1)WHO AM I?
My name is Bill Nason. I am a limited license psychologist in Michigan, USA. I specialize in developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. I am also the moderator of the facebook page, “Autism Discussion Page.” I started the page six years ago in hopes of sharing slide presentations on different issues in autism to have discussions around. I never dreamed it would take off like it did. We have over 144,000 members on the page now. The Facebook page presents a tool box of strategies for helping kids on the spectrum feel safe, accepted and competent. I have also authored two books compiling most of the posts from the page. Periodically I give presentations and workshops too.
2)WHAT DO I DO?
Outside of moderating the page, writing and presenting I also contract with local community mental health agencies to provide behavioral therapy to both children and adults with autism and complex behavior challenges. I have over 37 years of experience providing services to both children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. I also coach soccer and basketball for children with autism and Oakland University in Michigan.
3)WHEN IN MY LIFE DID I DECIDE THAT I HAD TO WORK WITH THE SPECIAL NEEDS COMMUNITY?
I have worked in the field of developmental disabilities my whole career. Mostly with adults in residential living facilities. I didn’t start working with families with children with special needs until about 20 years ago, and got hooked on the passion of helping both the families and children during the developmental years. I started volunteering, giving advice and presentations at local autism support groups and have really loved coaching the soccer and basketball programs over the past 14 years. I have had over 400 children in the sports programs, many have been with me for the entire 14 years. Been a great opportunity to connect with both the families and children, now young adults.
4)FEW LINES ABOUT MY EARLY DAYS WORKING WITH THE SPECIAL NEEDS COMMUNITY?
I started my career working with the special needs community. It really was by accident. When I came out of school there was a hiring freeze at the local mental health agency so I went to work at an old state institution for developmental disabilities. This is where I gained ten years of hands on experience working with very severely impaired individuals with multiple behavior challenges. From there we closed the institutions and integrated all the individuals into community group homes. From there I moved on to working with families with special needs and consulted with a variety of schools and service delivery programs. Over the past eight years I have been training and supervising new psychologists coming into the field. That has been fun and rewarding. Last year I retired and consult part time.
5)DID MY WORK EVER GET TO ME? DID I EVER THINK OF GIVING UP AND DOING SOMETHING ELSE?
I think everyone questions what they are doing at times. Providing psychological services to very complex individuals is very challenging and always presents a lot of uncertainty. Usually burn out is very high in the field, not so much from the individuals we work with but from the lack of funds and administrative restrictions we must work under. I am usually called in when everyone else has failed and the issues are severe. Usually I consult and give advice to other professionals, teachers and families for them to implement. So, my success depends extensively on how well I can motivate others to try something new. That can be frustrating at times.
6) WHAT INSPIRES ME TO DO THE WORK I DO?
The families and the children. Being able to bond with them through challenging times and experience seeing the families and children grow together is very rewarding. Now that I am moderating the Facebook page I touch thousands of families all over the world. Many who have no access to these services. I get so much feedback on how valuable the page has been to the families. By far the most rewarding experience in my career.
7) IF I FIND MYSELF SITTING ON A PARK BENCH NEXT TO A PERSON, WHO HAS ONLY JUST FOUND OUT THAT HER CHILD IS AN AUTISTIC CHILD, WHAT DO I TELL HER?
Take three months to simply spend time with your child, be with him (or her) in his own world, seeing the world the way he does, watching for what he is attracted to. Be with him, doing things with him, letting him lead until he trusts having you in his world. Learn what sensory preferences he is attracted to and then build engagement around them. Help him to feel safe with you and trust following your lead. Do not force, but let him pace the action. If this is your only objective for three months, you will know your child well, what he likes, what he hates and how to relate with him. Listen, observe and relate without judgement. You will find your way.
8)SHOULD A PARENT TELL HIS/HER CHILD THAT THE CHILD IS A SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD? IF YES THEN HOW?
Yes, the child should learn about his Special Needs condition as early as possible. Preferably as soon as he starts to notice that he is different than other kids. Usually by age 7-8. We all have strengths and weakness and each person has their own differences. There are some good books written for children explaining what autism is. Start by reading one or two and then letting his/her questions lead your discussion.
9) DO I RECOMMEND PARENTS TO ADOPT A BABY, IF THEIR FIRST CHILD IS AUTISTIC / SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD?
I am neither for nor against adopting a child. That is totally their choice. Every parent deals with this issue in their own way. I know many families that have multiple children happily.
10) CAREGIVER FATIGUE CAN LEAD TO BURN OUT? YES/NO … IF YES WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
Most definitely. I see it all the time. Especially for single parents or those families where one spouse (usually the man) leaves everything up to the mother. Every parent needs to take care of their own needs and also meet the needs of other family members. It is great when other family members help out or friends help but that is often not the case. I highly recommend parents seek out respite care. I have always suggested to local Autism Support Groups to have weekly respite nights where families can drop their kids off for social activities for a couple of ours. A set of parents, with high school and college volunteers, supervise so parents can have one night a week off. Each set of parents take turns rotating the supervision. Parents should join their local Autism Support Groups to have other families to connect with and have social events.
11) WHAT DO I TELL THE PARENT WHO HAS LOCKED HERSELF IN THE BEDROOM, WHILE HER CHILD IS HAVING A MELTDOWN JUST OUTSIDE THE DOOR?
Sometimes this can be best for both the parent and the child, if and only if, both are safe. However, if this is needed, further intervention is needed to help the family learn what triggers the meltdowns, preventative techniques for minimizing meltdowns and more adaptive ways to supervise and keep everyone safe during meltdowns. I usually work with families, together with the child, when everyone is calm to discuss how best to support the child during a meltdown. Include the child in identifying what will help him feel safe during the meltdown.
12) SHOULD SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTS GO FOR REGULAR MARRIAGE/RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING/THERAPY, GIVEN THAT THEY LEAD VERY STRESSFUL LIVES?
Only if they feel it is needed. The hard part is finding a counselor who understands the causes for stress, the family is under. Again, I find connecting with other families, at a local autism support group, that families can share and de-stress with to be useful. Of course, if the stress is taking its toll on the marriage, counseling would be recommended. I also recommend SIB group for siblings also.
13)WHAT DO I LOVE DOING WHEN I AM NOT WORKING?
I like reading, blogging, people watching, eating and walking my dogs. I work out every day but not with great love...LOL.
14) WHICH ONE OF MY BOOKS DO I RECOMMEND A YOUNG SPECIAL NEEDS PARENT SHOULD READ?
I recommend starting with the blue book (core challenges) to everyone. It explains in detail how the person with autism experiences the world so it is easier to help support them. The green book has many expanded areas, but the blue book gives the strong foundation.
15) 2 OTHER BOOKS I RECOMMEND A SPECIAL NEEDS PARENT SHOULD READ?
Unfortunately, I do not have other books I recommend to most families. Primarily because the ones I read are more advanced and on specific topics. I do recommend that they read one or two books written by other parents who have traveled this journey. Unfortunately I usually do not have time to go back and read those.
16) A WORK RELATED FAVORITE MEMORY, I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE...
There are many, but the most heart-warming for me was when I first started supervising a team of professionals responsible for providing services to families. We had a family that was struggling with four children on the spectrum, was completely chaotic and dysfunctional for everyone in the family. The poor parents were completely drained with all the stress and battling the local service agency that kept trying to tell them what to do. We went in, let the parents lead, validated the strengths they had, kept the family together and asked them how we could assist them. I had to dismiss all the professionals who were fighting with them and introduce a whole new team. We had soul searching meetings every week, provided support staff, let the family guide us by their values and created a very strong family support system. It was so gratifying. The amount of positive change was outstanding. We will never forget that experience.
17) IS THERE A "CURE" FOR AUTISM?
I doubt it. I don’t see it as a disease that needs curing anyway. It is a human condition that needs support since we live in a culture that is not designed for them. I don’t focus on a cure or try to change the individual. My focus is on helping the person foster his or her strengths and preferences, support his vulnerabilities and learn to bridge the social world that is often very confusing for them.
18) SHOULD CHILDREN, SPECIAL NEEDS OR OTHERWISE GET VACCINATED?
I myself have never been vaccinated. It was against my mother’s religious belief. I think it is a very personal decision. I think you can make it safer by making sure there is no Thimerosal in it (have to check the bottle) and split them up so they are not giving multiple vaccines at one time.
19) IS THERE ANY TREATMENT/PROCEDURE/THERAPY THAT I MUST ASK PARENTS TO COMPLETELY AVOID?
I am not a big fan of any of the IV Chelations and risky drug approaches that are meant to “cure” autism. I really do not study them but do recommend avoiding them. I recommend not trying to change the child but possibly treating the co-occurring vulnerabilities (sensory issues, medical issues, anxiety, etc.). Good OT and Speech services, I highly recommend. All the approaches (ABA, Floortime, Sonrise, etc.) have their pros and cons. There is not one therapy that meets every child’s needs. I recommend the parent’s time engaging with their children is more important than one on one therapy. Therapy should teach the parents how to support the child at home.
20) IN CONCLUSION, I MUST SAY ...If you are not already on our Facebook page “Autism Discussion Page” I recommend that you join us. There are so many wonderful people on the page that contribute the knowledge and support. In summary, slow your life down and first and foremost have fun with your child, enjoy your child and do not let Autism distract you from that. Both you and your child will become stronger.