't. We couldn't afford it growing up. So my mother tried to find the next best thing, which was going to the library. She would go to the library every week, and so I'm told it was my mother, my father and my sister. My sister is a little bit older, and so she would help support my mother through this on myself. And so they would go to the library and take out books, learn about different kinds of interventions or things that could work out and use that on me. Some were better than others, of course, and just over the years, I would learn from those interventions, but also be able to practice social skills actually when I was in elementary school. And this all started. I was in life skills for a couple of years. I eventually was able to test out a life skills and was granted a gifted and talented association. That's something that we do in Texas for the kids here in public school, and I went that route and was able to get verbal skills. I was in speech therapy for some time and was able to just make friends that way, be able to make friends that knew me for me. Obviously, at that time, I didn't really understand my diagnosis, but I understood that I was a little different from others.
Mary: So when you were diagnosed, was that the late 1990s, 2000s?
Armando: It was about the mid-nineties. Yeah. Yeah. I was born in ninety three. So I feel like and again, this is just going off of what I understand now and then also what I was told by my mother... That there wasn't a lot of support, at least in my socioeconomic background as well. And so we try to do as much as possible. The public schools was great in the sense that they were able to help my mother understand my diagnosis. But I think there was still a lot of mystery in what autism was back then. Not so much as it is more research now. It's definitely grown over the years.
Mary: Right? So just to kind of put it in perspective, so you were born in ninety three? My son Lucas, who is twenty five now, he was born in ninety six and so he was diagnosed through a day before he was three in '99. So really, from the mid to late '90s and into the 2000s, a lot of our listeners don't realize, but like Abba, was not paid for in most states. I was lucky enough to live in Pennsylvania. I still do. And their children with autism, some parent of a child with autism figured out a loophole. And so regardless of parent income, Lucas could qualify for medical assistance and obey 40 hours a week was provided. That's awesome with no co-pay, but that was very, very unusual. And now fast forward two decades, and ABA is all and well, most insurance companies in all 50 states do need to provide ABA as a medical condition for autism, as a treatment for a medical condition of autism. And that's thanks to the work of lots of advocates, including Lori Unum, who went around the country and got legislation passed in all 50 states and with the help of a bunch of other people. But we can link then, the show notes. But that was really good on your mom for going to the library and really pulling your sleeves up and saying, You know what, we're going to just try our best here. But it was very common for mid to late 90s and 2000s for people to second mortgage their house for ABA therapy, and the co-pays and the access are still an issue. It's not like it's a slam dunk for everybody, but that is very interesting. So can you tell us, like you said, you were life skills for a few years, so once you were included more in the general education setting, do you remember like being bullied? Or when were you told early on that you had autism? Like, was it confusing to you? Like, how did that go?
Autism and Public School:
Armando: Oh my gosh, yes. I think just being different is hard enough as it is having different kinds of hobbies and things that you like in elementary and middle school. But having that completely different social skill aspect just really put a target out of not being someone that could get along with others. So I was tested on the life skills and I was put into a public education class. But the group of kids I was with, I had so many bullies in that class that my mother had to actually step out of the gate for myself because I was so young, I wasn't really speaking all that much to say. We got to move him. We, you know, principal, please help and you have to do something. So I was moved to a completely different class and that was where I was able to flourish. I was able to make friends in this new class. I don't really know why they chose this specific class. I just know that it helped. And so...
Mary: This was in the same school building or in the...?
Armando: Same school. Yeah, it's in the same school building. So back then and at least in my elementary and maybe different places, the life skills the special education department was completely divided from everyone else. There was general education classes on one side and then special education on the far end of the school. And it was just separated like that. And that's how it was. It was not really a whole lot of inclusivity. So I think I was in a special case where I was able to get out of life skills. I don't think that was ever expected. And so there wasn't really an idea of what to do in that situation. So they just said, OK, will it be good here? Then you can go in any class. And I don't think those accommodations were provided at the time and through a self advocacy and through our mother's knowledge in the library like we were talking about, I think that is what helped me move into this new class and be able to have that support where teachers understood a little bit more what I needed. And because of that, I mean, to this day, I have two very close friends that I've known since fourth grade that know me, knew who I and my autism, right, but have just supported me ever since then, and I really can't thank my mother or that really that principal enough to move me into that class because I wouldn't be where I am today without the people I've met.
Mary: Do you remember being, like, sat down and told that you had autism?
Individuals with Autism Understanding Their Own Diagnosis:
Armando: Yeah, no, I I have a vague memory of it. I believe I was. I was a lot older. I was maybe 10 or 12 years old and I was told I didn't understand what it was yet. I just knew I was different. I remember that I always had this idea that. I was different from others, and I didn't understand why. And that just stuck with me and then having a name to why I felt different really helped really help me understand, OK, this is why I do the things that I do, and that helps support me understand how I need to. Maybe not so much fit in, but be able to relate to others to be able to understand what needs to be done. So I did a lot of masking. When I was younger, I was able to look at other people and imitate, you know, social skills that I saw. And one good example I have of this is always like at school dances, not really knowing what was expected of what was appropriate right and seeing others do certain dance moves or do other things with other friends. And then I would immediately try. OK, well, let me try it with the group of friends I'm with right now, or let me try this with the situation. It was a little embarrassing at some times because some situations didn't match the exact situation that I was in, but it was a learning tool for me. I would make the error. I would understand, OK, this needs to change and then I would learn from that and move on. And that's helped me. So over time and as I've gotten older, I would make less mistakes I would make. I would have more understanding of what needs to be done in certain situations. I still struggle from time to time, but I think it's helped for sure having people support me as I have now.
Mary: Yeah, yeah, I just just isn't. Probably the last year or two I came across this term called masking, not masking like COVID masking, but masking like trying to. And I think you just defined it, described it is just trying to is it trying to mask your symptoms and trying to imitate and trying to fit in? Yeah. But in some respects, I think masking has a negative connotation. So maybe you can just talk about like masking a little bit more and like why it's what it is and why it.
What is Masking:
Armando: Oh yeah, no, it's no problem. Like I and I do it so often because it just it just makes things a bit easier, right? So with masking, and even when I was younger, I would have certain kinds of quirks. I would say that would people would look at me like, Oh, did something different about him? There's something that's not very similar. And in order to avoid that, especially in middle school and high school, when it's all about fitting in, it's all about finding those friends. It's a lot easier to just work hard and try and not do certain quirks of certain things and not have that bully approach me rather than just showing it. And at the time of the nineties and the early 2000s, that was a better way of handling things. Not so much now. Right now, in the 2020s, it's all about acceptance. It's about being aware of who you are and being OK with that. Back then, I don't feel like that was the case, especially not in Texas as as I was. It was all about, OK, well, you're different and we're scared of different. So we don't want to have anything to do with you. And masking is just made it easier. As the more people I've met with autism, the more I've seen that that's been very common where it's just let me, not hand flap. Let me try my best to make eye contact and make it seem like I am doing these things appropriately. So then that way I don't get made fun of I don't get teased for being different.
Mary: Mm-Hmm. Yeah, we've had quite a few individuals with autism or autistic adults, which which do you prefer like the adults with autism or are we always learned in school? Yeah. Person first language. But now a lot of the adults with autism prefer you to say autistic. So, so what? What do you prefer and is it? Is that a big deal?
Armando: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I don't think it's a big deal, right? I know a lot of people that do. I think that it's really up to the person's choice. Me personally, I do individual with autism more often than not. Sometimes I do autistic individual just again. For me, it's a personal preference. I don't care either way. But I understand and need to be comfortable with yourself. And if that's what somebody requires and that's OK. And yeah, I mean, something that you were saying earlier with like the knowledge of ABA and the knowledge of autism, that wasn't really the case back then. In the in the 90s and the early 2000s, it was hard to get that kind of support. I'm so thankful for your family being able to get that support, and that was so difficult for us. I don't really think my mother knew what ABA was. It wasn't ever really spoken to us. It was just, Hey, your son has autism and, you know, best of luck and we can put you in a public school and get your help in that sense. But this need for being who we are. I think that I think that's amazing and I've seen so much success with a lot of people now because of it.
Mary: Yeah, yeah. So we've had Kerry Magro on the show. He's an adults with autism who has a Ph.D. or ADHD. We've had Kelly Carpenter with her mother come on the show and. Several other other people with autism, and but you are first with a person with autism, plus you are bcda, so why it sounds like you went into education and special education and then found your way to ABA. So what was the attraction and when did that all start for you?
College and Picking a Career in ABA as an Individual with Autism:
Armando: I think in college, I just I didn't know as many people do, I'm sure did not know what to do with their life. I was all over the place to my degree. It was a history bachelors, but I also did a pre-med route and that was not really a good combination. I feel like so many of your listeners probably agree, but my sister at the time, who I mentioned, was older than me. She was a special ed teacher and she got into that field because of me and my history. And I remember vividly calling her and saying, I don't know what to do with my life. I'm so stuck. I'm confused. And she said, Well, you know, Mando, why don't you do special education? You've had it your whole life. And it was it really resonated with me. So I got into that field. I started doing mentoring programs in college for children with autism, and I was like, Wow, this is I love this. This is awesome. And again, I didn't know what to think of my own autism. And so seeing so many children in this mentoring that needed support, I was like, This is a great opportunity. So I got into special education. I became a teacher in that sense. And then as I became a teacher, I realized I did not know what I was doing in a sense, where I was a first year teacher. This was a lot. There was aggression, there was different behaviors that were being shown, and I didn't really have a whole lot of understanding on how to handle it. And my sister, who had done it for some time, helped me a lot. But I always felt in myself that there had to be more to help with these kids. That had to be something to do, and I did some more research and then that's how I found ABA. I didn't even know it existed until I was able to start doing more research. I found podcasts, I found different kinds of YouTube videos and things. I got that explained it a bit more, and I became really fascinated on the fact that a typical ABA thing is that there is four reasons why people do anything you know, escape attention, sensory or they want something. And I was like, Wow, that's that's so simplistic. There's so, you know, it's very black and white. And for me, I've always seen the world more as in a black and white thing. It's either this or this and that just help me understand so much. And I just I was so drawn to it and I just told my sister after I was like, I'm going to get a master's in this, and that's just how I've always been. And it's just OK, I believe you. And so I went and I did it and I did pass the board exams. I became a BCBA, and ever since then, it's just been. I've reached a dream job and it's it's been so great to finally find a place that I feel comfortable and be able to feel like myself, not just in an a personal sense, as I am now, but also in a professional sense that I can be happy with who I am there. But I also am happy with how I handle my job now.
Mary: Wow, that's amazing. So you had said that you felt a little ashamed of autism, but then you made a shift and started disclosing it to people. And so when did that shift happen? And is that something you disclose right away to the parents of the kids you're helping and like, how did that kind of kind of letting people know and disclosing the fact that you have autism? When did it start and and what's it like now?
Armando: Oh, gosh, yeah, no. I love that question because it's from the people that I've interviewed as well. Like, there is so much time that I've had that I wish I could go back and say, Hey, I had autism. But again, like I was saying in the 90s and early 2000s, that wasn't the case, that that wasn't something that you really wanted to disclose unless you wanted to be looked upon differently. And I did it. And it wasn't until actually I graduated college that I realized that I need to be more accepting of who I am. And it was because of the parents that I met while I was in special education. It was because of the experiences I had that really let me understand that I needed to be who I am in order to better serve the kids that I see now. And one part of your question was, do I tell parents more often than not I don't. And it's not so much that I am ashamed. It's it's because it's not my story that they're interested in when they come to me in the clinic or when they come to me in a special education setting. It's the parent who has really swallowed a lot of pride to say, Hey, I need help. And that's for me personally. I feel like that's so hard for parents to accept. And I want to be able to show them that they are able to do so many great things. And so I focus on their child's story. I focus on their wants and needs because that is what matters. There are some occasions where a parent just comes to me and is really down and out about their child situation so many times, I can't tell you that I've heard parents say my child has autism, I think his life is over. And that's really when I try and step in. When I see these parents are upset, they're frustrated and I tell them that that's, you know, that doesn't need to be the case. And then I disclose my own story to them to let them know that if I can do this hard thing, then I'm here to support their child and do their hard thing. And that more often than not, thankfully has been a sense of hope for the parents who say, I can do this, I can accept it because sometimes parents come to us and the clinical setting or in a school setting and say that they don't want to do ABA because they've heard so many horror stories of what ABBA can cause. And I try to bring in my my side of the story to let them know that that's not that's not the case here, is that they're they're here to progress, they're here to grow and independence, and that's my main goal.
Mary: Yeah, I as a BCBA, I've done a lot of podcasts on ABA, "Four Myths and Truths", "How to Spot Good ABa". We just had to be Tameika Meadows on from I Love ABA. We can link these in the show notes. But increasingly, you know, now that insurance is covering all 50 states. There's more access than ever. And now we have lots of people saying ABA is abuse and you shouldn't try to change things. And you know, autism is a gift. And so you're kind of caught in the middle of this firestorm, right? So like how how do you respond if you get adult autistic that come and say, how can you be a BCBA? That's abuse?
Is ABA Abuse:
Armando: I've gotten that plenty of times, actually, and I enjoy the fact that I get to be in this middle ground because it is it is so much controversy on both sides, right of abuse, abuse, maybe it's not abuse and it's this back and forth. But I get to hopefully bridge that confusion or I get to bridge that conflict and tell them that this is why I'm in this field. This is why I've seen this progress, because it's for, I do what I do, because it's for the parents that come to me and say, my child hasn't eaten anything but chips and snack foods for seven years, or my child has never said I love you or gone to the bathroom by themselves and to see the success and the growth in that child after ABA, for them to be able to eat all kinds of foods or be able to go to the bathroom and take care of independent skills like that is why I do what I do. And so I tell a lot of parents coming in like I was saying that come in and say "Oh, I can't do ABA". That that is one bad apple and a whole bunch that unfortunately causes these conflicts to arise. But that's not what they're going to get when I help them and I try to be as very transparent as possible and say, you know, please, you view what I'm doing. See, see what I'm doing in this clinic, and you're welcome to come at any time. I always try to make sure that it's a partnership and the same thing with those individuals with autism that say, like, how can you do it? And I just I say, Please give me your evidence. And just like any good to be BCBA, let me see the evidence based articles that you're describing to me. And we can talk about it and I can give you mine and we can have a back and forth conversation. And sometimes they agree. And I love that because I can talk ABA all day. But other times they don't. They say, No, I don't want this. And I was like, OK, well, that's the problem that if you're not willing to hear one side or the other, then this isn't going to go anywhere. And I just I continually invite other people to come find me and say, This is why I think what you're doing is wrong. That's fine. Let's have a conversation and talk about it.
Mary: Yeah, wow. So what do you do on a day to day basis now as... You've been a board certified behavior analyst for just a few years? And so what is your day to day like?
Armando: Yeah, I think I've been very fortunate with the amount of responsibility I've been given. I work with kids through supervision or through one on one therapy sessions as well, depending on the day, and I help support them through naturalistic teaching and through discrete trial training through independent living skills, things like that. I work with parents weekly depending on the child and their insurance purposes, but I help parents understand what needs to be done in the home setting in order to see the same success we have in a clinical setting there. I help support different therapists and collaborate with different BCBS to see a lot of growth in different kinds of cases. I take it upon myself also to try and do as many kind of community outreach programs or lessons that I can in order to help other parents. I've taken part in different grant programs throughout through Texas A&M University in the past as well. And so mostly I tried to help as much as possible. And it just I see where it takes me, I see where it takes me, either through different kinds of lessons or being able to help support other clients or patients. So as long as I can help support parents, I think I'll be doing this for a long time now.
Mary: Sounds, sounds great. So do you still have struggles as an individual with autism? Like, what are you still struggling with personally?
Struggles as an Adult with Autism:
Armando: So it's social for sure. That's social skills, for sure. I am able to make conversation. I'm able to have different communication skills like that, but sometimes still like my hand flapping stuff still comes out or I'm not able to make direct eye contact. I try my best and so I like I look at people's noses I look at or I do it when I get really excited. It's funny. Actually, my my fiancee actually really enjoys my hand flapping because she says, that's how I know I got you a good Christmas gift or a birthday gift or things like that. And so it's fun to play it off like that.
Mary: That's awesome. Yeah, thanks. Yeah, I would ask you if you. You know, because I think Kelly Carpenter, we definitely talked about dating. Kerry Magro, we we definitely talked about dating. So yeah, so how how has that been? You have a fiancee. So how has the dating scene been and when did that start?
Dating and Autism:
Armando: And oh my gosh, it's been a dream. And just getting to me, I mean, I get to marry my best friend. I don't see how it could get any better than that, but we we met through online dating. So that was actually really fortunate that that started up, and I felt like that was so much easier for me because I feel like I'm able to express myself better through text messages or through the writing, as opposed to just face to face social skills. Because that's a little bit harder. You have to think on your feet, you have to be quicker. But with the online dating, I could just be more of myself and think on it a little bit and think about how I want to say, read through it and then go through there. And luckily, she found me very funny. So that was really good. We met for a first date and obviously one thing led to another and we were able to just get to where we are now and I actually proposed earlier this year. And she thankfully said, yes, I was very nervous, even though she was like, Why are you nervous? I said, Oh, you know, you just never know. So, but no, she said yes. And we we have our wedding planned for next year, and it's been a real dream because we have been so open and communication and that if I can give advice on dating is to find someone that you can openly communicate with. So there are times when we have discussed things and say, I don't like x y z, where she's also been able to say, Hey, I don't like that, you do x y z. And it's been that back and forth of saying like this upsets me because, you know, blah blah blah. And having that rather than, you know, why are you mad? Oh, I'm not mad. And then just not getting anywhere with it. Being able to have constant conversations like that has helped where it's just very open. It is that very, you know, black and white. This is why it's happening. And so finding someone that you can do that with is important and it's been really beneficial to me. And I think that's why it's just been a real blessing to have met her.
Mary: And how long ago did you guys meet?
Armando: It's been two years now. Yeah. And I mean, really just right off the bat when we met each other, we we just knew that this was something special. And it's been now. It's been taken very accommodating. So and I say that by by that, I mean, we've had conversations. What does kids look like? What is moving in together looks like, what does the wedding look like throughout our whole relationship, making sure that we're on the same page and making sure that we understand where we both are and making it not so much one person's more important than the other, but we're both partners and understanding that we both have to do give and take and make sure that each other are happy to follow one another's dreams.
Mary: And she is not on the autism spectrum.
Armando: No, no, she is not, but and she is very supportive of my autism. Like I said with the hand flapping, she loves that. So that's super fun. I'm just thankful.
Mary: Love with the fact that she said. It just shows that I have, but I've got a great Christmas present.
Armando: Yeah, yeah, she'll she'll do that and she'll be like, Oh, what? You didn't like that one? I was like, No, I loved it. It was so good. But it was and like, there's been times like she'll take me on different experiences. I, you know, I love animals. She's in the animal field for her career, and so I got to feed some giraffes. At one point, I was so excited and she was like, Yes, this is great, but it's been it's been good having somebody that I can really be myself around. And we talked about masking earlier and that's that's always so hard for me to be more of myself to be OK with just getting really excited when a new show is on or not really understanding typical like, Oh, you feel this way. I don't really know how to react in this situation. I'm being very blunt that you know this or that I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm just saying it like how I see it. And she's been very accepting of that to understand, like, Oh, I'm not being rude or I'm not being unpleasant. I'm just stating how I feel or I'm stating why something doesn't make sense to me. And she's been so accommodating with being able to explain those things. So sometimes she'll mention things that maybe bother her or maybe isn't something that she's comfortable with. And I say, Well, I don't understand. And then she'll go into why in more detail, and I'm like, Oh, OK, that makes sense. Thank you. And then that's helped out a lot.
Mary: Yeah. Wow. Sounds like a great couple you have with her. That sounds really great. So now you know, you've disclosed that you have autism to to the world, actually, because we recently started a podcast called, A Different Path, where you interview other individuals with autism. So why did you start the podcast? Tell us about it?
Armando's Podcast, A Different Path:
Armando: Oh my gosh, it's been so much fun. I've gotten to meet so many different people all over the world. Well, actually, I just recently I started this. Funny enough, because my fiance said that I needed a hobby, that I was overworking myself, I love my job and I love what I do, and so I spend a lot of time focusing on my work or doing things that deal with it. And so she said, You need a hobby, you need something to do. So I found a little loophole and I was like, Okay, great, I can start a podcast for individuals with autism. But on a more serious note, I decided to do this because of what I said earlier, where parents are coming in and saying my child's life is over, they have autism. My child isn't going to be able to do anything more than be a bagger or, you know, pull carts around in the grocery store. And I, as a person with autism myself, I grew up not knowing anyone with this diagnosis, and I know that there were more people out there. And so I wanted to show these parents that I work with show the parents that I've met. But that is not true, that that child's life with a diagnosis of autism does not end is merely the beginning. That it's not what you do with the diagnosis, it's what you do after. Right? And so being able to start this podcast, I've been able to hopefully provide different parents, ABA professionals, specifically, maybe hopefully individuals with autism themselves understand that they're not alone with this diagnosis, that there's hopefully somebody listening to it, the podcast that feels like they can't go on because unfortunately, there's a lot of emotions that come with this diagnosis as well of frustration and anger and realize that there are other people that are doing so many amazing things and that they can do it too. And I mean, just I've only had a few episodes out now, but I've completed other interviews, and in the future, we'll have an Elvis impersonator, we'll have a brother and sister that are that support one another. I'll have a mother that was diagnosed with autism that now has two children with autism as well, and how that works. And so having all of these individuals come to me and be willing to share their story means the world because I remember how ashamed I was and how hard it was. And it's been such an honor for so many people to come to me and say, I would like to tell my story. And although the podcast is just starting, I can't wait to see where it goes because these people that have just blessed me with their story with autism are hopefully getting to share with others now and getting to show others that they can do anything they set their minds to.
Mary: Yeah, that sounds. I listen to part of the podcast, A Different Path and before I invited you on, and it's very good and I think it really highlights, you know, some of the remarkable things that people can do. And also at the same time, we do have to I mean, you as a BCBA and a special ed teacher, you know that the spectrum is very wide, like my focus is twenty five, even though he had the best of the best therapy for what we could do. He's very impaired. He's not conversational. He's twenty five. He's you know, and I thank God that I'm a behavior analyst and his problem behaviors are very low and he's very self-sufficient in many ways, and he's a real gift. You know, his he's impaired. And so that spectrum like when when you were even talking about like you had originally majored in in pre-med, I was thinking of like the good doctor and like how autism is featured on the media to be, you know, the the heartwarming stories of people that would actually come on your podcast, which I think is awesome to really highlight those success stories. But we also have to remember that. So what what would you say if you had, you know, a 15 year old student and he was very impaired, like maybe even worse than my son in terms of like not communicating, you know? Yeah. And what kind of advice do you give those parents?
Expectations Vs. Reality on the Wide Spectrum of Autism:
Armando: Oh, of course. I mean, even in my own field now I I have some difficulties with, you know, individuals that may be nonverbal or may have difficulties with independent living skills. And so I try to always meet parents with where they're at. And so I say, Hey, this is your child is maybe 15, right? I usually handle younger children, but let's say 15, and I say this is the options that we are given, right? These are the resources that can be provided. What are the next steps that you would like to go? So finding out where the biggest issues they have, so maybe it's they don't go to the bathroom still and say, OK, well, that's independence right there, that you thought your child was never going to accomplish. So let's work on that and let's work on it together as partners, right? Or maybe your son is non-verbal. There's other ways to communicate. So focusing on Are you OK with picture exchange communication or you're OK with AAC devices and things like that? So. Yes, I do provide the audience I have with more so success stories, right? But you're right, there are people that struggle, but it's it's the hope that parents are always going to be willing to listen and be willing to be open to new ideas, being able to work with BCBAs, being able to work with special ED teachers to understand that we will do our best to always provide as much independence as possible. And so my guests, we're able to provide that independence. I feel like we can reach somewhat independence in that sense, where they can have support either through different resources that are given by the state or through parents or siblings. And that and always being willing to explore those different kinds of support systems that are around.
Mary: Yeah, no. I love that. And you know my whole thing because I have a son who's very impaired at twenty five. And then I also have a son who's 18 months younger than Lucas, and he's in med school. And so I did a blog we can post on the show notes is, I think, what we want for all of our kids, all of your, your clients, your students, all of the higher functioning, you know, quote unquote, people that come on your show is we want three things. I want three things I want safety, as safe as possible. Independence, as independent as possible. And as happy as possible. And so those are the three things. So, you know, safety for Lucas and Spencer look different. Independence looks different, you know, and happiness looks different, I guess, in a way. But yeah, I think if we can all kind of agree, like that's all we're trying to do here is, you know, when you describe some of your struggles with the teenage years or going to college or whatever and dating and not knowing what to do at a school dance, I mean, I'm sure many people listening can relate. You know, it's it's an awkward time and nobody really knows what they're doing. Not to diminish your...
Armando: Oh, of course. Yeah, no, I understand.
Mary: Special situations, but I think we're all just trying to figure things out. And I, you know, really love your story and love your passion to help people at all ends of the spectrum, because that's what it's all about. So how can people follow your work and your podcast and website whatever you have for us?
Armando: Yeah. So I do have a website and it links all of the social media that I currently have. So it's autismintl.com. and you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram at autism intl and we are located on all areas where you can listen to podcasts or Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, you name it. We're on it. And I'm always open to chatting to anybody if they have any suggestions for a new guests, if they have any kind of comments or conversations, I try to respond to everyone that messages me. It does get a little bit difficult, but I'm always happy to talk to anyone.
Mary: Cool. All right. So the podcast again is A Different Path. So before I let you go, I really appreciate your time and part of my podcast goals are really not just to help the kids, but also help the people that are listening parents and professionals lead happier lives. So what are your stress reduction tips or self-care tips that you do on a daily basis or every now and again that help you stay with, you know, happier.
Hobbies and Staying Less Stressed:
Armando: Yes, of course. Yeah. And I'm going to take a page out of my fiance's book and say, Find a hobby, find something that you really enjoy. And for me, it was the podcast that started out right, and now I've just really enjoyed that. But I've gotten into reading, baking and working out, exercise, things like that that just keep my mind busy, but also just make me feel better about how my life is and how everything's going. And just for the parents and the individuals that are listening to just really focus on acceptance right to to be that support system for those with autism, to understand that they have someone to turn, to have someone to talk to and accepting that the person may be different, but that doesn't change who they are. It just allows them to really express themselves in a more unique way.
Mary: Well, I have really enjoyed getting to know you, Armando, I think you've got a bright future in front of you. Thank you. Combining the fact that you have autism diagnosis, your diagnosis as a kid, your mom hat off to your mom for all of her perseverance and helping you and all your teachers and people that have supported you over the years. And then the fact that you're a BCBA in the field now is just great for the field. So thank you so much for your time. I wish you all the best. I'll be subscribing and listening to your podcast, coming up and wishing you all the best.
Armando: Thank you so much for having me.
Mary: If you're a parent or an autism professional and enjoy listening to this podcast, you have to come check out my online course and community where we take all of this material and we apply it. You'll learn life changing strategies to get your child or clients to reach their fullest potential. Join me for a free online workshop at MaryBarbera.com/workshop, where you can learn how to avoid common mistakes. You can see videos of me working with kids with and without autism. And you can learn more about joining my online course and community at a very special discount. Once again, go to MaryBarbera.com/workshop for all the details, I hope to see you there.
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