The phrase that has echoed through my head for the past several months has been interrogate your assumptions. The trick is to notice when I'm acting out of a wrong belief —which is all the time—and to ask myself, 'Why do you believe that?' Pausing to ask a question gives some space for a sacred moment, an opportunity to reframe and do something different.
I've been challenging my assumptions about J, my 20 year old son with autism. Like many special needs parents, I have a well-developed set of beliefs about his capacity, what he can or can’t do, designed to protect him from the harsh reality of a world that doesn’t fit him, and to protect me from the constant pain of his struggles. So the process of challenging these assumptions is mostly scary and always uncomfortable.
A couple months ago, I got to really interrogate my assumptions. Everything on my schedule was being sabotaged by a winter storm. J had an assessment with a new therapist the following morning in New York City, and school was already closed for the day. The car dealership had just mentioned that I shouldn't drive in snow until I got new tires, and I live 50 or so miles from NYC.
As I inventoried mental 'evidence' to support my panic about the day, I became aware of the now familiar tap on my spiritual shoulder. What are you assuming? That thought brought me to a pause.
'A me name God!' I heard this phrase in Jamaican creole, translated weakly 'I. Am. God!!' Then, as He often does with us humans, He rolls out a scroll with His resume highlights and reads His own press clippings. I have done this, and I do that and I will do this. Remember that? I did it, and since you've forgotten that too, that was me. Psalm 46 reads like that to me and in humility, I acknowledge that I forget. I forget that the real reason I must challenge my assumptions is GOD. GOD is WITH me today, and who knows what He will do? So I opted for hope.
Opting for Hope
I shared our weather situation with the therapist, and she suggested that we conduct the assessment by Skype. I had been skeptical of the assessment occurring in person, since J is often hard to assess. So with some misgivings, I agreed. And a miracle happened. Well, actually several.
The next morning, J and I sat before the webcam—miracle number one. Then, at the start of the session, he touched the letters on a large stencil that said, "I'm glad you could be with us"—miracle number two. The therapist acknowledged his comments and asked him about his goals. My heart nearly burst when she did that; I could have cried. She asked him!!! She respected him and had challenged her own assumptions enough NOT to assume he didn’t have thoughts and desires. Then J shared his goals with the therapist!!! That was miracle number three!
This is all a massively huge deal! J painfully spelled out his thoughts, touching the letters on a stencil I was holding. This is something I didn’t even think was possible three years ago. We have been working on this skill for a little more than two years, and it’s been slow going. Though it looks simple, touching letters on the stencil requires massive motor control that is often difficult for J. Sometimes sensory dysregulation sets in, resulting in a mad dash across the room. Hoping that he would communicate his true thoughts while sitting in one spot before the webcam seemed far-fetched. But not only did he communicate his thoughts, his response indicated that he had thought about the assessment and had hopes about the benefit of the experience for himself!
The miracles continued when the therapist asked J to do movements that we don’t commonly ask him to do, movements that I know are hard for him. Before my eyes, he did some of them!!! This was miracle number whatever! J told the therapist, through spelling, that the movements felt 'weird.'
Resist, Reframe, Redirect
The day worked out, and I was reminded again that I never really know what's happening. My brain insists on thinking the thoughts it has learned to believe. I continue to learn to resist, reframe and redirect my thoughts, so I can see the new thing that's already happening right before my eyes that I’m just not seeing yet.
So please, whatever you do, challenge your assumptions: the ones you have about yourself, your life, your kids, your business. You might need to stop listening to yourself. Not all of the time, just the thoughts you create when you are stressed out, scared, panicked, and hyper vigilant, trying to control everything. During those times, your brain isn’t accurate.
It’s not factoring in the biggest wildcard of all, GOD.
Faith Clarke is an author, performance consultant and productivity specialist for special needs moms. She helps special needs families create businesses they love that make sense in the crazy rhythm of their parenting journey. Her book, Parenting Like a Ninja - an autism mom's guide to professional productivity shares her journey from overwhelm and burnout to calm, productive energy. Get a free copy at ParentingLikeaNinja.com