I have spent the greater part of the last decade working with children and their families from all walks of life. I started my journey with children with behavioral concerns, including children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) fresh out of college. I was a young, a little naive, and a 22 year old who was determined to change the world for kids who no one else wanted to work with. I landed myself working as a direct support professional in a classroom for children with severe behaviors aged 6-21. My classroom was full of kids that no one could “handle,” or really knew, “what to do with.” I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard my kids referred to as, “the behavior kids.” I will be truthful when I say there was quite the learning curve for me when it came to working with children on the Autism spectrum and their families as well. But, as cliché as it sounds those kids, my kids, taught me so much about patience, compassion, love, and joy. We celebrated their successes no matter how big or small, because the harsh truth was that some of their behaviors overshadowed those moments where, “Tommy was able to pick up that puzzle when I asked him only one time!” or when “Sophia looked at Ms. Amber and said I’m frustrated at you.” I was blown away at what I learned from these kids, and even more so by their loved ones. A parent once told me, “the minute you say can’t or won’t it’s game over. It should always be they will, it’s just when” and that has stuck with me. It broke my heart to think that there were some people out there who when they looked at my kids they had no idea what was going on in their world because Autism and other things like are often not seen on the outside. The heartbreak I saw on a parent’s face when someone when an outsider would look at them as I helped them with their child having a meltdown at the entryway was always something that angered me because how could they not see what I saw? A parent trying their best, and a child trying to tell us something was wrong only they didn’t know how.
I worked many years supporting children directly, overseeing staff who supported those kids, and I just felt like I needed to keep doing more. It took me a long time to realize that it really does take a village. I set out to work not just with children, but with their families. My goal then and now is to be that person that tells every parent I meet, “the minute you say can’t or won’t it’s game over. It should always be they will, it’s just when.” My role as an Early Interventionist allows me the privilege of being the one many times who is sitting with a parent, or the first call they make when they hear those words, “your child has Autism.” Their world is turned upside, and most likely their head is just spinning. It is my sincere hope that I can at minimum be some comfort to them as I tell many parents I meet that it isn’t going to be an easy road, but it is going to be a beautiful one. I will tell every parent I meet that all the therapies, all the social stories, communication devices, IFSP/IEP meetings, 504s, behavior management protocols, and more acronyms than you can fathom are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes setting your little one up for success. You as a parent/caregiver are the other piece because without your support, and your determination they aren’t going to get there. My heart is full when I am able to help parents not only advocate for their little one, but also see what I see; a little one who is going to teach their family and the world a little bit more patience, compassion, love, and joy, just in their own time and their own way.
Amber Pullmann, Early Intervention Services Coordinator