#106: Shelley Brander’s Autism Journey & Entrepreneur Book

autism journey

Shelley Brander’s autism journey began when she realized that something was not quite right with her son Sam when he was a newborn because he wouldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. To say that he was a colicky baby would be an understatement. After some investigating, she found that removing dairy from her diet would improve his sleeping. With great relief, she did, but it wasn’t until he showed extreme distress over the new baby crying that she knew that his problems were more than just food sensitivities.

Shelley read a preview of my newest book Turn Autism Around, and she said that she wished that she’d had a similar book 22 years ago to help her navigate the autism world. Today her 24-year-old son Sam is a college graduate with a job that fulfills his passion for maps. But when Sam was first diagnosed, there were no communities or experts for Shelley to lean on. She had to make the best decisions with the information she had at a time when ABA therapy was so new that we didn’t even know how effective it was or how much therapy was good for a small child.

Self-care for Shelley took on the form of knitting while she waited through doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions, and over time, knitting became a great passion. Knitting has great stress-relieving benefits, and it’s helped her form an identity outside of being her children’s advocate. Today she’s publishing a collection of short stories called Move the Needle: Yarns from an Unlikely Entrepreneur.

Parents with autism don’t know how things are going to turn out, but by putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll see that it will all turn out in the end. Shelley and I share a sense of optimism for children and families on their autism journey. We’ve seen such tremendous progress in the last twenty years that we are hopeful for the future for children with autism.

TODAY’S GUEST

After a successful career as a copywriter and broadcast producer, creating campaigns for brands like AT& T and Hard Rock, Shelley Brander followed her passion and started an improbable “side hustle” – she opened a local yarn store. She and her team of Loops Troops have since grown Loops into a global brand that’s on the forefront of the modern maker movement and includes LoopsLove.com, LoopsClub.com, and Knit Stars, a global, online learning adventure. She’s on a mission to Knit the World Together™.

Move the Needle: Yarns from an Unlikely Entrepreneur
TheNeedleBook.com
loopslove.com
The Surrender Experiment

YOU’LL LEARN

  • Shelley compared her son Sam’s development stages with the children around him, but unbeknownst to her, many of them were also neurotypical.
  • Shelley reflects on the schooling choices she made for her son and shares what Sam wanted her to do differently.
  • How Shelley used her knitting hobby to carve out an identity for herself even as she advocated for her son.
  • The moment Sam found his people at college was when Shelley knew that he’d be alright on his own.
Want to get started on the right path and start making a difference for your child or client with autism?
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Transcript for Podcast Episode: 106
Shelley Brander's Autism Journey & Entrepreneur Book
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera

Mary: Shelley Brander is the mom to three children, including her first-born son, who was diagnosed when he was 18 months of age. And he's twenty-four now, and a college graduate. Shelley, is also an entrepreneur, which is how we met. But Shelley is in the knitting world and has written a new book about her journey, including a chapter on autism. The book is called Move the Needle Yarns from an Unlikely Entrepreneur. And today, January 12th. Her book is available online at Amazon, anywhere you get books and also at TheNeedleBook.com. So we're going to talk about Shelley's autism journey first and foremost, to talk a little bit about her book and how even if you're not an entrepreneur, it's a great book to dig into. I read it very quickly in a few hours and loved it. And we're going to talk about her son Sam now and some of the struggles he's had along the way. So it's a great interview. Hope you love it as much as I did. So let's get to this interview with Shelley Brander.

Mary: OK, thanks so much for joining us today. Shelley.

Shelley: Thanks, Mary. I'm so glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Mary: Yeah, I think we met about three or four years ago at anentrepreneurial conference. So it's great to have connected again online. And I just read your fantastic book that is out today and forever, which we definitely will get to.

Shelley: And I just read your fantastic book.

Mary: Yeah. Which we will also get to. So before we get to all of that, you do have a very interesting autism journey story. So how did you fall into the autism world?

Shelley: Yeah, so my son Sam, who's twenty-four now, when he was born, he seemed normal on most accounts, but for the first six weeks of his life, he never slept for more than one hour at a time. So it was colic to the extreme. And we were at the end of our rope. And at the time, you know, the Internet was pretty young and I ran across a community called Moms Online. I think a lot of people were on it. So some people listening may remember. And someone suggested I mean, I was just in desperation, bleary eyed in the middle of the night, someone suggested taking the dairy out of my diet because I was breastfeeding. And so I did that. And the next night he slept through the night, which was I mean, every parent knows just like the best. And we thought, well, that's interesting. So we I took dairy out. And then as he started to add solid foods, we were careful about the dairy, but around as everyone else's kids language started to develop, Sam did seem a little slow with the language. He was very fast with the physical, but a little slow with the language. And then around, oh, at around a year we had him checked out and they actually gave it. They said he's fine, he's on track so we kept going, but I always just had a little thought in the back of my mind.

Shelley: And then our second child was born and that was, Sam was 16 months. And every time Cecily would cry, Sam would go over and hit her. And it was so weird because he would just kind of like shove her not hard, you know, just like and it was so weird because he was crazy about her kiss on her love on her. And we couldn't figure it out. So we had him tested again. And this time they said, oh, we think he's on the spectrum. And that what it was was the sound of her crying was just super distressing to him. And he was trying to make her stop. So that was his way of trying to make her stop. So from there, I jumped into the manic mommy phase. I call it what he was how old when he was dying, when he was when we finally got the diagnosis, were you shocked? Yeah, it was it was, you know, full on despair like everybody. And at that time, I shouldn't say, like everybody. But at that time, relative to now there just so much less known.

Shelley: There were not, it wasn't on every TV show, there were characters in the movies and there was no Big Bang Theory, you know, all there was Rain Man. Rain Man was my only reference. And then the first book I read was, Let Me Hear Your Voice. And that talks about you've got to jump into action. The fight, the window's going to close at age five. And that really kicked me into hard gear, pulled me out of that, pushed me, pushed me through. I was feeling all the feelings. I know you talked about it to, you know, denial for sure, anger, all the stages of grief. But something about that book that really pushed me into action. And the other thing was he had some words that he started to lose.

Shelley: And I think that very specifically was the thing that I was like, OK, I'm going to I'm powering. And my husband was much more laissez faire about it. And I mean, he just is more laid back in general. I'm just like a kind of a can do, can do. And my husband calls me a bull in a yarn shop instead of a bull in a china shop. That's my business. And but he was much more laid back. I think he would have taken a more laid-back path. My best friend also had a daughter who now we learned later is on the spectrum. And that was actually it made it more complicated because they were born very close together. And when Sam could work a 40-piece puzzle at eight months, so could Kate. And so we were comparing and we were thinking this is normal and not recognizing the signs that maybe would have stood out more if they had been around more neurotypical kids.

Mary: So, yeah, my sister had a baby two weeks after Lucas was born. And so for the first 15 months of life, Lucas looked very sharp and more advanced than Garrett. And then it was kind of the switch over. And Garrett is typically developing. But I remember my husband was pushing babies on the spectrum and I was comparing him to other kids who later ended up with ADHD and other issues. And he's like, yeah, I don't think they're typically developing either. So it is a it's a confusing time, right? Yeah. And back in the late nineteen nineties, which Sam and Lucas are, are the same age and back in the late nineteen nineties, you've got the diagnosis a little earlier than I did. It was, it was like the like the Wild West. Right?

Shelley: That's, that's a nicer way to put it. But it was. For me it felt like the Dark Ages because everything, it was a darkness. There were just so few resources out there and so little hope at that time relative to what there is now. You had to dig hard to find good strategies.

Mary: Right. So you found the ABA right away or because of Catherine Maurice's book you. You knew to look for it.

Shelley: Yes. And I but I only knew around town there was one doctor who was known to be the autism doctor, kind of self-anointed autism doctor, and his waitlist was eight months and I wasn't going to wait eight months. I mean, I made the appointment, but I started trying to my own team together. And luckily, we didn't end up going with him because he ended up to be a really bad guy. But I did find as I continued my search, so I had to dig in a little more, a psychologist who had a son on the spectrum who was close to Sam's age, maybe a year or two ahead and with more and more significantly affected. But she had done her own intense research. So she was and being with her credentials, you know, she and she was just fantastic. She is from Texas. She was this blustery kind of, kind of we're going to dig into this and just very straight talking. And I super connected with her. So she was the lead. And then I reached out his school. There were no resources in the schools really yet here. And I found some students who were study.

Shelley: They were speech pathology students, but young enough to be getting the benefit of newer autism learnings. And so I had two college students who were part of the speech team, I had another elite speech path, had an OT. We did sensory integration. It was just like he was getting forty hours a week very quickly. I was just pretty much throwing all the noodles at the wall, seeing what would stick. It was kind of like just treat the symptoms and not get too hung up on waiting for the full diagnosis. So.

Mary: Yeah, so he also, Sam, also had hyperlexia, which is of interest in letters and reading early, knowing the routes to different places, and he would cry if you went the wrong way and that sort of thing. So that's also, I think, a little confusing for parents because you're like, well, I suppose super smart and then it's great. And does he really need this? And were people saying, well, he's probably going to be mild. You really don't need to be intensively treating this for sure.

Shelley: The first person who diagnosed him, who I'm really grateful to right now, of course, that day I was mad and every all the emotions. But she did say, you know, don't freak out. I think he's going to be mild. You guys have resources, you're invested his parents. He'll be OK. But that's just kind of like patting you on the head when you're a parent. I mean, there's no way for them to know. They don't have the crystal ball. Right. And so I just I mean, I appreciated that. But I was just determined to do as much as I could, as fast as I could. And because, again, at the time there was so much less known. ABA was known, but it was just really hard to find somebody qualified. So.

Mary: Right. And people were putting up their shingles. It was before BCBAs or a thing. So you could say you're the expert. And it was really paying a lot of money and not knowing if this was really going to turn out to be the right kind of therapy, the right amount of therapy. And like you said, no one has a crystal ball. I think I said that at least once, if not more, in my book, too.

Shelley: Like you said, I worry. I mean, forty hours a week for a kid who's a year old and you're thinking, should I be letting him just play? Is this too structured like all of those thoughts is self-doubt is like every night was self-doubt. Do it right? Do I do it wrong? I don't know. I just. Yeah.

Mary: And most of my young clients that I've had in the past, they would get 20 hours of therapy. Twenty-five hours of therapy. But really, I think the best thing I don't know that I'd recommend 40 hours of treatment, but what I would recommend is that the parent learn the strategies so that everything going to a restaurant, to the grocery store or bathing or sitting down to eat can all be mom knows, mom and dad know what a mand is. They know how to pair the word. They know what to do with a tantrum erupts. They know how to plan out a doctor's visit so it doesn't turn into a disaster.

Shelley: Everything becomes a lot more predictable for the kiddo. It just gives a structure. And I just think there's just a lot of comfort in that, too, from the parents. You just kind of feel like, OK, I'm on the right track, I'm doing the right thing. I'm moving forward, you know, and it just gives you a framework to work in.

Mary: And once you see progress, you're motivated.to keep going. So your son make rapid progress?

Shelley: Yeah, I would say I don't know that it would I would say it was right off the bat. I think it took a little while to get into the groove. It's been twenty-four years. But I, I do remember some of the game, some of the different therapies he connected with more than others. And just learning we kind of figured out like, OK, this one he likes more than this one. So you do this one to get him warmed up and then move into this one, that kind of thing. But most of the time, he was eager back then. I don't know if this is advisable now, but they use M&Ms a lot. So he was just happy to have the steady supply of M&Ms, you know.

Mary: Yeah, well, I mean, we usually use edibles to some degree for most kids, but. Yeah, and some people really don't like ABA because they don't want they don't think you should have to reinforce like some people say. Well, I don't agree. We don't do punishment. We don't do threats. We don't do bribery. I'm good with all those and we don't do any rewards or reinforcement. I'm like, wait a second. What rewards and reinforcement are operating around our whole environment, whether you believe in that or not? Right. We won't do anything without being reinforced in some way.

Shelley: Yeah. So I'm curious what they do, what they do think works,

Mary: They're spinning it a different way. But my type of ABA is child friendly and we want to reduce major problem behaviors to near zero levels. And I think if you're listening out there and your child or clients are crying for minutes or hours a day, it is not good if they are crying, they're not learning. And so, like, I am just a big believer in I don't care what you call it, I don't care if you call it ABA or you call it speech therapy or you call it floor time or you call it the VB approach or whatever you call it. The child should be happy, they should be motivated and they should be making progress. If those aren't happening, then it's not worth your time and your investment.

Shelley: Yeah, yeah. I remember when Sam went to, we took him to, I think his first Mother's Day out. Yeah, well, the second one and we were feeling, he was a little older. I think he was maybe three now, probably two, because we hadn't really gotten rolling totally into the therapy and he was rolling, but we hadn't had the sensory integration yet. I don't think. Anyway, his first I remember one specific preschool experience where we took him and we dropped him off and we picked him up and they were like, he has not stopped crying the entire time was like five hours of crying in the corner. And it's just like, oh, how do they? They didn't call earlier. I mean, yeah, it's just it's not a way to live, you know. And I do remember I don't know if it's because our therapists were just really sweet, wonderful, talented, or it was the M&Ms or the therapy itself. But I actually think it was fun for him and he looked forward to that. He really loved the one-on-one interaction like he did eat it up. And we did definitely did start to see results once he got in the groove. I mean, it was daily results.

Mary: Which is awesome. So you also your second daughter, your second child had kind of the opposite problem. She was having trouble with letter recognition at three and four and ended up with a diagnosis of dyslexia when she was a little bit older. So since my new book is for parents and professionals with trying to help that one to five year olds, what kind of signs were you seeing? Was there anything else besides the letter recognition that was an issue?

Shelley: Yeah, just in general, she wasn't excited. We had read so much to our kids from day one. We were crazy about books. Sam loved books. And from early on she didn't she kind of resisted reading in school. She didn't. She would avoid it. She loved she went to Montessori school like Sam did. They shared the same, they had the same teacher because they were in pods of three years at a time and they're sixteen months apart. And she just kind of she loved to be read to, loved the sound of my voice. And she from a very early age, from probably less than one, we would hear her over the baby monitor reciting entire movies. So she was incredibly auditory. She was literally like the polar opposite of Sam. Right. And she would listen to it. You would always see her listening to adult conversations super intently. But then when it came to reading herself, she kind of didn't want to do that. Put it away. And then, yes, the letter recognition became an issue.

Shelley: And then I asked the teacher and she thought that I was comparing. I was I was using Sam as the comparison. And since he's hyperlexia, it was an unfair comparison, she thought, and that Cecily was developing normally. But then when Cecily was in a couple of years later and I kept bringing it up but kept being kind of pooh pooh, no, she's fine. And then she had trouble with place value when she was working with the Montessori manipulative like ones, tens, hundreds. She couldn't figure out the order. And that teacher said, oh, I think we've got an issue. So we had her tested and she was very purely dyslexic, visual dyslexia. She is still, to this day, very auditory. She wants to be a therapist. She's studying to be a therapist. But she did alphabet phonics. We found again a teacher locally after a long search to do alphabet phonics with her. And that was the ticket for her. We tried other things, too. We tried tracking and teaming exercises and all kinds of stuff like that. But it was the alphabet phonics program that worked for her.

Mary: So before we get into your new book and your entrepreneurial journey, you did read the manuscript for my new book and you endorsed it and said that you thought the book was actually good for all parents and that even if your child wasn't on the spectrum or didn't have significant issues, that it could build a better relationship. What did you mean by that?

Shelley: Yeah, for sure. Well, first, I want to say from the first chapter, I was thinking, oh, my gosh, if only if only I had this book twenty-four years ago, if only. If only. Because it's just so practical and easy to understand and straightforward, and I could just immediately see what my practical experience was played out, but saving so many steps, it would have saved so much trial and error. Again, like you, I read Let Me Hear Your Voice First, which is an incredible book, but it's kind of scary. And doesn't really get into like a play by play, like an actual step by step? And so that I just appreciate it so much. I could just imagine all the families that are going to be helped. I think it's the first book someone should read. It's like, do not pass go. But what I meant by that was by that comment was I feel like all of the things you talk about are just ways to deepen your relationship with your child. And it can seem harder or less natural when you've got a kid that's got issues. And I just think it was like a road map to create that deeper relationship was like it gave some really practical the practicality of it is what stood out to me the most.

Mary: And thank you for reading. It was really great. And it's amazing. When I met you first a couple of years ago, you did share with me that you have a son the same age as Lucas with autism. And we're going to talk about him now, but or a little bit later. But so we have that in common. We also now are both publishing Hay House books, your book's out today. My book will be out on March 30th. And we both have the same editor at a house and we both share the same online mentor being Jeff Walker. You're in his platinum plus group and launch club. We both won competitions through Jeff Walker. Like the more I read and get to know you, the more similar we are in so many ways, except for I don't know it. I have no idea about.

Shelley: Well, and you have more letters after your name than I do.

Mary: So your knitting expertise. So anyway, you sent me your book. I was very interested in reading and I read it in two short sprints of a couple of hours the one day and the next day I read the rest of it and I said to you like, I have never read a book this fast in my life. It was it's really a collection of stories. That chair's really valuable life lessons, and it's called Move the Needle Yarns from an Unlikely Entrepreneur. But even if you're not an entrepreneur, this is just basically how to keep moving forward and moving forward with autism, moving forward with your businesses, making some tough decisions, dealing with other stuff that comes up in your life, which invariably I know the first time we talked recently, I said, like, my thought is like your name doesn't get pulled out of the lottery for more stuff to come. Just because you get autism, you're going to get other stuff, too.

Shelley: And I think your book just does a great job of summarizing some of these life lessons. Oh, thank you. I have a crazy business and family and everything, and it's like people ask me, why did you write this book? And it's because actually I just get asked the question all the time. So when I go to, like you said, Jeff Walker events or I'm just interacting with other entrepreneurs or a lot of times in my space, which is knitting, crochet and making space, a lot of those people, especially right now, are trying to reinvent and everybody. So life has been have been turned upside down because of the pandemic. And they're looking to how can I reinvent myself? How can I maybe an opportunity to lean more into your passion. And people always ask me, how in the world did you do this? Like, how did you make a seven-figure business out of yarn? And so I thought, well, I'll write the book, then I won't have to answer the question all the time. No, it doesn't really work that way.

Shelley: And part of it was just a personal journey. I was inspired to write something. I listen to the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamonte amazing book. If you haven't read it. And I thought I should, I should write my story. And as I wrote it out, it started to come together as sort of a told in story, a template for starting from scratch on where how do I lean into my passion? How do I put my passion first? How do I value my creativity enough to put it make it paramount in my life and really even make a I call it a job out of it? It's not my hobby. It's my job. And I'm really hoping to inspire people that are that are on the fence or that maybe have gotten started. But it hasn't gotten to that point yet that they can actually make a living from it. I'm hoping to inspire them to stay with it, to go for it and to. And even if even if you are a parent of a child with autism, even if you have some major hurdles that you've been through that you have ahead of you, that it's still worth doing.

Shelley: And I think so often autism parents, when you have a child with autism or another significant issue, it's just so easy to lose yourself. And, you know, you need a lot of reminding sometimes. And sometimes it takes a powerful force, a big a big kick in the pants to remind you of who you are. And that's what I'm really hoping to do. And that's why this is one of the first podcasts I've come on to talk about the book, because I think in particular, your audience, people that that are parents and dealing with this to remind them that it's OK and it's even necessary for you to say it's OK to put yourself first. It's OK to put your passion first. It's OK to do what you love.

Shelley: And for me, just I remember in some of those earliest darkest days that those few minutes to myself to sit and knit at the end of the day, just have some creative time, were like a lifeline for sure. So whatever it is that people do, whether they like to sit and strum a guitar or color in a coloring book or doodle or whatever your creative thing is, it's just really, really important. And then if you can make a job out of it, it's the best thing. It's the best thing ever.

Mary: And it's never too late to get into a new hobby or have a new passion to teach people how to knit online, right?

Shelley: Yeah, we do. It's meditative that we do. We have on our website Loopslove.com. We have a starter series that is a series of videos that show you from the very beginning how to do it. It's really five yearolds in Germany still learning in kindergarten know it's very doable. I think sometimes as adults, we think things are harder than they are. It's like taking off, trying a new tech solution out or.

Shelley: But you can do it. And I was listening to a podcast recently from Brene Brown on one of her recent episodes. It was on burnout. So that grabbed my attention, like every entrepreneur. Right. And these people were talking about emotion. That was two sisters. Did you hear this episode? They were talking about emotions. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. And you have to go through the tunnel all the way to release the emotion. And they started giving examples of ways that are really good for releasing emotion. And there are things you would expect like movement, laughing, crying, hugging. I did all of those things in those early days with Sam, but the last one they meant was creative expression and is right up there with breathing and movement and everything.

Shelley: And they actually talked about knitting because knitting has been proven to lower your blood pressure and help prevent Alzheimer's. There's all kinds of health benefits for me. There's just kind of a magical thing that happens when you like. You have two sticks and some string and you just create fabric and which is a really satisfying feeling besides being tactile and colorful and all those things. So, yeah, I would encourage, I knit when I was in labor with my second kid. Any time I've had a stressful time, I reach for my needles and they help you learn patience too. So when my kids were younger and I had to sit through all the different doctor's appointments and, you know, karate practice and all of those things, and when they got a little older and a couple of them got in a competitive sports kept me from over cheering, which was really good. It's just something that's always there. It's always in my bag. And any time I start to feel, you know, a swirl of emotions, I can reach for it. It's very, very calming. And it's great for kids, too.

Mary: Yeah, and learning a new skill and learning anything creative can really help even anybody that's an entrepreneur or not an entrepreneur. And you might think, wow, I don't have time for a hobby, so. But you have to make time. I think, like I I've been painting at painting classes, I, I don't know how to paint. So I took painting classes with who now has become a friend of mine and then with covid, took painting classes online, got my own paints and then I can follow along step by step. It's just so great how much we can learn online if you set your mind to it. I know I did a vision board for 2020, which is kind of funny because I my first vision board of all years to pick is 2020. But I, I've accomplished quite a bit on my vision board and one, one of the things I put on my vision board was to take piano lessons for the first time. My course and I can play a couple of songs now, so whether it's knitting or piano or guitar or painting, I think finding those creative outlets are just amazing.

Shelley: I think you're right. You hear this from the minute you get the diagnosis, there's like the stopwatch ticking in your head. And I think particularly like we were in when our kids were very young. And you hear this five-year-old neurological window and that ticking clock makes you feel like you have to do autism twenty-four seven. And that creates so many feelings of guilt if you have other kids, so much guilt around that. And so it feels like there's no way you can take time for yourself. But a thousand percent if you take time for yourself, it will make you a better parent. It will make you a better autism parent very specifically, because you need we need we have to kind of keep that emotional regulation. It's very stressful. I think for them. I'm a very I can be very up and down emotional person. And I had to kind of learn to stay more even keeled for Sam. So those kinds of things, I think, become even more important. You really have to take that time for yourself a few minutes.

Mary: So Sam is now twenty four and he is a college graduate and has a full time job. And I met him briefly online a couple of weeks ago when we did another Zoom call. So describe like what were his struggles after age five. In high school. College. Like what. Where were the pitfalls? Was he like fine by kindergarten?

Shelley: No. Hard no. He stayed in Montessori school until about seventh grade. So that was nice because it was a very, very small, intimate school. He was in a classroom with maybe twelve kids and he had known them had grown up with most of them always for sure. The hardest was any transition. So not only changing classroom buildings or elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, but even breaks winter break, summer break. I just I think every parent struggles a little with the in and out, but he really, really did it.

Shelley: It was really stressful. The toughest time was when we moved him from Montessori to another independent school, not a huge school. Maybe his class was maybe thirty, thirty-five kids, great reputation. And Cecily did great there. But for him that was the lowest point. He had some really hard times. He was just very depressed, very anxious, you know, just very upset a lot and couldn't really express it very well. And what it was we didn't really understand at the time. I think there was some bullying going on, not super overt, not really easy to catch. Only in recent years is he really started to tell us more of what it was. But it was just general, not enough acceptance. It was a school where the kids have been together also since very, very young. They took him at like six weeks. You know, it had a daycare program, his parents, two working parent families, most of them, they had this really great preschool.

Shelley: So it was like they already had their own little you know, it was just really hard to break in. And then when you went to college, he went to we decided, let's try a bigger pond, you know, let's let him be a little fish in a big pond and see if he can find his people. And that was kind of scary. You know, we looked at several universities and he knew he wanted to do something with map. He's a savant with maps. He's memorized every road in North America, South America. He's a human. He it was like for fun he would get on Google Maps. So that was kind of his splinter skill. Right. So that's still a term people use?

Mary: Oh, yeah. Yeah. At what age did he know he had autism?

Shelley: Did he know he had it? You know, we I would say probably middle school ish. We started to sort of broach it. Part of it was he never officially they could never they never really said they were like, OK, he's either he could be Asperger's, he could be autism. It could just be sensory integration. So they were kind of wishy washy about it in the beginning. They're like, oh, don't worry about the diagnosis, just treat the symptoms. And it was only much later that they said, yeah, for sure it's Asperger's autism spectrum.

Shelley: And so we kind of just didn't do the label thing. And I don't know that that was ideal. Certainly now nowadays we would if it if it were today in order to have the services and just with the better understanding and population of what it is we would have said. So I've actually that's a. For me that we didn't tell him more clearly, but we started talking about it more openly when he was applying for colleges, we talked about whether he would put it in the applications or not. He ended up not trying. Remember, I want to say one of his essays, he did he did broach it in the essay. He at least talked about his maps and his love for maps. And I think he did say in an essay, but he didn't apply with special. He didn't do it. He didn't apply that way. And he was applying to easier to get into big state schools. He wasn't trying to get into Harvard or anything. But when we went to three different schools and when he went to interview at Oklahoma State University, he interviewed with the head of their geography department. It was like right before winter break. And somehow the head was the only person there. And we went in to sit down together.

Shelley: And I'm thinking I'm going to have to kind of help, help coordinate the interview a little bit, kind of keep it on track as the autism mom that are totally inside my head is spinning about to make this go well. And a few minutes in, Sam said something, oh the head guy said, so when did you know you wanted to be a geographer? Because maps, maps, maps, maps. I thought, oh, no, here we go. And Sam goes, you know how when you're in an airplane and you look out on the and you can see what all the roads and rivers and everything are and it's like and he just starts rambling on and on and on. I'm going, oh, no, on like we're never going to get back on track. And the man is being patient listening. And then he looks and he goes, yes, you're a geographer.

Shelley: We all have that exact same experience. And he was like totally geeked out together. I got up and left the room because, like, it went on for like an hour and a half. And I'm like, OK, he's found his people, you know, it's going to be OK. There was one fraternity that he just found on his own this morning. He's like, I think I'm going to go to this one. And they it was unbelievable. Like, they just totally embraced him was a very progressive fraternity. I would say it was one of the newer ones on campus. And, you know, just from start to finish, he ended up being an officer in the fraternity. It was just like the perfect fit for him. I actually for him, the bigger pond was the key. And we second guess ourselves now, should he should have gone to a big public school growing up? I was a public-school kid. Like, I'm a big believer.

Shelley: And I asked him actually, right before we got on this call, I said, hey, Sam, I'm gonna be talking to Dr. Barbera. I remember you met her last week. I said, what advice should I give to the parents out there? And he said he stopped and he really thought it through. And he's like, choose your high school wisely. And I said, well, what does that tell me more? What does that mean? And he said, I wish I'd gone to a bigger high school. So there had been more kids I could have found, like more like OSU, I could have found my group. So I do think there's a there's a bias for smaller at least there was for me, for smaller schools. I felt like you would get a lot more attention. And certainly I think the even the biggest schools in my area would have been tough because the class size is just so, so huge. But somewhere in the middle probably would have been more ideal for him for high school, you know, looking back.

Mary: Yeah, yeah. But he sounds like he went through college fine.

Shelley: And he did very, very determined and paranoid about doing it in four years. And someone told him in orientation, get it done in four. And that was stuck. So he was always obsessing over the hours and would really be able to do it in four, even though we told him it's fine if it takes longer, whatever. So he, to the extreme, to the point that he didn't do it. He regrets now, he didn't do more socially or take more advantage of more, you know, because he was so paranoid about making straight A's and getting all acing all his courses. But yeah. And he then, of course, he was like, OK, I'm finished with college. So now it's time for a job. We encouraged him to travel. He actually he applied on his own for and went to Cambridge. There was this Cambridge program that was like a two-week program. He'd always wanted to travel because of my business. I travel a lot for work at. And that was a really good experience, I think, for him, but after college is like, OK, now it's time for job. He was obsessed with getting a job.

Shelley: So I think that's been a challenge as a young adult. I think that's the hardest thing is him recognizing trying to find a balance of having a social life, which is scarier for him and dating. He really hasn't dated yet and but he really wants to. So that's kind of the next big hurdle. And also, he analyzes drone footage for a living. He's a geospatial analyst company he works for isn't really, especially with covid. They're all working virtually, but there's not really a lot of culture. So my next goal for him and that he also shares is to move to a job eventually where there's more of a corporate culture and maybe more of a social life built into the to the job.

Mary: So, yeah, well, I when I met him, I mean, he looked and looked great, is completely conversational and completely appropriate. I mean, straight A's get through college, like all those things are so great. And a lot of it is because you took action early on and you stayed the course and you made decisions for his best interests, whatever you thought at the time. And, you know, and it's always a journey and it's not like he's done. I mean, he still has more challenges and more so he discloses to people that he has autism?

Shelley: Yeah, he will now. Once he trusts them or he won't lead with it, but he will talk about it now. And we've had conversations of how to how to navigate that. Yeah. He discloses it. He just he would like more or social right now. He tries to balance. He'll get invite. His bros are going to do go into a bar or whatever. But he freaks about covid much more concerned about it than his friends are just typically. So yeah, there's definitely no perfect path. And I do recognize how lucky we are. There's been times, of course, when he was going to OT and sensory integration and you see kids that are affected by all kinds of things. And I'm very, very grateful for the progress. There have been times, if I'm totally honest, that I've thought it's almost harder because he presents as so typical and kids his same age, he can't lead with it.

Shelley: And so they assume he's neurotypical, he's normal. And so the little oddities are they just treat him as weird or it's harder for him to break through, whereas if he would lead with it, they would maybe have more compassion for him. So that's a I think there's no like you said, everybody's journey is a challenge. Every parent's journey is a challenge. But it's pretty crazy to continue. And I remember when he was like, we would go out in the neighborhood and all the parents would be talking and the other kids� parents were worried that they weren't in the workbook at the right at the top of the class in whatever workbook they were doing. And I'm thinking I just want him to be able to go to school and not cry all day.

Shelley: You know, it definitely increases your compassion just for humanity, for everybody you meet, the old. Everyone you meet is fighting a different battle that you don't see. So I feel like it increased my compassion tremendously, as it did for our other kids and my husband and everyone that's known Sam. The bigger thing it did for me. I think ultimately and I realize this as I was writing the book and I wrote the book and I look back and I was like, I feel like the diagnosis opened up a well of energy in me that I didn't know existed.

Shelley: It really massively expanded what I thought I could do. And I don't think I ever would have left a branding business that was doing great and started a yarn shop. And, you know, I probably would never have taken Jeff Walker's first course, made that leap to spend that money and do that first course. And I just think it just you just have a lot more energy than you realize until you until you have a kid that has extra challenges.

Mary: You know, autism moms definitely have a different, you know, a different journey, a different level of optimism. And that is one of the quotes I pulled out from your book as well. And I think that's another thing we share is like optimism. You know, things are going to work out. We don't know how they're going to work out, but they're going to work out.

Mary: And, you know, Sam's journey has been great so far and but it's not without struggles. And so there's plenty of parents and professionals out there that are listening and they have more impaired kids and but spectrum is so wide and, you know, I mean, even Temple Grandin started out looking like she had severe autism and brain damage back in the forties. And it's like you don't know how things are going to turn out, but you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, being optimistic, make the best decisions you can and also not forgetting to live your life and celebrating the little wins that they do have.

Shelley: I think even just focusing on just keeping a journal of the winds that they have, I wish now that I had done that with more granular, like the day that he is pronounced and reversed, the day that I mean, I wish that I had kept track of those moments because just writing them down the positive ones just gives you that, OK? Yes, we are moving forward. We are moving forward, you know, and it's hard to lose if you can lose sight of that sometimes. So, yeah.

Mary: OK, so how can people find your book, move the needle yarns from an unlikely entrepreneur? I'm assuming Amazon and you also have a website. What is that.

Shelley: Yes, it's TheNeedleBookk.com. And there's a link to resources. We decided to rather than putting the resources in the book, we were going to have a resource list. There's a resource list online and that is dynamic. So just continually adding more resources, resources for things like Jeff Walker and all the things that have helped me the most along the way in the entrepreneurial journey, as well as some personal things. So there's some extra goodies if you go to TheNeedleBook.com, but it's also available on Amazon and everywhere else you can buy books.

Mary: So I highly recommend anyone out there read Shelley's book. It's great one. And just to wrap it up, part of my podcast goals are for parents and professionals and people on the spectrum to be less stressed and lead happier lives. So do you have any stress management tips for us?

Shelley: Yeah. So obviously I knit. A lot of times I listen to audiobooks, which there's an audio book version of mine as well. While I'm doing other things as like a self-care thing, I also play tennis really intensely. I'm like a competitive tennis player. I play almost every day. But I will say my best self-care tip from the last couple of years is a book I read called The Surrender Experiment, and I listen to it on a plane going to a place meeting, actually. And there's something about that book that it's just a continual reminder to let go. And really, again, hard for autism moms because we all want to control and improve the situation that if you let go, it usually works out better than if you force the situation. And I've listened to that book.

Shelley: It's my go to on a plane back who are flying a lot. But when I'm feeling extra stress and I just see that reminder, I've listened to the book probably four times now. So it's by Michael A Singer. It's a classic. He's got a couple of different books. It's the first, I would say self-help book, but it's very it's also got a business angle to it because he I don't want to spoil it that he built a huge business and kind of unintentionally. So I really related to that. I recommend to anybody. It's one of those I buy ten copies at a time and I give it up to people who are really stressed out so you can listen to it on audio. He has a great soothing voice. Yeah.

Mary: Well OK. So thanks so much for your time. This has been a great discussion. I'm sure it's helpful to many parents and professionals listening out there. It gives you a lot of hope that what we're doing now can definitely improve the situation, not just for the child, but for the parent. And just to keep moving forward, keep being positive and things will work out.

Shelley: For sure and get Mary's book because it'll be the most dogeared book for sure in your library. Thanks, Mary.