Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

First Weeks into Son-Rise

The “Romper Room” is Joaquin’s playroom. I still remember how hard it was to do focused therapy throughout the house before having this room ready… Exhausting! Constantly losing Joaquin to the many distractions that the whole house offers to a little boy with a short attention span, and then having to follow him everywhere while keeping an accepting and loving attitude. So as soon as I came back from the Son-Rise Start Up and began doing real therapy, the whole point of the room became extremely clear, and I just couldn’t wait to have it.

The playroom is a special place of your house that you set up removing distractions and sources of conflict so it can be a 99% YES zone for your child. This is the place where you put every single thing you know about Son-Rise in practice in order to let your child experience the most beautiful, fun, user-friendly face of human interaction. The point is to make this a wonderful place for your child, where he feels safe, has complete control (well, 99%) over his world, and every person he finds in it looks at him with love, awe, and excitement, joins him in all his exclusive activities, and celebrates and builds on every attempt he makes to interact.

I used to be extremely dubious about this component of the program, simply because I was almost sure that Joaquin, a little Lion King used to roaming this house like a Don around his property, would HATE the idea of being fenced in a room with a closed door. I had tried it before, and every time this child saw or heard me close the door, he’d cry “OPEN!!!!” like he was about to be cooked alive. But I heard Samahria (first Son-Rise mom and co-founder of the program) explain that this is exactly the same concern every parent has on the first day when they take their kids to the Option Institute, but on the second day the child is always pulling his parents to go in the playroom. So the magic lies in the attitude of the people the child encounters in the room. If your attitude is right, and if you LOVE the room, so will your child.

So I finally gave up my office (I guess the room was destined for Joaquin anyway), and we set up the “Romper Room”:

our Son-Rise playroom

And on the first day I went in there with a single intention: To make this playroom the most awesome room in the whole house. I did not close the door, but Joaquin loved it, and immediately got on the habit of saying the words “Romper Room” as an ice-cream addict would chant “Ice-Cream!!!!” on his run to get some.

On the second day, Joaquin himself closed the door. Need I say more? I patted myself proudly.

Kiki loving his son-rise playroom

But in the next days I started to sense something a bit worrying… I felt that Joaquin was less interactive in the playroom than he used to be before it. It felt to me like now he was isming most of the time, while before I had counted an average of ten 1-2 minute interactions per hour. An he was acting increasingly whinny. “Of course!” — I thought. “It’s because I’m not coming up with exciting game ideas”, “It’s because I’m not being creative enough”, “I put him in this room and I’m not delivering FUN to him”“Ohh… Maybe you get the miracles in the beginning when your child notices the change in attitude, but then he gets used to it and progress becomes slow”. And then Joey would come home, and Joaquin would light up to his papa and give him all the smiles, eye contact, and loving interaction for which I had busted my butt off all day.

With these thoughts energy quickly started to leave me, optimism was replaced by doubt about my capacity to do this, and before I knew it, scenarios involving my death were bouncing around in my mind. Fortunately suicide is no longer an option for me, so I scheduled an Option dialogue with a mentor, and a consultation with a Son-Rise child facilitator in order to get new ideas for activities to try in the playroom.

To give you some background… A dialogue is a conversation in which you explore within yourself in order to discover, then change or discard beliefs and self-judgments that are making you feel unhappy. The mentor listens to you without judgment, without interpreting or diagnosing you, and without agenda to make you happy or get you to change in any way. She simply asks you gentle questions (many start with “why”) that help you find your own answers and discover the beliefs you use to interpret stimulus. To me, this is more helpful than therapy where “an expert” interprets your stories for you, gives you the answers (and they don’t always make sense), and asks you to punch a pillow or talk to a chair. In fact, because you are the best expert on you, you can do dialogues with yourself. I’ve done several since I started the program with great results, but this thing about Joaquin being different with me versus Joey has always affected me deeply, and now it was taking a whole new magnitude; so this time I needed help from an experienced mentor.

Part of what was happening was simple… As soon as I returned from the Start Up and got the playroom ready, I felt that all the preparation and training had ended, and it was time to work and produce results. You don’t realize you’re thinking this way; the mind is sneaky and lets you believe that you’re being present, and you’re having the accepting attitude, and the 3Es (energy, excitement, enthusiasm), and you’re doing everything right. And when you think that your child is not progressing, you blame yourself… whip yourself… call your attempts lame. And this is all so NOT helpful.

You can’t really bond with your autistic child when your mood is dense and unhappy. That is in fact, one of the gifts of this journey!. You must learn to live happily in order to help your child. You must learn to let go of self-judgment, and above all, you must let go of your agenda over what your child will accomplish. And this is tough for somebody like me, who’s gotten used to achieve everything in life by setting personal goals, being tough on herself, and bulldozing her way to successful completion. In contrast, this process is like that beautiful butterfly: The more you chase it, the further she flies away; but when you stop and stay quiet, she lands on your shoulder.

Another big problem was that I had lost that loving feeling (remember the song?). When you go in the Son-Rise playroom full of conscious present love for your child, and you make a point of feeling loving every second, magic happens. Maybe it’s the love inside that makes you feel good about anything that happens; maybe it’s that your love reflects on your eyes, face, and actions, and your child sucks that beautiful energy casted on him, and gives you back as much as he’s capable of. Susan, the child facilitator that helped me on my consultation was fantastic!… I went in there hoping to get a list of games. Instead, she listened to my words and sensed and uncovered little attitudinal nuggets that as soon as I put in practice made a huge difference!

I needed to celebrate him more. Needed to join him more enthusiastically, completely letting go of all the mental chatter about how to turn his isms into interactive activities as soon as he opened a little door. Because the thing is, he won’t open a big enough door unless I truly get in his world without agenda. I’m just building the bridge between us; can’t expect him to cross it before he feels safer.

In the last few weeks after my dialogue, I have finally digested my recurring unhappy feelings about Joaquin’s behavior towards me when Joey is present. I let go of the painful and completely unhelpful belief that I must have been a terrible mother for my child to prefer his dad over me, because “all children prefer their mommies”. I so loved my mentor’s reaction when I finally blurted this out.

Beverly: “THAT’S the belief?!”
Me: “Wonderful, huh?”
Beverly (laughing with amazement): “So not helpful!”

So I was finally able to replace it by something easier to work with; something I can accept in Joaquin without feeling pain. I decided that Joaquin’s autism in fact impairs him from being able to connect with both of his parents at the same time. He has limited bandwidth, and so he’s simply optimizing his resources. Since he knows he has me all week, he goes all for daddy when he comes home, because he knows that’s all the time he has with him. He loves us both so much, that intense interaction with both of us together can overload his system. And just like sometimes I need a break from Joaquin, perhaps sometimes he also needs one from me. All this perhaps may be wrong, but believing it is a much better assumption to help me move on and happily continue my work as Joaquin’s mom and main therapist.

Playroom sessions are going so much better now. No, we’re not playing interactively most of the time; Joaquin’s still autistic and his interactive attention span is a work in progress. But I think I’m in where he is. His language keeps skyrocketing and his isms change every day to incorporate little ideas I have introduced. He’s starting to imitate us. He pulls me to come with him into the Romper Room. And both Joey and I feel that every day we witness tiny steps in the right direction.

I was recently reminded of Temple Grandin, a woman who changed the world precisely because of her autism, and her story has helped me drop the pressure and urgency to “cure”. I try to remind myself that my job with Joaquin is to provide a safe and warm environment through my love and acceptance of who he is, so he can develop to his full potential, create relationships if he wants them, and wow the world with his fire, and the beauty of his mind.

Kiki laughing in our son-rise playroom

So, just like that first wrong turn on my drive to the institute, the first weeks of the program have shown the core of my individual challenges. I fully believe in THIS (program, therapy, way of life) with every cell of my body. I completely see how it’s coming to help my son develop while enhancing my life as a mother, wife, and individual. And just like that first wrong turn, I was able to get back on the main road before going too far and getting lost. I expect some more confusing times on the way trying to read the signs and keep on track, but I feel I’m on my way to become a Force of Nature. I once did it to change careers, but this time I will be fully conscious of the source of my power, and able to direct it at everything I choose.

Sounds like a good plan :)

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  1. On , shirqnthi wrote:

    thank you. have not been able to ‘get right into’ the program or getting room ready. tired of hearing what/any progress?/not enough progress
    read this at the right time

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    Hi shirqnthi. Thank you for reading and leaving your comment.

    Is there anything I can help you with?… I’m all ears if you’d like to share how you’re feeling as you’ve attempted the program. “Not enough” is a judgment we or others make by comparing what is with an always bigger expectation of what it should be. Have you noticed how it never is enough?… No matter how much we achieve, how much more we get, how many of the milestones and goals we set in our past and have now conquered, it never is enough. That hurts a lot. It’s much nicer and easier when every day you do your best, your child does his/her best, and the world does its best, and YOU call it good enough for NOW. Then you start moving through the days, feeling better because you’re not rating your stuff under an impossible bar, seeing the evidence that all is good in fact, falling and getting back on the horse… And that’s how you move. And YOU REALLY MOVE, and your child moves even more than you.