What if I told you that every one of us has the knowledge, the training, the skills and the opportunity to relieve the world’s most crippling affliction?
This terrible condition is 100% treatable and reversible. It won’t require insurance coverage, legislation, staff meetings, specialists or any equipment.
You think I’m lying or exaggerating.
My argument isn’t supported with charts and graphs. I don’t have an advanced degree…..in anything. There’s no reason to listen to me.
What if I’m right?
In 2004, we started a non profit coupling outsider kids with failed and injured ex racehorses. The plan was that in taking care of each other – both would receive benefits.
It worked. We served homeless kids, trafficked kids, tough kids, shy kids, gay kids. There was connection to be sure.
But it was autism families, that kept finding us.
I told parents we weren’t therapists and each time, the parents exhaled and smiled. They had therapists. What they needed was one of two things:
A break from the everyday circus of treatment, advice and tantrums.
The possibility of a miracle.
So I started to study. Obsessively. I fan-girled Dr. Temple Grandin each time she did a talk. I read her books, the books by John Elder Robinson and more. I subscribed to tons of blogs by parents and scientists. All the while we did the work as scores of families made their way to Square Peg Ranch.
In 2009, I hit a wall. I was exhausted. Each week, I worked 70 hours for no pay. There was just enough money to cover the feed and one person to help. Managing volunteers, turning down horses needing homes, dealing with leases and landlords and looking up to see waves of autism families desperate for miracles or at least a break took it’s toll.
I was trying to make a “real difference.” As a teen, I dreamed of traveling the world, picking up the starving babies off the streets and feeding them. Instead, I was teaching HORSEBACK RIDING – an outdated, dangerous useless activity often associated with the white, landed gentry.
How was that going to change the world?
With 120,000 American horses going to slaughter plants every year, we could take in less than a dozen.
Was putting an autistic person on a horse even safe?
These are the things that ran through my head during sleepless nights.
Two things happened.
1. My board treasurer – a wise autism mom, sent me to southern California to do a training with an autism dad who made a documentary film and wrote a book about how his son connected to him and his world through horses. I didn’t want to go. I had it pegged as new age inspiration porn. I didn’t have the time or patience for it. But I really needed a break and a trip to Southern California meant connecting with a dear friend – so I went.
Once there, I learned WHY what we were doing was working. I learned why play and following the interest of the autistic person was important and WHY setting up an environment where both the horses and the families felt calm was more important than traditional therapeutic riding exercises. I asked him what I should do when parents interrupt the session or talk over the top of the instructor. The father who adored his autistic son answered me not as a clinician or as a horseman but as a parent of an autistic child. He made it crystal clear that serving the FAMILY and trusting the FAMILY about how best to serve an autistic student was the KEY to what we were doing. I needed to turn my thinking upside down. The long drive home gave me a chance to ponder this and realize how rare and vital it was.
2. As I continued to beat myself up about what my role in life would be – I started studying the people I most admired. I wanted to understand the motivation and the skills of the people who were making real social change. Early in my research I found a quote from a true hero serving the poorest of the poor. It changed my perspective. It changed my life.
The greatest poverty is not hunger. The greatest poverty is loneliness and a feeling of not being useful.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Loneliness. It’s in our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches, even our families. We can pick up the phone, reach out a hand, smile with eye contact, or forgive someone in our lives right now.
Check in, send a card, introduce yourself, knock on the door, extend an invitation. Force yourself to listen to understand, not listen to respond.
Feeling lonely yourself? Think of someone more shut-in than you are and visit. You won’t have to think long. I promise.
The other day at the ranch, an autism mom acted to save her child from injury (not on a horse). She responded bravely and selflessly. She was injured in her heroic act and we attended to her injury while attending to her son. Her child was triggered by the event and started screaming. His high pitched screaming pained the mother deeply as it brought up every insecurity that her son would not be able to make friends and exist in a world where she wasn’t constantly supporting him. You could see on her face that felt she needed to “pull it together” and ignore her injury to attend to her child. She started to panic that we might make her go to the emergency room which would send her autistic son into total sensory overload and more screaming. She felt completely alone and isolated.
With the help of a snack and a drink, he calmed down. We attended to her injuries, drove her son home and then took her to the hospital. Luckily, her injuries were not severe. In their time of need, we were able to support her as a community – to attend to her son’s important and essential emotional needs and to let her know that she was connected, needed and not alone.
So here it is – your antidote to all the bad news in the world. News that the world’s greatest poverty is 100% treatable. Every one of us has the skills, the training and the opportunity to cure it.
We all need some good news lately. As Scoop Nisker used to say “if you don’t like the news – go out and make some of your own.”