They surrounded me, 4 or 5 of them. What was said next would change the trajectory of my life.
Let me back up a little to explain how we got to that point.
After my oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 7 (now 25). I was diagnosed a few months later. Note that Asperger’s is now part of ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorders in the DSM-V.
I looked for as much help as I could find to help my son. My now ex-wife took little interest in educating herself about ASD, so it was all on me.
In my search, I discovered a support group about a 20-30 minute drive from my home.
By the time I discovered this group, I was well versed on how ASD presented itself in my son and me.
So here I was, in a room filled with 20+ mothers, and maybe 1 other dad, all looking for answers.
I quietly observed as they shared tips that worked with their children, and suggestions from the psychiatrists or therapists working with them.
They were all neurotypical and doing their best. But to say they were off base was an understatement.
I remember a particular exchange when a mother shared advice that was particularly bad and potentially harmful for the child (wish I remembered what it was).
I raised my hand and introduced myself, sharing about my and my son’s diagnoses. Anyone who knows me well, knows how well I’m able to articulate the experience of ASD.
So I shared what I thought was actually happening for the child in the scenario the mother described, and how she might want to handle it differently.
I ended up doing a lot of ‘setting things straight’ with them. It wasn’t long before the meetings would start with someone saying, “I have a question for Brian.”
When they learned I was a social worker, one of the mom’s approached me and asked if she could bring her child to see me in my office.
That’s when I explained I didn’t do this professionally, I had a day job and was a parent looking for answers – just like them.
The mother responded with, “You really need to consider doing this for a living. You’ve given me more insight and better strategies than all the professionals we’re taking him to now.”
I didn’t see myself in that role at all. In fact, before I’d even graduated from college, I’d eliminated private practice as an option. I didn’t think I had what it took to be successful.
One year later…
About a year or so passed and my son was in crisis because the administrators treated him like a behavior issue. The principal encouraged medication while refusing any of the classroom accommodations the teacher suggested.
I was being called at least 3 times per week, to deescalate him or pick him up early. I was a hospice social worker and my boss was losing patience with how often I needed to stop early.
The straw that broke the camels’ back for me, was the day I went into his office to explain what was happening with my son. It’s also when I disclosed my own ASD diagnosis and the stress that reality had placed on me.
His response, “Well you might want to think about whether you can emotionally handle the job.”
No empathy of any kind, just encouraging me to consider whether I need to quit and do something else. I’d done this job for 4 years, and received compliments from him on reliability, being a good team player, etc.
But the moment I disclose a diagnosis, he doubts me.
It was hard for me to feel secure in my job after that. So at the next support group meeting, I approached the mother I’d mentioned earlier, and asked her if she was serious about what she told me months earlier.
About 4 other moms heard us talking and wandered over to join the conversation. The first mom was as enthusiastic as ever and reiterated her confidence in me.
One of the other mom’s said, “Yes please, I’ll tell every other mom I know about you and encourage them to bring their kids to you.” The other moms said they would as well.
A leap of faith…
So I took a leap of faith, found an inexpensive office space, and 17 years ago today (April 1, 2006), I opened my private social work practice for business.
Wouldn’t you know it, the moms kept their promise about spreading the word. So much so, that working evenings and 1/2 days on Saturday, I was able to replace my day time income in 4 months. That was working part-time on my practice.
As soon as I ran the numbers and realized what I was earning, I handed in my 2 week notice.
That decision turned me into a bit of a local sensation. Back then, the idea of a therapist with ASD, raising kids with ASD, and working with clients with ASD was like a needle in a haystack.
Now there are countless therapists with ASD. In 2009 I switched to an online coaching model, when my now ex-wife walked out – leaving me the single father of 3 boys with ASD.
I needed to be able to be with them as much as possible, and working 15 hour days in an office based practice wasn’t going to work.
Now all these years later, I’ve written 5 books, traveled as far as Colombia to present, am remarried (going on 14 years), and in many ways I feel like I’m just getting started.
So that’s the story of how I got started in the work I’m doing with the Neurodivergent community. My skills continue to get better and better and I’m able to help a global audience thanks to social media.
I don’t know if I would have made the leap – ever, if I hadn’t received all that encouragement from the moms at the support group.
When enough people believe in you, it can become contagious. I’m grateful I accepted their confidence in me and acted on it.
The rest is history.
(Photos of me presenting in Bogota, Columbia)
(Photos of me presenting in Bogota, Columbia)