Voices From the Spectrum #28: Bob Yamtich on Making Connections
Bob Yamtich is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Nonviolent Communication coaching and neurodiversity Bob works as an independent consultant and therapeutic coach. He blogs at Connecting with the Neurodiverse. This week he discusses his personal experiences on the spectrum and offers advice for how parents and educators can connect with others like him.
How did you discover your autism diagnosis? How did you feel afterwards?
I discovered I was autistic at age 30 working with a series of therapists. A key moment of insight was reading John Michael Carley’s Asperger’s From The Inside Out and crying while eating a hamburger because I felt such resonance. I was lucky to be in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, which has an active self-help network that I began attending. I felt relief at how much the diagnosis explained, and I also felt mourning at missed opportunities for earlier growth and deeper connection.
Can you offer an example of something a teacher or school could have done differently that would have helped your academic/social/emotional development?
I have a lot of gratitude to many teachers who challenged and inspired me. Sadly, school was a place where I received many awards, but did not improve my executive functioning. For example, I became an engineer without knowing how engines work. I wish I would have had internships at an earlier age to gain practical knowledge and confidence.
What does it mean to specialize as a Marriage and Family therapist in neurodiversity? How does neurodiversity play a role in your professional life?
I spend a lot of time working with people to understand how their brains work, including if it takes active effort to manage their brain. Since I have experience with both autism and bipolar, I consult with colleagues about their clinical relationships. I consult with my own support team to ensure my personal limitations are not interfering with my professional work; sometimes this includes taking breaks to focus on self-care.
You’ve mentioned in your blog that it’s important for parents to humble themselves and be curious with neurodivergent kids. Why is this important? Do you have an example of what this looks like?
In the Nonviolent Communication tradition, they say “empathy before education.” This adage parallels the education world’s “reach before you teach.” What you are reaching towards, an understanding of the internal operating system of a neurodivergent kid, will likely be highly original. Adult self-advocates say, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” For example, imagine you are painting and somebody critiques your work without understanding it. My sense is that a lot of adult interventions, intervening before understanding, appear that way to kids.
In what ways, if any, are you able to draw from your personal experiences to offer advice professionally?
I seldom give advice, as I see the client as expert. While coaching parents, I share personal stories. Still, the work of counseling is relationship based. You balance when to offer empathy and reflection, and when to self-express either bafflement at an explanation or choice or reassurance about somebody’s path or prospects.
What mistakes do parents of neurodivergent advocates make?
All that adult care, all that parental love, can often come off as panic to a young one. It’s hard to say, because sometimes there is urgency to access more resources to improve quality of life. One domain where there may be room for improvement is self-doubt. If you can find somebody you trust to consult with, you may be able to rest assured in your efforts.
How can families promote autism acceptance in their own communities?
Attend autism-friendly activities, like when movie theaters have quieter showings (and other accommodations) for those with sensory sensitivities. At the micro-level, express gratitude when a person (librarian, pizza server, bus driver) goes the extra mile to help your beloved have a positive experience. This could simply be a celebratory smile. If you see a family struggling, offer support. If you need help, reach out.
Interested in hearing more from Bob Yamtich? Visit his website: http://www.bobyamtich.com/