Fighting the Darkness

My heart is so heavy, and my stomach is sick with disgust. Today, yet another mass shooting occurred, this time right in my backyard. 3 suspects entered a regional center for children and adults with special needs and opened fire, fatally wounding 14 people. Having begun my journey working with young children with special needs, this especially torments me. I can only imagine the experience through the eyes of individuals who already struggle with over-stimulation, are easily startled/triggered, and who wrestle with emotional regulation as they were thrust in the middle of one of the scariest situations any person could endure. I send my deepest condolences to all of the families who were affected by today’s heinous crime.

I only have one question..why? What motive could anyone have to rain havoc and destruction on any group of people, let alone those that struggle with disabilities?  What has our world come to? This is a thought that I know is on most everyone’s mind, and I can’t even fathom where to begin to address it. Maybe there is no straight answer except that there is unexplainable evil in the world with which each person battles internally, some of us winning and some of us losing. But that doesn’t satisfy, does it?

Today, I sat with my little client, Jack, as his mother watched the aftermath of the shooting play out on her television set. Everything in me ached. All I wanted to do was hold Jack close and protect him from all of the evil out there in the world – to lock him up where he will be safe, but doing that is an injustice in of itself. It would deprive Jack of all the good I know is still out there too.

So I now have made it my mission to give Jack as many tools as possible to help him with his difficult areas and prepare him for his journey ahead. I guess that’s really all we can do. We cannot change the heart of every person, predict and modify everyone’s thoughts and behaviors, or prevent all the bad things in life from happening. Instead, we can inform the ones we love of the unpredictability of human nature and equip them with the necessary tools to handle any situation as early as possible. We cannot control every variable, but we can manipulate our given pieces to allow ourselves – and the ones we love – the best advantage point to tackle whatever life can throw. Whether it’s by teaching our little ones self defense, awareness, calming techniques, or tolerance for stimulation, we have tools at our disposal. Though it may not feel like it in distressing times like these, we are not powerless.

Let me say that again -WE. ARE. NOT. POWERLESS.

Yes, right now it may seem as though the enemy – the overwhelming evil of the world – has won. But it only wins when we stop fighting. So today, though my heart is indeed so heavy, I pledge to never stop. I will continue to educate my loved ones about the bad AND the good, teach them all I can, and then let them add the light of their life to the world. If we keep this up, and our little ones pass on the same lessons to their families down the road, and so on and so forth, eventually the light will outweigh the dark.

We just have to keep trying.

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My Cloud 9

sunrise

You know those moments when you just need life to cut you a break, and then suddenly, something, Someone makes it all go your way? Well, that just happened to me. Now, I’m not religious, but I do believe in a Higher Power that is bigger than what I ever could conceptualize, and I have feeling He/She had something to do with all this. But that’s besides the point.

See, yesterday, my little client Lily (whose name has been changed for confidentiality purposes) returned to school from Thanksgiving break, which meant it was time for me to go back to work too.

A little backstory is needed here – Lily, unlike most of my clients, is not on the Autism Spectrum, but instead has tested as exceptionally gifted. She does, however, have a few behavioral issues that have gotten out of hand – such as screaming, biting, kicking, and escaping the classroom – whenever she is triggered by a particular event. Being new to behavior therapy and taking on this case, I knew that I would have an extremely steep learning curve to catch up on asap. Thus, it was a total game of trial and error with her my first week. Of course I’m being guided by a BCBA (board certified behavior analyst) who I report to for feedback, but out on the field during the day, I am completely on my own. After my first week with Lily, I felt completely at a loss, stressed and overwhelmed. Particularly on the last day before the break, Lily had a gigantic 10/10 meltdown that left me totally disheartened. While all Lily’s school teachers constantly affirm my work and thank me for my presence, commenting on the improvement Lily has shown since my arrival, I still cannot help but feel inadequate.

work

With all of that being said, I was so thankful for Thanksgiving break. It allowed me the chance to regroup and recenter myself. However, on Sunday night, the familiar knot of anxiety crept back into my life. I was dreading work the next day, especially since I had received an email from Lily’s parents just warning me that they expect a rough transition for their little girl the next day.

dragging

So I came to work 100% prepared for the worst – armed with my best known reinforcers – and I walked into the school with a heavy heart. However, as soon as I stepped out onto the play yard, I saw a tiny little figure dressed in purple dashing towards me, and the next thing I knew, I had a little girl wrapped around my legs. I looked down and was so happy to see Lily! We quickly entered into a vibrant discussion about her vacation, and from that moment on, I knew it was going to be a good day. Whether we were able to accomplish specific behavioral goals or not, I knew that a rapport between us had been built base don her excitement to see me, and that alone was a win in my book. But Lily was amazing the whole day! Plus, I discovered a potential reinforcer that kept her engaged whenever she started to spin out of control, helping her refocus on each activity. She even accomplished the projects assigned to her (which has been rare lately), and I could not have been more pleased. Lily’s teacher approached me at the end of the day and said she had never seen this much focus from Lily before and was excited about what the future held. She shook my hand and thanked me over and over, and my heart was ablaze with pride.

It really was as if my Higher Power knew I needed the encouragement and somehow gave my little Lily a sense of peace and calm to help ME transition. Even if it’s just coincidence, or karma, or whatever else, I am still so incredibly thankful. I know I have much to learn about being a Behaviorist, but as of now, I really do believe this is where I belong. I was reminded of my love for working with kiddos and the importance of falling back to that passion whenever I feel discouraged. And that – that feeling of being right where I am supposed to be- above all things is the best opponent for inadequacy that I could ever ask for.

So right now, I’m walking on a cloud! A beautiful, behavioral analyst cloud and I’m going to ride it for as long and as far as I can. Look out behavioral world…here I come!

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