At Home with Autism

Welcome to my Home

An empty lot….that’s where I started. It was just an acre of beautifully trimmed grass and a vision of the house I wanted to build. Twelve years ago, I left college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. My world was full of pride and excitement mixed with the uncertainty and doubt of figuring out what to do with my degree. And I was stuck. Therapy? Social work? Organizational psychology? Coaching? Teaching? Humph. I threw my hands in the air and did what many with my degree did and took a job as a waitress. I began doling out slices of cheesecake and quickly became a trainer at the Cheesecake Factory in Kansas City. The job was fun. It provided extended opportunities for growth and interaction with people and a cushy income for my single self. However, something was missing, a big something, in fact. After a few short months, I came to realize this job did not provide me with the meaning and purpose that I was looking for in my life. It was laminate countertops when I wanted marble.

I began to open my eyes for the opportunity for that meaning. One day, I came across a flyer at a church that advertised:

“Looking for someone to work 1-1 with a child in the family home delivering ABA services. Background requirement: Bachelor’s in Psychology or Education.”

I remember feeling excitement rushing through me when I saw the flyer. They were looking for someone like me! Weeks later, I was working with a young boy, who I will call Will for the sake of confidentiality, who had recently received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. When I first met him, my world stopped for the first time in my life. He was the first brick in that house I wanted to build. I trained under a licensed psychologist and began helping Will take giant steps toward reaching his goals. I implemented one of the gold standards of Autism Spectrum Intervention known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) where each child is evaluated and given goals that fit his or her needs and reinforced based on their style of learning. As I attempted to gain perspective, I began to see the initial glimpse of the unequivocal beauty and rawness that is Autism. I dove in with every ounce of energy I had and spent most of my days delivering one-on-one ABA sessions and my evenings serving Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake to hungry members of society. During my time with Will, I learned that this little toddler could memorize a movie after watching it one time, but struggled with labeling something blue vs. yellow. He could trace around an object with no sweat off his back, but poured everything he had into trying to learn how to use a zipper. The small objectives in his plan became the puzzle pieces that helped him grow and learn. I understood that his world made sense to him, but to me it was all a mystery. It was my own large puzzle that needed to be pieced together.

A year later, with the help of his ABA team, we saw dramatic changes in the young boy. He was running through the house, using over 500 words and communicating with his family members and peers. He was looking others in the face when his name was called and catching up to his classmates at a quick rate. The difference in that child changed my life. It shaped my career path and led me to where I am today.

Building the Home

Thanks to this opportunity, I could see it in my head, the perfect house. It was a quaint two-story home with beautiful brick accents and a large yard with a fence and a porch with posh swings I could sit on and watch my children grow. It was beautiful. I was already laying the foundation and building the walls, but I needed the knowledge necessary to build the house and graduate school for clinical psychology became my blueprint. I loved my coursework. Even after I received my master’s degree in clinical psychology, I continued enrolling in graduate school coursework. My husband often jokes that the amount of money we owe for student loans equates to more than our mortgage in monthly payments. I have spent years building the structure of my “home,” building strong walls and foundations. I’ve seen the inside workings of more than 100 special education classrooms, worked in residential facilities as the director of family services, developed and directed a school for children with ASD and taught college courses. They have served as the nails and the foundation for a career that will be a model home for others.

Hosting an Open House

While I continue to build the rooms within my home, I want to invite you on the journey as I create meaningful and beautiful spaces for gathering and living a life of happiness. This blog, an invitation to “my home,” will provide opportunities for learning, understanding, empathizing, navigating and loving Autism in the same way I do. It may not always be an easy voyage, but it will be worth it.

Now, please excuse me as I take a walk down the carpet aisle running my hand over each swatch….Frieze, Loop, Texture? The choices are endless. Stay tuned.


Published 2015/08/14 by Nicole McLain
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