Occupational Therapist, Sibling, yoga

Being The Sibling

People have been asking me to share my story. Blog posts are way too short to get it all out there but here is a brief overview. I grew up with an older brother on the severe end of the autism spectrum. As an adult, he is does not use verbal language to communicate. Does this make me an expert? I am not sure but it does give a different perspective on situations.

I always talked to him like he understood because I just didn’t know any better and wanted someone to talk to as a child. What would you want someone to do to you if you lost the ability to speak or interact with you? This is how I interact with everyone. I remember doing an occupational therapy evaluation once and I said “hi ______, how are you?” The parent looked at me like I had 3 heads and reported this individual was non-verbal. My response to this was “this just means he can’t talk to back to me. His hearing is fine.” If you read anything by Temple Gradin or many of the authors with Autism, they say the same. They can hear. I always forget this is not always common sense to everyone. I have had many of occupational therapy and occupational therapy assistant students over the years that did not understand this.

I used to get very frustrated on therapy teams. Many therapists whether they were behavior specialists or any of the other disciplines, they would report “I don’t understand why this family is not doing this at home”. I know why. People are just trying to survive. I actually got heated with a behavioral professional and suggested that they provide respite for one weekend with this child and let me know how much programming was accomplished. She became quiet. If you are this professional, I would recommend just working at a summer camp or provide respite to get a better handle on reality. I do recommend this to all of my students who think they want to work in pediatrics.


So what does all of this have anything to do with running a wellness practice much less yoga? It has given me the patience and understanding that is needed to work people with autism and intellectual disabilities. If I can work with this population, I can work with anyone. These individuals are more than capable of doing anything. I chose Yoga For the Special Child (R) (YSC) as a path because it worked! It has helped me as a person and that translates into helping others.

Lets talk about parents limiting beliefs because of what other professionals have most likely said to them. I often talk to parents who report, “they can’t do yoga, they can’t sit still”. I have seen “neurotypical” adults not be able to sit still in a class. That’s why we start. Aren’t they expected to sit all day at school? My child is in a wheelchair and can’t talk. Ok- their session is going to look different than the individual running around in circles in my clinic. The YSC method starts with preparing the body to move and goes through a developmental progression. No worries. This is not just another therapy. After a session if the parents did not observe, they will ask “how did they do?” I often hear from other therapist “oh they had an ok day” or “they had trouble listening today” in front of the individual. Deep breathe- they internalize this. Remember the part I mentioned that they can hear. We never say this in front of the individual. Their body and mind did the best they could do for that day. If you are a therapist or professional reading this, remember that you had no clue what lead up to them seeing you.

If you are a parent or guardian reading this, I ask that you have an open mind. I asked a parent a few weekends ago, if you had not heard of my company through Easter Seals , would you have tried yoga as therapy for your children? She has 4 with special needs. She gave a very honest, no. However, now that she has seen change and how all traditional and nontraditional therapies work together she is a believer. I had a child this week who is “nonverbal” although I believe his yes/no is just fine. He independently went to his Ipad and typed “happy”after one of our sessions. The last example I will give is an individual who is in a wheelchair, blind, and “nonverbal”. Well, much to the staff surprise, the individual said OM back to me. There is nothing wrong with this individuals ability to hear. This is where the “Soul To Soul” comes from. I believe that every body has a soul inside of them even if I am the only one who can see it.

Originally published May 13, 2018 by Cheryl Albright on Soul To Soul’s Website

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