#119: How BCBA Autism Mom Jennifer N. Helped Her Children with Autism

bcba autism mom

BCBA and autism mom, Jennifer, didn’t always have the experience needed to help her four children, all of which were diagnosed with autism.  As a nurse living in The Netherlands in the early 2000s, Jennifer N. was at work one day when she treated a child with autism and realized that her own three-year-old twins had many of the same characteristics. After her twins were diagnosed, Jennifer’s older two children were also diagnosed. In a short period of time, all four of Jennifer’s children were receiving ABA therapy of some type.

Simply receiving a diagnosis often feels like it’s half the battle, but in the early 2000s, Jennifer also had to navigate a healthcare system that only had one BCBA to serve the entire country. Like many other autism moms, she took on the role of the therapist as she tracked down books and resources to help her children.

Each of Jennifer’s children presented differently with autism. In her oldest daughter’s case, she was very verbal and an excellent student. Like many other girls with autism, her language ability meant that she flew under the radar for an autism diagnosis for years. For her twin boys, their IQs were tested and she was told that they were so low-functioning that they would live out their lives in a treatment facility. But this is a story of hope and illustrates the power that parents hold when they become their child’s best advocate.

Jennifer’s advice for parents who are dealing with a new diagnosis of autism is to learn the skills you need to help your child. We are ultimately, as parents, responsible for our children. Professionals are only going to be in your life for a short time. After implementing ABA therapy, Jennifer’s twins are testing at the genius IQ level, and her two older children are living independently with advanced degrees. ABA strategies employed correctly can help a child with autism change the trajectory of their life.

My new book, which Jennifer and I both needed when our children were first diagnosed, has just been published. Turn Autism Around: An Action for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism is available now.

TODAY’S GUEST

Jennifer Niemeijer-Heaton is a BCBA and BIG registered nurse. She is the director of ABA Center International which provides ABA therapy to children in The Netherlands. She has 20+ years of experience in working in the pediatric health care field and 18+ years of experience in caring for children and adults with developmental delays. Furthermore, she has personal experience as a mother of four adult children with various diagnoses at a young age. All of the children have acquired more than one diploma. Two of the oldest have a job, a relationship, and live independently. The youngest two are still studying and one of the two lives independently.

YOU’LL LEARN

  • Jennifer’s daughter was almost 14-years-old when she was diagnosed because, like many girls, autism can manifest itself differently for girls.
  • In Jennifer’s experience, an IQ number isn’t fixed but can be improved for a child with autism if the appropriate interventions are made to help them speak and connect with the outside world.
  • Like many parent advocates who later become BCBAs, Jennifer believes that ABA done correctly can teach children skills that they need to become happy and healthy.
  • How you can have better parent and professional collaboration.
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Transcript for Podcast Episode: 119
How BCBA Autism Mom Jennifer N. Helped Her Children with Autism
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera

Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Mary Barbera, and today I have a special interview with Jennifer Niemeijer, who is a mom as well as a professional in the autism field. Before I get to her introduction and this great interview, I did want to tell all of you now that it's April, my book Turn Autism Around: An Action Guide for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism is available not just for preorder, but it's available. It's out in hardback on audible and on Kindle. Get all the information, including all the bonuses at TurnAutismAround.com.

Mary: Now, today, we have Jennifer Niemeijer, who is the mom to four adult kids who all had a diagnosis of autism in their past. And she's going to tell us all about her journey with autism and how her kids are doing now, which is amazing. And then Jennifer also shares her story of how she transitioned into the role as a board-certified behavior analyst. And she's also a registered nurse. She's got a wealth of information, gives parents a lot of hope that things can always be turned around regardless of age or ability level. Really a lot of great gems. So let's get to this special interview with Jennifer.

Mary: So, Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us today. I'm so happy to have you here.

Jennifer: Thank you for inviting me. I'm really honored to be here.

Mary: So we like to start I heard a little bit about your journey, both professionally and personally. So why don't you tell our listeners how you got started with your fall into the autism world was initially like?

Jennifer: OK, well, I started out as a nurse. I'm American. I moved to the Netherlands in ninety-five and I worked in the pediatric health care. We have like free clinics for young children here and that was the work they did. Ran across a child at some point in time. I was studying to be a nurse practitioner and there was a young child with signs of autism. Now when I learned about the signs of autism, I followed a course on autism, and I recognized some signs of autism in my children, my twins were three years old at the time. And I had already had some concerns and voiced that to my doctor and he reassured me, he said no. He said with parents like you that are going to be just fine, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Mary: And this was like mid-nineties, late nineties.

Jennifer: But yeah, that would be no, it was actually two thousand five.

Mary: 2005 is when your young three-year-old twins started showing signs.

Jennifer: Yes, exactly. So I wanted to be reassured. Of course I wanted to think that there's nothing wrong with my children. I was thrilled. OK, I went on. But then I found I learned more about autism and I recognized the signs myself. And I brought them back to the doctor and I said, look, I'm really concerned. And at the same time, you know, they were growling at the doctor and he voiced some concerns too, he apologized for not having seen it. And he referred me immediately for diagnostics.

Mary: Did they have language at that point? Did they talk? Were they having other problem behaviors?

Jennifer: They had a few words. They developed a few words here and there, but they would sometimes forget their words. And yeah.

Mary: And I called those pop out words where they have a word, but then it's gone and you have no idea how to teach them. Well, now, now I know and you know how to teach them. But at the time in 2005, it's confusing. OK, so they had a few pop out words. They were growling. Were they doing anything else? What were their signs? What concerned you?

Jennifer: Tantrum, tantrum behavior and not very good quality eye contact either. And they their speech development was so sporadic and at that point in time it had stopped entirely. They were not playing normally like other children, and they were biting each other constantly. I mean, they were black and blue covered with bruises. Yeah. And I just I really was lost. I didn't know what to do. I was busy working mom and I had a nanny at home. And I felt horrible. I felt guilty thinking it's all my fault.

Mary: OK, so then once the doctor did refer you, how did that go? Did you get a diagnosis for them?

Jennifer: It took about three to four months. I mean, we were on a waiting list for a couple of months before we got then I had to put a lot of pressure on them to get in. And in the meantime, I was already certain of the diagnosis. And before the diagnosis was even arranged, I had already found ABA as the most evidence-based form of care and I had already started reading up on it. So, yeah, I learned a lot. I think I've read it. Catherine, let's see. Catherine Maurice's book.

Mary: Yeah, yeah. Let Me Hear Your Voice, which is the book I read and really the book everybody read in the 1990s and 2000s. It was published in nineteen ninety-three. OK, so they get a diagnosis at three and a half. Yeah. Three years, three months. And then well let you also have two other children. So before we talk about their the twins' progression, you also had two other children and did they start to show some signs at that point or was it later?

Jennifer: Well, they've always had, they always had an unusual development and they were rather difficult to raise. But when my youngest boys got a diagnosis, I said, well, if my youngest have autism, you better look at my other two because I recognized some different signs. They were much more verbal, but they had also signs of autism. And the more I researched autism, the more I thought and I became I became concerned. So they did some diagnostics on the older children as well. And they recommended they said at the time that my youngest boys would be in a facility for their whole life. They said they had very severe autism, very low, low IQ. And they said that my oldest daughter should be placed in a residential home. And they had some hope for my son because he has a high IQ. It is very verbal. And yeah.

Mary: So when your twins were three, your older son was how?

Jennifer: Eight years old, yeah.

Mary: And then your daughter was 13, so they started looking at your eight-year-old and your 13-year-old and they were both of them diagnosed with autism as well.

Jennifer: Yeah, one had, the oldest had various diagnoses. And there was a diagnosis of autism, a lighter form of autism. And the eight-year-old was also diagnosed with what they called the Asperger.

Mary: But also you had like four kids basically all diagnosed with some level of autism, all kind of back to back, starting with your twins signs at three. Wow. That's a lot for you and your husband. And you're also you're a nurse for your behavior analyst. You're married to a physician. Lots in common with me. So I can imagine how you and your husband were feeling at that point.

Jennifer: Right? Well, we felt rather lost and very much overwhelmed. Only I didn't have that. I really had to start looking into the future and thinking, what am I going to do? So I had to I had to stay away from that guilt complex that I had. I had to let that go and I had to get over my you know, you have a tendency to. Yeah. You don't want to have a diagnosis for your kids at the same time. So I was I was definitely in denial for a while, but I had to get over that really fast.

Jennifer: And I just started looking at treatment options. And I was already so far that when the doctor said that, I said, what are you talking about? I've read other stories. I know that there are possibilities for my children and I'm not going to let you tell me otherwise. And they didn't believe me. They didn't have the knowledge that I did as a parent at the time. So I just packed up my kids and left the country for a few months. And I found I found an organization in Arizona, did a jump start program with the little ones. I took my kids out of school. Actually, one of my daughters, my daughter was not in school at the time. She'd been kicked out of school for poor behavior.

Mary: This is the 13-year-old?

Jennifer: I guess. But at that point in time, she was almost 14.

Mary: So in addition to PDD-NOS, which was a milder form of autism, which your oldest, your oldest daughter got that diagnosis, she also was diagnosed with what other kinds of things were more like psychiatric disorders, right?

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I don't want to get into all the details of that, if you don't mind, because. Because of her own privacy.

Mary: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jennifer: But there were some really serious diagnoses, you know, four or five different diagnoses. And where they she also they also assured me that her future was not very bright.

Mary: And I see that a lot with my former clients who had more moderate severe autism. They got a lot better. They didn't really look like they had autism anymore. And then people try to go like, well, we think it's an emotional disturbance or we think this and they start trying to diagnose something and it's really just autism. But with treatment, it looks different. And then you have lot on medical issues or other things that can spur on. It is very common, much more common. I don't know if you have the statistics. I don't, but much more common for higher functioning, higher language kids to get multiple diagnoses, get sometimes the wrong diagnoses, that sort of thing.

Jennifer: So especially females really, who is very, very verbal and quite intelligent as well. So she did well in school and she, you know, so nobody really knew what it was. I mean, I think that's why she got so many different diagnoses. They didn't recognize what it was and it got so bad at the time that she was really she was severely aggressive and self-harming. Yeah.

Mary: And I say that even with my friends' kids, I've had a few friends who have reached out to me on a personal basis and they have typically developing kids know autism in the history, no developmental delay, and they suddenly have an acute psychiatric disorder. They're cutting. Or they're having suicidal ideations and as a nurse, as a behavior analyst, I have offered them assistance in terms of this is what I would look at. This is the way I would work with your physician then. And I did a podcast interview with Lucas's psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Murray, which is one of my all-time favorite podcast. It's episode number twenty-eight.

Mary: We can link it to the show notes, but. And we talk about the DNA swab test, which measures the child's DNA or adult, and then kind of runs through all the medications the child could be taking and runs it through their DNA to see which ones are really good for that DNA. And so and we talk about that in episode twenty eight. But that's one of the pieces of advice, is if you have a child with or without autism who's having getting a psychiatric diagnosis or having some kind of psychiatric issues to really look at the DNA swabs, look at things like in my new book, I talk a little bit about Pands and pandas, and I am going to have a guest on about that in the future, too, because there can be all kinds of medical things or trauma or a lot of things could cause people to look like they have a serious mental health issue.

Mary: And I mean, part of why you wanted to come on and why you agreed to come on and you have permission to talk about your story from your kids without using their names or really specific information is you want to get the word out that no matter what the diagnosis is, delays, differences, behavioral issues, mental health issues, they can be improved and they can be turned around.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I wish I had known that information that you shared from the podcast today from the psychiatrist. If I had if I had known that at the time, that would have really saved me a lot of trouble. And we're behind a little bit in the Netherlands compared to the states. So we wish we had tried various forms of medication that were not effective with her. So that would have been wonderful to know.

Mary: Yeah, because a lot of times you're just playing chasing your tail and it's kind of like a whack a mole. And they get kids get on these cocktails of meds and their behaviors seem to worsen. Or like Lucas can't tell you if he's having a side effect. So you really our kids can't afford to trial and error know through trial and error. It's not fair to them.

Jennifer: No, no. My daughter was telling me just really two days ago, she said, Mom, you remember when I was on Ritalin? She says I was high all the time and I don't know how to tell you she had these twitches. And I'm so glad we got her off that medication.

Mary: And not every child and adult is different. For Lucas is on a cardiac med Inderal that is has completely changed his life for the better. But your kids are now all adults. So we're going to fast forward. You did ABA for your two sons. You got your other children with various therapies and worked with professionals, worked with whoever could you could find to help you, right?

Jennifer: Yeah. I did find a BCBA here in the Netherlands. Now, there are twenty-three BCBAs in Holland, but then there was one when I don't even know if that was one. Actually she was studying, she was BCABA at the time. OK, yeah. And then later on the, the person who was helping me became a BCBA.

Mary: OK, so you got some behavioral help. You knew that ABA was the way to go at least for your twins. And then as your older children got diagnosed, two, they were already in school, they were already having different issues. And did you use behavioral strategies for them? How did that look? Because a lot of people think like, oh, of course, you know, for a three-year-old that works and with severe symptoms. But what about or you eight- and thirteen-year-old that looked very different? Was the use of ABA helpful?

Jennifer: Oh, absolutely. Well, the BCBA at the time, she came up with a behavior plan for all of the children, and it was different for all of them. And for one thing, we had English speaking and Dutch speaking what we call trainers and at the time, students who were trained in ABA. So we worked with all the children and specifically the youngest in Dutch and English. And but then we also had a behavior plan for both of the kids, for both of the older kids as well. And. We saw a lot of changes because of that and the youngest, they had had such difficulty with toilet training and with the BAP, it was called that back then, but with a behavior plan, they immediately learned how to go to the toilet, something I've been struggling with forever.

Jennifer: And my daughter, she learned and learned how to give attention to the behavior that was that we wanted to see more frequently and to give less attention to unwanted behavior. And then we're just, there were huge improvements, really dramatic improvements also with my son, who was eight years old, eight years old at the time of the diagnosis. And of course, this was a process of about three or four years that we were working really intensively with these kids. I stayed at home and worked with them, and then I enrolled in an ABA program myself because it was expensive and I had a good budget from the government. I arranged that. I had to fight really hard for it, but I got it.

Mary: And with the ABA care that you got funded by the government, was that just for the younger two or was it for or all four?

Jennifer: All four. They started out, they start out with really small budgets and then I could show them the proof of how much it was helping. And then they were just throwing money at me by the time I was finished happy with the improvements.

Mary: So before we tell our listeners about your four kids now, just briefly, but there are the boys you said had severe autism and low IQ. And a lot of people, when they hear that, they think like, well, you know, a child who has autism, plus they have a diagnosis of intellectual disability or a low IQ below 70, like that's static. There's no changing that. That's a different kind of autism. And you're not going to be able to turn things around with that. But you have told me that your twins now have an above average IQ, that their IQ really soared. So are you saying that you believe IQ can be changed, speech improvements can be made and behavioral reductions can happen?

Jennifer: Well, the way I see it is the children have they get the DNA from their parents. And when parents have a higher IQ than the children can have a higher IQ as well. But you're not always they're not the children with autism because of their difficulties in communication and the lack of intrinsic motivation. And they aren't able to show that the possibilities completely there. So the way I see it is when we use ABA with our children, we help them to motivate them to want to communicate and to be active participants in in life and in our world. And every year we had a different IQ measurement.

Jennifer: I had a student who was living across the street and she was learning to do diagnostics at the time. So she practiced on us. And she was she was supervised, of course, by licensed psychologist. So they were actual accurate tests, but they started out with an IQ of fifty three. That was the formal IQ. So actually the verbal IQ was lower than that was about forty six at the time. And yeah. And then we saw them every year, gained about 10 to 15 points and that went on until they were 12. And then I stopped testing them because then they showed an IQ of one hundred and thirty-nine and one hundred and forty-three.

Mary: Wow. That is a gifted IQ. Yeah. Yeah. Because the normal IQ Joe average is one hundred one above what one thirty is gifted or I think even one twenty is gifted.

Jennifer: But the higher you get past 120 the more gifted the person.

Mary: So you actually have done your own studies to show that IQ can be improved.

Jennifer: Right. Right. And I have, you can have the test to prove it. Yeah. Yeah.

Mary: Which is amazing. And ah, all four of your kids conversational now?

Jennifer: All four of them. Absolutely, yeah. And very free also with their opinion and their emotions. And they're absolutely not robots like you, you hear that kind of talk to your child and you teach them the robots but know that they have their own individualities and even the twins, they each have chosen their own way. You know, we had a program at one point in time to teach them about being in love. And they even had girlfriends when they were seven years old.

Mary: And your other two kids. So all your two older kids graduated from college?

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. One has a bachelor and the other has a master's. And they all have talents also really extreme talents like a musically gifted. They're amazing artists and they're also very athletic. You know that flexibility also comes with autism. So I see some gymnastic dancing skills and that within the family, they didn't get that from me or my husband for that.

Mary: But that's amazing. So, yeah, it sounds like a real miraculous story for kids on the spectrum at some point on the spectrum in their lives and now really thriving and now with relationships, relationships and intelligence, whether they're living independently, leaders in their fields, actually.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. It's quite amazing.

Mary: And do they talk about their own autism?

Jennifer: No, no. They say, well, I always told them, you know, your diagnosis. It's just a bunch of behavioral traits that there's no DNA test right now that can say you have autism that I'm aware of. Maybe, maybe.

Mary: No, I don't think so. Behavioral symptoms.

Jennifer: They're behavioral symptoms. And you can learn the skills. And so they never really were so worried about their diagnosis. They know. Yeah. And we don't worry about it one way or the other now either. I feel like they're just incredibly talented. I think that autism can bring great talents, but it's up to us to give them the right treatment and bring out these talents, motivate them.

Mary: And what do you say to people that say know ABA is cruel, ABA is not the right treatment, autism is a gift. We should just accept kids wherever they are and not use a treatment. What do you say to that?

Jennifer: Well, I think if I look at it in a different way, knowing what I know now, I would see it as extreme cruelty on my part, not to treat them with ABA, knowing what I know and how far a person can come. So I do respect people their own opinion. Maybe they have come across the professionals who were not using ABA in the proper manner. And things have changed a lot throughout the years. So it did have an occasionally has a bad name. But I think when you have a really quality of quality care provider, board certified behavior analyst in these days, I think that you can be quite sure that the care that's provided is optimal and the best the best available for your child.

Mary: Yeah. So at what point how old were your kids or what year was it when you decided what? I'm going to become a board-certified behavior analyst myself?

Jennifer: Well, it was after I had helped many other children, not just my own children, but also helped other children to achieve the same type of skills that my children have achieved. And I saw them, also functioning better within their family life and behavior issues. And I thought, wow, I really need to learn to do this better so I can teach more people. And that's why I wanted to become a BCBA.

Mary: And so. So you have become a BCBA in what year?

Jennifer: It was two thousand nineteen. It was a long journey. I spent so much time with my kids and my work and going to school. Mother of four kept me busy and now I'm actually doing my Ph.D. so I can wow even more people. I want to do research and help even more so.

Mary: Wow. Sounds like we are in lockstep getting a PhD and we have so much in common.

Jennifer: It's crazy. So just a few years behind you.

Mary: So and a few years ago you also took my Verbal Behavior bundle which is how I got to know you a little bit. And you were telling me before we started recording that that your kids were already 10 or so like your kids were a little older or maybe they were even older than that, I think. Yeah, but you were using the course to help the kids, your clients, the Verbal Behavior, bundle.So can you tell the professionals and even parents out there like what kind of things you learned from the course, even though you had ABA implemented and you were becoming a BCBA yourself?

Jennifer: Oh, everything. It's gold. I love it. I recommend it to all the families and all the professionals that I work with. I recommend it to actually. So because it gives you really the basic skills in ABA. Actually didn't know about the course until it was recommended to me by a parent. So that's how, that's what got me started with your toddler course.She shared it with me and then I decided to become a member and do the courses myself. And I thought, oh, I wish I had known this years before. I would have saved me a lot of hardship and trying to figure out everything because everything is just laid out exactly what you need to do. I wish if I were a mother now with a child being diagnosed, it would be so much easier.

Mary: What do they say to parents who are like, I just want to be the parent, I don't want to be like Jennifer, Mary, where you roll up your sleeves and you become behavior analyst. Like, what do you say to parents like that?

Jennifer: What I tell the parents actually, what I can say this because I'm a parent is I say that you are the best teacher for your children.You are the one who knows your child better than anyone else who can help him better than you need to be knowledgeable. You need to learn how to help your child. But I also tell them the first person they need to work on is themselves. So sometimes parents have certain behaviors and I have those behaviors, too. Honestly, sometimes you just don't know how to handle these kids. And it gets so frustrating when you learn the skills you can help your child without hurting them. It can be very positive and loving experience, actually. But it's that they're responsible. They're the ones who are ultimately responsible. We are, as parents, ultimately responsible for our child's future. So if we don't do it, nobody else is going to do it. The professionals are there for only so many hours in such a short time. And as parents, we are there for the lifetime of our kids.

Mary: And I tell people in my book, parents, my goal is to empower and teach the parents how to become the captain of the ship, to identify the right professionals, the right treatment, the right order of things. Because you're right, the parents are the ones with the highest motivation up all night trying to research better ideas. When you see toileting work, you're like, wow. Or I struggled with getting Lucas to sleep in his own bed through the night for 10 years. And then I met with a BCBA just by chance, just like at the dinner. And she told me three things to do. I set my mind to it. I did those three things. And within three nights, Lucas slept in his own bed through the night for the rest of his life.

Jennifer: That's amazing, right?

Mary: And that is all in my new book, in the Chapter on Sleep, which when I was writing my first book and I think I mentioned this on another podcast, but when I was writing my first book in 2006, I was writing it and published the Verbal Behavior Approach in 2007. When I was writing it, my husband said, whatever you do, do not put anything about sleep in that book because like you don't know what you're doing and I don't know, we don't know what we're doing in terms of sleep. So there's not one piece of sleep advice in in my first book. But then I started traveling and I met this BCBA who gave me this wonderful advice. And there's a whole chapter because I've gotten dozens of kids to sleep through the night now in their own bed. But when parents sleep, eating, potty training, going to the doctors, dentists, haircuts, this is what is key.

Jennifer: Oh, my gosh. I can't tell you how many soiled diapers and underwear I had to deal with until I had the BCBA come by and help me. And she just said, you know, you're doing you're following a training process and you're accidentally rewarding them for pooping in their underwear. And here's how you can do it. And it was just like you. Miraculously, within two days, they were toilet trained, something I had been working with for four years.

Mary: Right. Or I had been trying to teach Lucas categories, things that are red things, things that are grey, things are yellow. For years I tried to teach them same different for years and I learned three things or five things, and I came back and put my mind to it. Same different. I taught them in sixteen, sixteen trials after struggling for over five years. Right, right. And it's like, wow. And if we get all of this information to parents when their child is just showing signs of autism, just having a speech delay or not pointing or not responding to their name or rocking or having those kinds of behaviors, and you start to empower the parents to detect and treat anything like them. With information that is in some ways complicated, but in other ways is pretty straightforward.

Mary: Like you, Jennifer, I love hearing these stories. And it's like you are a completely empowered parent professional now because, you know, whatever comes your way, whether it's a grandchild or a niece or a nephew or or your own kids struggles with something else, you know, OK, assess the situation, make a plan, put proven strategies in place, evaluate using data like this isn't to say that more stuff isn't coming down the pike for either of us. But once you have the power to know that, you can make things better.

Jennifer: Yeah, it's incredible. Yeah. Yeah. Can be used for so many things. Yeah.

Mary: So any advice for professionals out there. How can they really work on parent professional collaboration more?

Jennifer: Well, I think that you really have to listen to the parents really, really dig deep and listen to them and find out what their challenges are. You have to get to know them. You have to let you have to build up a relationship so they'll confide in you, feel safe with you, and then they'll then they've really opened up to you and are open to help. Once you can give a few tips and strategies that that will help them, they will come to you for more help. And then at that point in time, you really have to train them. You.

Jennifer: You really have to make, actually in our organization, we do also we have a behavior plan well, not a behavior plan, but a teaching plan for parents and we score that as well. We give them a task analysis to help them with the behavior intervention plans. Yeah, and it works. It works great. And then once they've achieved that, then we can give different strategies. And it works out really well every time that that their child gets help, then the parents also get help. Parent training is so important. It's the most important part of the treatment process. And I'm sure I know you know that because you're focused almost entirely on the training and that's that.

Mary: I know when I was working with the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project, we would write a behavior plan and then we would do a treatment integrity form, which basically a task analysis, step by step what procedures were recommended. And then we would we would use it to train the parents and train the staff. And then we could also monitor and say, you can't just say, well, the behavior plan's not working or it's a mess when no one's implementing what's in the behavior plan. And so, like, I love that. So you work and tell us about the where you work and what you do there to help others.

Jennifer: Yeah, well, it's called a ABA Center International. And I work with mostly young children, some teenagers and adults we work in we have a school-based clinic in Amsterdam. We do a home training sessions and school sessions. And we're working on starting up. We're actually working on starting up a school in Amsterdam. There are many children that are not able to attend school in the Netherlands. So we want to get them in school. And they have the same rights to attend school as children without a diagnosis, without behavior issues. But we have to give the teachers and parents the tools to help them to achieve that and to help them to succeed. They get sometimes locked into this failing and it's difficult to break that cycle. But with ABA, you can do that.

Mary: Yeah. So people can look at your website. Is it, what's your website?

Jennifer: It's www.ABACenterInternanational.com.

Mary: Awesome. OK, so we're we have just a little bit more time here. Jennifer, this is so good. I'm loving this conversation. So any parting advice you have for parents of any child at any age and any ability levels?

Jennifer: Well, keep in mind, if you're having doubts, if you're having concerns, don't wait too long. Go and find a professional who will really listen to you and take it. Take your doubts and your concerns seriously. If you reach a dead end with one person, check with someone else, because we all love our children to succeed. So we don't have these sort of concerns for nothing. We have them for a reason. So listen to your intuition, listen to yourself, and don't feel responsible for the struggles and the difficulties that your children come across.

Jennifer: I actually had a BCBA once, I remember this very clearly. I remember crying at the time that my children were diagnosed and I said to her, I feel so guilty because I didn't play with the little ones, the twins, as much as I did my older children. And it must be that must be the reason why they have diagnosis that she said she explained to me about how the ABC works and antecedent behavior consequence and explained to me that that it also works the other way around, that if I'm trying to make contact with my children and they are not responding to my attempts, then I as a parent make less and less attempts and I just don't know how to reach them at the time. And that's OK. And then it was just kind of from that point in time, I really, really respected and loved the guy who helped me and to bring me to that point to teach me that I'm doing the best I can and with the right tools, I can help more effectively. And that's my advice to parents. Yeah. Just find the right care provider. Right.

Mary: And I think that's great advice. Don't be in denial like I was. Don't feel guilty in one of my pediatricians told me, you know, it shouldn't be work to teach your child to talk. And if it is work, that means that there are delays. And back when Lucas was showing signs, you know, I was I was thinking, well, you know, we should have done more. We should have gotten speech earlier. We should have. And it's like it shouldn't take work. You know, kids should pick this up naturally and as complex as languages. It's amazing how kids typically develop. They do pick it up. But as when I wrote my new book, Turn Autism Around, because it's like I needed this book over two decades ago. You needed this book when your kids were three and not talking and biting each other, and I really just want to get the information in the hands of as many people as possible.

Mary: So if you haven't ordered the book at TurnAutismAround.com and I know Jennifer's read some of it. She's also a participant in my online course. And I really think that with the rate of autism and the rate of delays, we just need to learn ourselves. I also wanted to mention this is I did send Jennifer an article called that I wrote and published called The Experiences of Autism Mothers Who Become Behavioral Analysts, a qualitative study. And I published that in 20087. Then you had never seen that article before. But it really does show that those of us like Jennifer and myself, who have been moms of kids with autism first and then go on to behavior analysts, it's a very unique situation. It's more common than we think, but we have a unique sense of how it all goes together.

Jennifer: Right. I have a couple of friends who work with children on the spectrum, and I think it brings a completely different perspective to our work. I sometimes I see that all the kids a little bit my children. I do have that sometimes.

Mary: Yeah, yeah, I don't see kids individually anymore, but yeah. A lot of my former clients and I just want parents to get on it. You don't have to become a behavioral analyst, but you can't just sit back and let try to find professionals to help in all areas because the more involved you get and the more knowledgeable you get, the better your kids are going to do, no matter what the remainder of that looks like. Lucas's level of functioning, which is far below what your four kids are. But it's not about comparing kids. It's about getting each child to his or her fullest potential and being as safe, as independent and as happy as possible.

Mary: That's what I preach. That's what you preach and your story of hope. I really do love it. And I appreciate your kids giving you permission to come on and talk about their journeys in some way and your willingness to come and share your story, both as a as a parent and as a professional can.

Jennifer: Thank you for having me.

Mary: Yes. One final question. I know my listeners always like this when I ask. Part of my podcast goals are for parents and professionals to be less stressed and lead happier lives. So any final tips on ways you reduce your stress or self-care strategies?

Jennifer: Yeah, well, I do remember when my boys were quite young. My husband and I took a vacation, just the two of us. And it took a lot of work to make preparations to do so. And we had to get the right people in our home working with our kids to be able to trust them in their care. But it was amazing that was so important to have that sometimes you forget your spouse and all of the concerns with your children's development. And that was just a way for us to find each other. You know, we actually went sailing in in Greece, in the islands just on a private sailboat. Just the two of us. It was so romantic. And now lately I've learned how to meditate, too, and all sorts of other ways to relax. But that that's probably my best advice, is to find some time to spend with your partner and your friends. If you don't have a partner, look for yourself or some other form of satisfaction outside of the family. It's OK. Don't feel guilty about that once in a while you need to refuel. So you can be a better mom.

Mary: Yeah, definitely. All right. Well, it's been such a pleasure talking with you today. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm sure our listeners are going to love it. And ABA Center international dot com to follow Jennifer and for more information about the services she provides in the Netherlands. And so, yeah, it's been great. So I'll see you with our group membership and. Look forward to lots of contact in the future, too, because we are on a mission to really help the world by getting ABA strategies and parent professional collaboration out as much as possible.

Jennifer: Yeah, thanks very much.