When seeing early signs of autism or receiving a new diagnosis, every family has unique struggles. Melissa, mom of 3, is sharing her success story and journey after receiving an autism diagnosis for her middle child as a military family stationed overseas. Melissa shares about how my courses and online community helped her help her son. She has great advice for parents in military situations, whether they be here in America or stationed overseas, as well as any parent facing the scary “A-Word”.
Melissa and her family were living overseas in Japan while her husband was deployed and COVID lockdowns were just beginning to lift. That’s a lot going on in and of itself, but in the midst of that, her doctor shared suspicions of autism for her then 2-year-old. It wasn’t until her husband returned and they were facing orders to another country, that she finally received a diagnosis and began to understand how she could help her son.
Her family found my courses and got straight to work, watching videos and completing the toddler course. As an overseas military family, they had extremely limited services and this was the best chance they had to help their son. Now they are back in Virginia, and with her knowledge from the courses coupled with a well-matched BCBA, they are seeing major improvement in their son. Melissa says my courses and ABA in general not only help her help her child with autism, but help her be a better parent to all three of her children.
Melissa is a great example of what I like to call the captain of the ship. No pun intended for this Navy family. In this episode, she shares amazing insights on Tricare coverage for autism therapy, supports available through base services, and unique challenges that arise for military autism families. Before finding my course, her son struggled with a variety of safety concerns and a serious disorder, Pica. With the tools Melissa has now, she has gotten rid of all of these and can work on other things with her son and their in-home BCBA.
If you have a child who is showing early signs of autism or you’ve just received a diagnosis, do not be scared. Melissa is proof that shaking the denial and educating yourself and your family on the best tools to help your child will go a long way. Whether you are a military family or not, this episode is full of great information for any parent of a child with autism. Be sure to check out all my tools and information at MaryBarbera.com.
Melissa L. on Turn Around Autism
Melissa Leahy, 33 years old, was born and raised in CA. She graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2010 and served as a Naval Officer for 6 years before leaving the service to be a mom and support her active duty husband in his career. Melissa has two Masters Degrees –one in Homeland Security and the second in Criminal Justice. Her husband’s name is Joe and he is a LCDR in the US Navy. They have three wonderful and handsome sons: TJ 4.5, Mattis 2.5, and Gunnar 16 months. Their son, Mattis, was diagnosed with Autism Level 2 on August 28th 2021 while they were stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. They first learned of his possible condition, in August 2020 in a very painful way, but blessings sometimes come through painful experiences. Her husband requested a change of orders, so instead of proceeding to Manama, Bahrain, they moved back to Virginia, so their son, Mattis, could receive the intervention services he needed to succeed and reach his fullest potential.
Prior to their move, they looked up Autism, and my course kept popping in the results. They watched my videos on YouTube, and after hearing my story, they paid for the course, and have been incredibly pleased. Prior to their return to the United States, Melissa worked with Mattis on ‘safeties’ and was able to rid him of head tapping, chewing on objects, spinning, and running when the opportunity struck him. They also improved his environmental awareness (i.e. emergency vehicles, alarms, etc.). Melissa feels so incredibly blessed to have found a therapist that follows our principles, and encourages her clients to also take my course. Melissa is a full-time mom / homemaker. Her family actively participates in ABA Therapy with Mattis. In her spare time, and as a way of providing herself respite, Melissa communicates with other parents, do DIY projects, crochet, cook/bake, and actively exercise. Since her son was diagnosed with Autism, Melissa educated herself and her family on what Autism was. She shares Mattis’ story, especially to military families, in hopes of removing the stigma that comes with special needs (especially Autism), bringing awareness to what services are out there to help their children and get it sooner rather than later (the Mary Barbera course), squashing the rumors and untruths about ABA therapy, and hopefully giving hope to the parents out there that might be shaming themselves, or feeling like there isn’t any hope, because she was and is still wearing those same shoes.
- Does tricare cover autism therapy?
- How does the American military support autism families?
- Challenges for military families with children with signs of autism.
- Advice for military families with children with signs of autism.
- How to combat serious disorders associated with autism.
- How to manage safety concerns with autism.
- How to pair other necessary appointments for autism.
- A non-verbal autism success story.
- MaryBarbera.com/workshop (Sign up for a free workshop online for parents & professionals)
- Autism Success Story with Michele C.
- Diagnosing Autism During COVID19 Pandemic | Interview with Dr. Catherine Lord
- Does My Toddler Have Autism or Is It a Speech Delay Due to Covid Isolation? : Interview with Rachel S.
- Pica and Autism: Mouthing of Things in Children
- ABA Therapy: Four Myths and Truths
#150 Turn Autism Around Podcast Transcript
Transcript for Podcast Episode: 150
Autism Success Stories: Navigating Autism as a Military Family with Melissa L.
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera
Guest: Melissa Leahy
Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number one hundred and fifty. Today we have Melissa Leahy, who was a naval officer for six years before leaving the service to be a mom and to support her active duty husband, who was also a navy officer. And they lived in Japan when her middle son, Mattis, was diagnosed with autism. And so they relocated back to Virginia and now have had a BCBA help just for a month or two. Mattis will be three at the time of this podcast airing, and Melissa wanted to come on the show to give listeners a glimpse at getting a child diagnosed in the military, services, some challenges faced by military families and also challenges faced by all parents around the world when their young child suddenly shows signs of autism. So we talked about the challenges. We talk about insurance a little bit. We talk about squashing some of the ABA myths and really how she got Mattis from just saying a couple of words to saying multiple words, how they got rid of a serious disorder called pica, which he was eating dirt when they were living in Japan, how she got safety under control. And even though we talk about how to get dental visits paired up, and she's got some tricks with that as well. And he also is potty trained almost completely right before he was three. So we talk about all of this and more and really how Melissa has become Matiss's best teacher and advocate for life and how that's made her a better parent to her other sons as well. So it was a fun episode. Hope you enjoy it! Let's go to Melissa Leahy.
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: Melissa, it is so nice to meet you. I was excited for this call, so thanks for joining us today.
Melissa: Thank you. I'm so excited to meet you, too and to do this.
Mary: Awesome. So we... I found you because you filled out a success story. Short survey. MaryBarbera.com/success. And it was such a great success story. And then I remembered you posting a lot in the Facebook group. So why don't we just start with: describe your fall into the autism world?
Melissa's Fall into the Autism World:
Melissa: So I was living in Yokosuka, Japan, at the time and I was pregnant with my third son. I gave birth to him in June of 2020. In the middle of the pandemic. My husband was deployed and he was around two months old when I had to go to a doctor's appointment for him. My middle son Mattis, who was diagnosed with autism, attended the appointment with me. The appointment wasn't for him. He was asleep during the appointment. He woke up during the appointment and he was always playing with a little switch on the ground. Whatever the inoperable chair was, he was playing with the switch and the pediatrician showed up to the appointment. And I would say the manner in which he brought it about was inappropriate. He goes, What's wrong with your son...is heautistic or something? And then he proceeded to parent shame me about how if I had spent 15 minutes of time with my each of my children every single day, then my son wouldn't be what he was. And I remember going home crying that day. I was postpartum at the time, my husband wasn't home. I didn't have my family with me. And I remember just being incredibly depressed and sad because I didn't know what autism was.
Mary: And you weren't thinking that there were any delays.
Melissa: I just thought he was. It was kind of the effects of being in quarantine. We were locked up in our apartment for three to four months. We finally were able to come out and I was like, Well, maybe this is just the effects of being quarantined and it would wear off. The doctor never suggested any kind of interventions or services that we could look into. He just said, What's wrong with him? And then proceeded to tell me that it was my fault. So I went for months actually thinking I was denying autism, I was like, He's not autistic, he's not autistic or as you as we called it, the A-word. I was like, He's not autistic. I remember being on the playground, asking my friends, like, Do you think he's autistic? And theysay, you know, just give it some time and read about it. Maybe if you read about it, you can...You can maybe find the way to get him some help if that's what you believe it to be. And what really triggered it was my husband returned from deployment. He had been gone since February of twenty twenty, came home in November of twenty twenty, and my son didn't even recognize him, ran right past him like he was a ghost. My husband could have been wearing a clown costume and my son wouldn't have even paid any attention to him. And another thing that triggered me was we went to a fire engine parade. The noises were loud...The sirens, and I actually have a video of it, of my older son covering his ears because the noise was so loud and my son Mattis was just like, could the sirens could have hit him in the face and he wouldn't have even acknowledged it. So then months went by and my husband was like, Well, let's look into autism. Let's see what it is. I said, No, I don't want to. I don't want to. I don't want to look it up, but I don't want to know what it is, you know, because the doctor made it sound like it was a death sentence. If that's what it is, you're going to, you know, it's your fault. And my husband finally told me, You know, we have to just look this in the face. We have to go head on with it. And he goes, It's not your fault. It's not your fault. We googled autism and your name popped up and my husband started watching the videos and we were we would see like, what is the difference between delay and what is autism and everything my son would do, It would always revert back to a symptom of autism. The spinning, the head tapping different things he would do, the spacing out he it seemed like he was looking at you, but he was looking through you. You weren't there. We were supposed to take on orders to go to Bahrain...Manama, Bahrain.
Support for Autism Families in the Military:
Mary: Now, hold on one second, because this is like, wow, you had a lot going on. So you are in Japan, but your husband wasn't even in Japan. He wasn't just not home that night. He was away for months before and after this A-word was dropped out of the blue. And you know, so now he's, you know, 20 months when the new baby's born. And now you're, you know, you're getting into November, your husband comes home. He doesn't recognize him and all these factors like the pandemic. Yes, definitely. We've done other podcast shows with Dr. Catherine Lord on the effects of the pandemic and getting a diagnosis during the pandemic. Michelle C. did a podcast on getting the diagnosis right before the pandemic, and then Rachel just did a podcast on just her toddler, who was just speech delayed but the effects of the pandemic. So. And then you had three kids back to back. So that must have been incredibly isolating. And I'm assuming you were on a military base where the doctor and all your friends were speaking English, but still at the same time, you're far away from home.
Melissa: Yes. And the only support I had was my friends and they encouraged me. They said, Well, why don't you try and get Mattis and TJ into school and see how that goes? He ended up going to a Japanese international school. He started in February of twenty twenty one. And I did some drive bys and I looked through the window and he was not participating with the other kids. He was off by himself or he would be looking out a window. And I remember coming home telling my husband, Mike, I think we need to look into some help for him. On base they had what's called an early developmental intervention services EDIS. And unfortunately, when you live overseas for a military base, it's usually one speech therapist, one occupational therapist, and they're spread thin across a ton of kids. So Mattis only got an hour a week of OT and two hours a month of speech. And unfortunately, it just wasn't doing it. It was not helping. My husband and I decided we needed to take matters into our own hands until we can figure out what to do. And we googled autism. Your name popped up and my husband was...we watched the videos and I felt so moved by your story because I had a similar case. I didn't want to believe it was autism. The A-word and I felt...
Mary: Right, Spencer was two months old. I took him for a while. Jack and I asked about Lucas. Lucas was 21 months of age, and, you know, I went into a really deep state of denial for over a year. But I mean, I was kind of like you, though I hadn't seen any problem. And then all of a sudden, someone mentions the a-word. And I'm like, What? Yeah. You know? So when did he finally get diagnosed when you were in Japan?
Melissa: He did, actually. We were supposed to get a follow on orders to move to Manama, Bahrain. My husband was supposed to take command of a ship over there. And our occupational therapist we were working with found out about that. And she said, we need to do something about that because we don't want you to move. And if he gets diagnosed, your husband can't come home with you. So you're going to have to go home by yourself and do all this, do everything together, get your home set up and everything you need to help Mattie. So the the diagnosing doctor rearranged her schedule, the diagnosing doctor in Japan on base. She...God bless her. She rearranged her schedule and she spent three hours with us. She not only diagnosed Mattie, but she gave us the...instead of what they do is they diagnos and then they write it up and then debrief you. She debriefed us that moment after he was diagnosed, and she said, Man, that was hard to see because there's some moments where he's there and then there's moments where he starts. He has those tendencies. He was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism level two. And she decided not to send us home because we were going to get a change of orders. My husband reached out to his chain of command and his detailer, and we are a very blessed family and that the detailer honored that and said it had my husband elected to turn down taking command of a ship so we could come home to Virginia to help Mattie to better help him. In the meantime, from April 28, 2021, when he was diagnosed until we returned home on August twenty first, we took your course and we were able to rid Mattis of all of his safeties that he had issues with head tapping, spinning, eating. He had pica, so he used to eat dirt, and we were able to rid him about all that to include running away from me.
Mary: Just watching the toddler course you are and make a plan, assess and wow. So that's awesome. So you found out about my course just by watching my videos and then once you got the diagnosis, although a half the people that introduce themselves in our toddler, of course, actually have kids without a diagnosis yet. So, you know.
Melissa: Felt incredibly blessed that we were able to get a diagnosis because she had a lengthy wait list for overseas. And she said she didn't. She just didn't want us to have to move to Bahrain to find out that he had that going on, and then I'd have to come home by myself. In the military. We call that an early return of dependents. So my husband would stay by himself in Bahrain, and I would come home with my three kids and have to set up a home and have all our belongings shipped back to Virginia. And she thought that being aware of the condition said he really needs that stable stabilization and they have all this moving around is not going to help him.
Mary: Yeah. So what do you think are the I mean, you're highlighting them, but what are the specific challenges of military families when their child shows a sign of autism? One thing is, you know, the deployment or the the fact that your husband wasn't there for support to, you know, physically.
Challenges for Military Families with Children with Signs of Autism:
Melissa: A physical support, yeah, you know, I think what comes with it is they think their career is over. And I guess the better, I guess the the message I want to send to those military families is that's a heavy burden to put on the child to say that your husband's career is over because your child has a diagnosis, whether it be autism, Down syndrome, ADD, ADHD, anything like that, any kind of symptom, that's a heavy burden to put on the child. I remember when Mattis was diagnosed, a lady in our building told me, Well, that's going to be a career killer. And I remember going, Oh, he's not killing any career. We kill our own careers by choices. If anything.
Mary: You were also in the military...
Melissa: I was, yes, I was in the military.
Mary: So you stopped working in the military when you had...
Melissa: T.J. when I had my oldest son. I was pregnant at the time and I got out of the military to be a mom.
Mary: Could you not have stayed in Japan and gotten treatment or gone? To this new country and gotten treatment?
Melissa: So for the military. They they just don't have those services available and TRICARE, to my understanding, does not offer that out in town because if we were in Japan, it would be a Japanese, ABA therapist, it wouldn't be somebody who speaks English. So we would have probably had to work that. I know that there are families who pay somebody out of pocket to live with them in an overseas country. God bless them. I don't have that kind of money. So we came home where there are more services available because of the language we speak. We speak English. There's many English services here, and that's kind of what kind of helps that. And then I also have a little more support here. So if I need my mom to come or my mother in law to come, I can. I can get that. I couldn't do that in Japan with the COVID restrictions they're having right now as well for travel.
Mary: Wow. Yeah. So COVID was the first thing that really affected you and your family, and then autism was, you know, the second big one. So what advice would you give military families if they are in a similar situation and have a child showing signs or diagnosed orr...
Melissa: Get them to help give them the help they need? The career? The job comes and goes, but your kids, you have to live with them for the rest of their lives. And it's not a career killer. It's not going to like, I know there's a lot of families that are like, Well, we want to travel the world and we want to see things and get them the help they need now. So then you can go see the world. There was a I didn't know this, but there are so many families over there that had, when I say, older children, and that's a loose term. They were like seven or eight years old and they had been diagnosed with autism. They got the services and interventions they needed back in our home country of America. And then they were able to they were able to later travel with them. And frankly, I have to just admit, I think it's a little bit easier to travel with children when they're potty trained, not on a bottle. And they can, you know, at least a little more self-sufficient than at the age mine are, which is 16 months, two and a half and four and a half. So I think you just have to kind of look at the bigger picture like get your child the help they need. And if it's available, do it because I know a lot of families that don't have that military TRICARE or just health insurance like that. And it's challenging for them to get the help that they need. So if you have it available, take it, use it because that's what is there for.
How My Toddler Course Worked for Melissa and Mattis:
Mary: How much work was involved with you taking the toddler course and like, did you find it taxing or overwhelming?
Melissa: It was so easy to take. I loved your course. It was like, I'm a very cut and dry person and very black and white that maybe why my two of my at least two of my children are very black and white. And I loved it. It was very easy to understand. It's like first things, first safeties get that under control because the minute you, the minute I got him to stop the spinning, the head tapping, the chewing on things, the eating dirt and I was able to focus on. I liked your ABC method to the Antecedent, Behavior and the Consequence. It not only applied to Mattis, my diagnosed autistic child, but it helped me to actually parent my older child too, and understand what why he was doing sometimes the things that he does. So that was really helpful, and it really helped me to feel better. As a parent, I'm not a perfect parent, but I feel better as a parent now. I feel more confident than I did before. Yeah. So I'd recommend it even for children who are not autistic.
Mary: Mm. Yeah. Yeah, I just was asked recently like, Are these tantrums? Is this the terrible twos or is this autism? I'm like, It doesn't have to be a part either. You don't have to have a child who tantrums every day, multiple times a day. That's all reinforcement and behavior. And when you have an overwhelming situation and then you have a child with delays on top of it, it's hard to kind of sort through what are your most critical issues to tackle first. So safety is definitely a big one. It's a chapter in my new book, Turn Autism Around. It's, you know, life and death when I have to work on anything as a child running away from you, towards streets and in water. And you know, it's just first things first to keep. I try to keep them safe.
Melissa: I do have a comment about the is this a tantrum of autism or something that that's really helped to me to kind of put things into perspective. And I think maybe because I have an older child, I'm like, Oh, that's just been two and a half year old. Is don't always think it's autism. it sometimes it's just kids are kids, and they don't want to listen all the time. I don't consider it a failure when I do things with him and he doesn't respond right away because sometimes I know he listens and he heard what I said, and he just wants to be a two and a half year old and do what he wants, like, Hey, we don't climb up on the counter. And then he goes. [gestures] That's it, anyway. Sometimes we just have to you just have to. It's not always ideas. Sometimes it's just the age, right?
Mary: And with three young children, your life would still be stressful, even if autism wasn't a part of it.
Melissa: Oh, absolutely. I'm tired. I was tired with my first one, and I'm tired with my second and my third I'm tired. Kid's are tiring.
Mary: Well, you were talking about antecedent behavior, consequence and behavioral therapy. So you also wrote on the little survey before the interview that you wanted to squash the rumors and untruths about ABA therapy. So why don't we let you talk about that?
Melissa's Take On ABA Controversy:
Melissa: OK, so there's a lot of rumors that because it all starts with the history of ABA. ABA started, if I remember correctly from my reading where used to punish the child. And I've heard a lot of different blogs that I read like, Well, it's all about reward, reward, you know, they treat them like a dog. So my comment to that is why you treat your child like a dog. You give them a reward. Do you not go to work and earn a paycheck? Because that's a reward. Just because somebody didn't be like, if you fill out this spreadsheet, you're going to get a paycheck today. We all earn a reward. It's just a matter of and we all do things through motivation. What motivates you to do something? So it's not treating them like a dog. We're treating them like we would in society. You do this and this is the outcome that's going to come, whether it's a positive or negative consequence. As for the physical, you know, reprimanding my child has never been physically reprimanded, but everything starts somewhere. And unfortunately, that had a little bit of a history to it. Just like we talked about when women used to be pregnant, they used to knock you out or they'd put a stick in your mouth that you open and they had to decide...you want the mom to live or the baby to live. It doesn't mean I don't go to the doctor now because a long time ago, that's what they used to do to the women. So something also an advice that my our therapist gave us is it's not AB that's failing you. It's the therapist. So if it's not working, find a new therapist. It's just like a hairdresser. If the hairdresser doesn't work, find a new hairdresser. The same with ABA your child and the therapist have to mesh and you have to mesh because we're a team. So if it's not working out, there's no hard feelings. Just move on and find a new one or take your course and you can do the ABA yourself and then you won't have any problems.
Mary: Yeah and I think a lot of people get into this. You know, I waited all this time. I was in a wait list. Now insurance is paying and now I'm getting it. I'm getting it. It's supposed to work. These people are supposed to know what they're doing. And you know, I have professionals listening here and you know how I am always positive and want to teach both parents and professionals what to do. But you know, parents are their child's best advocate and child's best teacher. And like you said, you can learn online through my courses what to do and how to implement. And that also helps you determine who, what companies, what people are going to approach it in a similar manner. It's not like they have to be an expert on the turn autism around approach, but they have to be willing to, you know, hear you if you say, why are we working on colors and they're banging their head against hard surfaces, which is what happened to Kelsey, who's featured in podcast number three, who was our community manager? You know, like, they can't be working on things that are way too hard if we've got safety issues, if we've got major problem behaviors, if we've got Pica, for instance, which is another thing. I've done a video blog on Pica is a serious medical condition. So anybody that wouldn't be looking at that.. and running in streets and in water, you know that that is where we start. So in my opinion, it's less about the personality. Just get me somebody who's good with kids, nice and willing to work with me.
Finding the Right BCBA with Tricare Coverage:
Melissa: Yeah. And you're a team and they're willing to understand the child. And I think you said it best, which is when you've met one autistic child, you've met one autistic child. They're not all the same. Mike, my other two children are not autistic, and they're very different from one another. And autistic children should be considered at the same. They're all unique and they all have different motivations. But taking your course and implementing it for those months before we came home and found a therapist was so helpful and it was life changing and we were able to get the ball rolling for Mattie by helping him with those safeties. We were able to get him going to then start pulling the words out of his mouth and didn't, you know, manding an tacting.
Mary: And was he speaking at all when he was diagnosed?
Melissa: He was not, he was making noises.
Mary: And he was how old when he was diagnosed?
Melissa: He turned two in November of twenty twenty. So he was about thirty one months around that time. Sorry. So I guess he was almost two and a half around that time, I'd say. And he literally did not say anything. And then when his therapist came to do his intake, she specifically said, the only thing I heard Mattie say was noises and two words Mama, mama and no.
Mary: And now and then, you know, when you came home, what was he saying? Was he saying a bunch of words?
Melissa: Now he started ABA therapy September 7th. OK, and with help he was doing ABA with me, but with the help of a BCBA, Mattis is now potty trained. He pees and poos on the potty and he lets me know, he says consistently 30 words, which is huge in that short of time. And he's now starting on two word sentences like he. We're working on the pronouns, but like you peed, and he goes you peed. And then I have to go wait Mattis potty. He goes, Oh yeah, OK. So we're getting there. But. And he can now request cups. He will go pull the picture off the wall and hand it to me. He will go find me to get a cup because that motivates him because he wants that cup and he wants that food. So it's been just awesome to see him.
Mary: And how old is he now? Did you say?
Melissa: He will be three in November. He's not even three yet.
Mary: So how did you find a BCBA? You knew you were going to go from Japan back to Virginia at some point. Like, how did you go about the process of finding someone that would would mesh well?
Melissa: So before when we when found out he was diagnosed, I was like, Man, what a relief. We can finally get the ball rolling because that opens doors exponentially, because now I know what's going on now we can we can drive this train somewhere. My goal before we left Japan was when we landed in America. Everything was going to be ready to go. I didn't want gaps. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing in Japan and get started when we got home. So I went on to we have a private autism page for our area, and I said, I'm looking for a therapist that follows to Mary Barbera's Turning Autism Around program. So this is our mindset. This is how we operate. I like her program. If you haven't done it, I recommend it. And I said, But I want to find a therapist who does this and who does in-home. I don't want to go to a clinic. And I had different people reach out to me, and they didn't read my post because I specifically said, I don't want to clinic, and they tried really hard to get me to go to the clinic. And I had a woman messaged me and she goes, Why don't you reach out to this, she private messaged me, didn't even read didn't even write a comment. She goes, You should reach out to this woman named Lori Stacy. I think you'll be very pleased. So I texted her while I lived in Japan and I said, Hi, my name is Melissa. I live in Japan. I'm sorry for the time difference, but I'm in need of a BCBA. And I followed to the Mary Barbera program and you were recommended and she wrote me back immediately. And she said, Oh yes, I followed Mary's course. She worked with me virtually. And we got to know each other via email, and it ended up being a good fit. She felt like it was a good fit, and she said that she would take us on as clients.
Mary: So she takes tricare and lives in Virginia, near you.
Melissa: And the biggest the biggest was going to be whether or not, because we decided we were going to put Mattie in preschool. We enrolled. We reached out to the city of Chesapeake Public Schools, and we enrolled Mattis in the Special Education Preschool, which is two hours a day. They put Mattis in the morning class, and Lori reached out to us and said, Perfect, I can come by your house after Mattis gets them with school and goes to school from 7:30 in the morning until 10:05. He writes the school bus by himself to and from school gets dropped off at my front door and Lori's here and we start. And he does three hours of ABA every day, Monday - Friday.
Mary: Wow. Do you have a behavior your technician that's under Lori as well?
Melissa: No, she just worked with me, and we do training sessions once a week just to kind of answer any questions I have or kind of tweak and fine tune like maybe what we think would work for a Mattis and we didn't work for Mattie. And we we do it throughout the session too, like, Oh, that's not working, let's try something else. He's very he's responded really well to her and to the advice that we've gotten from your program. And I think that's why we've been so successful with it is because we follow to that. I think the experience with autism, whether we were military or not. I think the only difference is that being under at least for TRICARE, we have a little bit more available with this. There are services we can outreach to. But I also live in a really military, heavily populated area, so this is the place to go. And when Mattis was diagnosed, we were told the best option is San Diego or Norfolk, which when are you going to go to? And we chose Norfolk, and almost everything here is TRICARE accepted. So I think because of that being such a high density for that, that's probably why we have so many services available. And you know, from your other podcasts and from some of the posts, I've seen their families that have to move in order to find something. But that's where I would highly recommend to them again that if they take the course and they you have to be involved. It's not. This is...autism and a BCBA and the courses, they're not a pill. It's not like I take a pill and you're going to get an instant reaction. You have to work at it. It takes time and sometimes things that worked for Mattis one day. Then a couple of weeks from now, he's evolved and he's growing and is developing, and we have to change our way of approaching him and how things work for him before we can only get him to work with just sensory toys. Now we can get him to go with with he's pretend playing now. So we're working with it and you know, it's a constantly evolving just like any child. It's not a cookie cutter. There's no magic pill. And we take BCBAs. We do two to three hours a day. And and now it's why doesn't it work? It's a twenty four seven hour job, but this is a life. And once it becomes part of your routine, it becomes so easy you just have to make it part of your routine and evolve with it. So that's just my thoughts. If they can't find the services, you be the service you do it for your child because you're at the end of the day. As Lori told me earlier, when we before she left for the day, she goes, I'm here for three hours. You live with him for you, live with them, for the rest of the day. So if you're not going to enact what we do, then it's, you know, you have to do it, you have to live with it outside of those three hours.
Pairing Appointments and Other Important Tasks With Your Child:
Mary: And I think COVID really illustrated how, you know, at the end of the day, it's the parents, usually the moms who are left holding. Holding the situation, whatever it is, and, you know, but at the same time, once you figure out what to do, how to increase talking, decrease tantrums, work on eating, sleeping potty training, going to the doctors dentist haircuts without a fight. Once you have those tools in your tool belt, then you're feeling more confident to approach any situation for any of your three children in a similar manner. Calmly. You know, this isn't the end of the world. This, you know, we're going to just work this out. Whatever it is we will, we will manage. And that's awesome.
Melissa: Also you have to remove your internal parent shame, there's always going to be external parent shame. But once you stop caring what the whole world thinks and you just tell yourself, stay calm, we can work through this because you have to be the calm in the storm. So when they're having a temper tantrum like my son, he had a meltdown in the dentist's office. We went there. I don't know what happened. And maybe it was because it reminded him of something, but he cried and he ran from the dentist. That was in fact, he took my husband by the shirt and they and he drug him out with him. He was so terrified of the dentist that he actually defecated on himself in the dentist lobby. But the positive from that was he realized he did not like to be poopy on him. And so that's when he became poopy potty trained real fast because he hasn't yet to have a booby accident after that. But it could have been. I became upset because I was like, Oh my gosh, how do I help them? And then I realized, calm in the storm. This is probably terrifying if I was to walk into an office with white walls and no toys around and there was no loud noises and they want to, you know, they're all wearing masks and stuff. I would be terrified too. Once you're the calm in the storm and you kind of start to do the ABC method of, OK, well, you were scared because the app is, what can I do to make this a little bit better? Let's try it. And in my specific child likes routine. So we worked it out with the dentist. We go to the dentist weekly. We pay visits to them in the lobby and they become they become our friend. And then Mattis is slowly starting to venture into the office, and I had to actually do that with my other son, too. We had to go into the office weekly to visit the doctor because that's scary isn't somebody you see all the time. I don't want anybody touching me either. If I don't know who you are. Know, just be like calm in the storm.
Mary: That desensitization. It's Chapter 13, this chapter of my new book. We also did. I did a podcast on desensitization where we can put that in the show notes as well. Yeah, that would be awesome. Big part of parenting. You know, there are going to be things that are going to be scary and, you know, holding your child down somewhere like at a dentist or for a haircut or for stitches or for an MRI like it then can spill over. And that's what happened to Michelle C., in my book, I say, like all of a sudden bath time got unpaired and she was freaking out, and I said, Let me guess, did you hold her down for something? And she said, Yeah, she had an MRI and we had to restrain her to do the, you know, the anesthesia. And then, you know, but the good news is she learned to repair the bathtub within a week.
Melissa: Yeah, it just takes. You can fix it quickly.
Mary: Yeah. Knowing like, OK, we went too far, we didn't prepare them enough. My bad. We'll just, you know, repair it. And so, yeah, I think you're you sound like you're doing an amazing job with all three of your kids. So I really appreciate all these tips that you're giving our listeners. So we like to end the same way. Part of my podcast goals is not to just help the kids, but to have parents and professionals be less stressed and lead happier lives. And I know it sounds like you have had incredible stress in the past year between moving, having three kids, having your husband away for months on end. So what are your stress management techniques or tools that you use to take care of yourself?
Melissa's Advice for Other Parents:
Melissa: My, my husband is my biggest, my biggest shoulder for when I need help, and so is my mom and dad. But my husband lives with me, and he is constantly reminding me to keep my eye focused. But if I'm not going to be one hundred percent, my kids aren't going to be 100 percent. So he always encourages me and I encourage other parents do something for yourself. Even if it's just 15 minutes of time, 50 minutes, you can get a lot done for yourself, even if it's just to go into your closet and shut the door and go hide in there for 15 minutes. That's all it takes. I actually will take some of my hobbies and work it in with my kids. So like, I never knew how to bake until COVID because I had to make my own bread. And now, when my kids need something, I'm like, OK, I'm going to go bake it here, and it becomes something fun because now they're calm and they're like, Oh, it's mom baking, you know, let me get involved and it becomes something positive, something I do by myself. I work out, I get up in the morning and I get some exercise. Sometimes on weekends we go outside and get fresh air. Fresh air is key. But the biggest thing is do something for yourself even five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it takes. Because if you're not 100 percent, your kiddos aren't going to be 100 percent and they feed off of that attitude. So if I get up in the morning and I'm cranky, it disturbs the whole world to start falling down to that. And the same with my husband. If he wakes up cranky, we're all we're all going to start going down. So does he keep your eye on the big picture? So like, yeah, there's going to when it comes to working with your children, there's going to be days where there's peaks and valleys, but it's always going like this when when I took your course and I still recap it, I recap it about monthly is there's these moments like this and then he shoots up. But as long as we're always going and a forward progression, then that's what matters. But the brain is a muscle, so it's going to it's going to need that time to decompress and relax. And just like a parent, you need time to decompress and relax and get yourself together. So that's my advice.
Mary: I think that's awesome. Thank you so much for your time today. I really enjoyed getting to know you better and look forward to, you know, you're still in the community. You've upgraded and moved on to the Verbal Behavior Bundle, which has a lot more things that it has. You know, I think you threw out like pronouns. We have a whole lesson on pronouns. And so, you know, just because the BCB, a Lori is, you know, has we've we've interacted in the past. She knows about my course. She's, you know, in favor of my approach doesn't mean that every professional there knows exactly how to deal with pronoun reversals and that sort of thing. So and it's not like this is going to work absolutely for every kid. It might need to be adapted, but we do have other things like a pronoun lesson, which which I think is is really good too. So thank you so much for your time. It's been a real pleasure to get to know you, and I wish you all the best going forward.
Melissa: Thank you. I was excited to meet you too.
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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