First the Map, then the Journey
The concept of “behavior” and psychology became a thing for the first time a little over 100 years ago in 1913, then another 100 years later, the Michigan Autism Reform program was established for families seeking therapy. In a nutshell, that means that Applied Behavior Analysis began gaining popularity in Michigan since just 2013 … is that seriously only 4 years ago?
Looking back over the past four years, I can’t really say that it was me who chose to work as a BCBA, but rather the field chose me. If we are being completely honest here, I mean why not stick with honest right? I didn’t really know what “Autism” was until my daughter was diagnosed with it back in 2011. (Since today I am being serious about timelines, that was only six year ago!)
You know what? I think I’ll insert an embarrassing yet fun story here. I can’t say that I was ignorant to the notion of “autism” because I knew that it was a diagnosis that was beginning to gain steam in popularity. It would be more appropriate to say that I didn’t really understand the term or what it entailed. One fact I was very aware of is that it was mostly given as a diagnosis to boys, not girls. So here the story begins for your enjoyment! When I had that big ultrasound during pregnancy, you know, the one that tells you what gender of a baby you’re carrying, I was really hoping for a little boy. I had read all the literature and gloom and doom novels that are readily available for pregnant mothers and I was aware of anything that could go wrong from labor through my child’s adulthood. Anyway, when the ultrasound technician told me I was having a girl I looked over to my dad and then husband and said these exact words, “Well at least we know she won’t have autism!” …I know, right?
A lot of people are shocked and almost horrified when I share that story with them, but that moment in time was significant to the person and professional I have become today. Like I said earlier, I didn’t chose to be a BCBA. As Harlee grew from infant to toddler, it was obvious that she was not hitting her milestones (those are the agreed upon events we read about that occur in our children and mark different stages in development). One major milestone that Harlee didn’t hit by the age of two was talking. Okay wait, its not fair to say that Harlee didn’t talk at all because she did a very common thing that is observed in many children diagnosed with autism. On a few occasions, she would crawl up to people and say “hi”, then she would crawl away. Like most parents, I was stoked that language was beginning to develop; however, that language disappeared as quick as it began.
Harlee practically went mute and only made sounds when she would cry or was banging her head against the ground. Her behavior was not consistent with what I had witnessed in my most favorite nephew during his early developmental years and to be frank (even though my name is Lacey), it really scared me! As luck would have it, I was enrolled in my Masters of Psychology coursework and was taking a diagnosing and assessment course. The “ah-ha” moment hit me when I read the criteria for a diagnosis of autism and realized that Harlee was displaying some behaviors consistent with what I was reading.
Now a lot of you will relate to the length and frustration of the diagnosis process, but to keep it short I will say that I was vigilant in finding some answers. As I mentioned in my last post, it was the University of Michigan that made it all official and we left Ann Arbor with one answer but zero solutions!
Back to that fantastic timeline I mentioned earlier now! Applied Behavior Analysis silently made its way into Michigan in just 2013, so this means that when Harlee was diagnosed there really was not much out there for us in terms of treatment. I didn’t really know what I could do to help her, but I knew that the world wouldn’t stop and lay a golden rug at her feet just because she had an autism diagnosis, so I began exposing her to things that might be uncomfortable to her but were part of her interests.
Harlee is a cool kid and when she was younger she liked things like matchbox cars and monster trucks, so like any parent would do for a child with such an interest I began taking to monster truck shows. Although the professionals at the University of Michigan said anything with loud noises would be a bad idea I pressed on because I knew that there would be a good chance this child with autism would enjoy the show. Well guess what…Harlee enjoyed the show and although it was loud for her she pointed at the trucks and smiled the entire time. (I am still grateful to this day for my friends who purchased our tickets and took us to that first show because I don’t think I could have followed through with that adventure on my own.)
In May of 2014 I passed my board certification exam to practice as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). I didn’t become a clinical psychologist like I had planned, but I became something the universe was telling me I should be and what my child needed to me to be. Harlee gave me more than the experience of being a mother to an amazing child, she gave me a fulfilling career and life that I can be excited about!
When we began our autism journey back in 2011 there weren’t a lot of solutions for us when we left Ann Arbor, but there was hope and a mighty challenge upon us. I let Harlee teach me about herself and with each “ah-ha” moment she began building the bridge for me to enter her world. I am grateful for the life I have and for the career that chose me and I am grateful for each family that allows me to be a part of their autism experience.