Transcript: Thanks Allan. And welcome our guest, Jeanne Beard, from beautiful downtown Wheaton Illinois. Is that right?
Jeanne Beard: That’s right, Wheaton Illinois.
David Brower: Good to have you here. Jeanne is an autism fresh approach advocate. We’ll talk about that in a moment. She’s also the author of Autism and the Rest of Us: How to Sustain a Healthy, Functional, and Satisfying Life with a Person on the Autism Spectrum. She’s also the founder of the National Autism Academy. And she takes an innovative approach to living life with an individual or loved one with autism, delivering hope through better understanding and an adjusted focus. She’s a speaker, coach, parent and, as we mentioned, author. So, welcome Jeanne. Good to have you hear.
Jeanne Beard: Thank you David. It’s great to be here.
David Brower: So tell me, what does being an autism fresh approach advocate mean?
Jeanne Beard: Well, so many people are focused on cause and cure, and on trying to minimize what autism is. And I really work with families to help them accept autism, to help them understand it, and to help them have the best possible outcomes not by getting rid of the autism, but by embracing it.
David Brower: Not to generalize it, but it strikes me that it is something if you don’t know about it, you automatically become afraid of it or shy away from it, or those kinds of things.
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. It’s still very misunderstood, I think, in the general population. People think of autism as a disease that needs to be cured. And it’s not a disease. It’s a neurological disorder. It’s not bad, or wrong, or sick. It’s just different. And if we can understand how that difference plays out in our kids, we can help them maneuver the world the way the world is. And, at the same time, I also believe that it would be nice if the world could cut these kids a little bit of slack, and sort of meet them part way. That really would be my goal.
David Brower: So, how did you get involved with this? As a mom?
Jeanne Beard: Yeah, as a mom. My son was diagnosed in 2006. He was 11. And it was a real struggle.
David Brower: I bet.
Jeanne Beard: We didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t find the kind of help that we needed. And he was progressively getting more and more anxious, less and less able to function, and the situation was deteriorating very quickly. And I went from therapist to therapist to therapist trying to find help. And finally, found a gentleman named Dr. Tim Wahlberg of the Prairie Clinic here in Geneva Illinois, and began working with him. And at that last five minutes of every hour long session he would spend five minutes talking to me, helping me understand what was going on, and helping me learn how to work with my son.
But it was never enough. That five minutes was never enough. So I kept saying, “Can I have this in writing? Do you have this in writing?” Nope. No. I’m trying to write a book. I got a stack of notes. Finally, one day I said, “Give me your notes. I’m taking your notes home and I’m gonna read them.” And I read them. And I created an outline. And I began to work with him to get his book written, so that I could get the education I needed.
David Brower: And that’s the … Finding the Gray. Right?
Jeanne Beard: Finding the Gray. Yep. And that’s how I got my education in autism.
David Brower: Wow.
Jeanne Beard: And I’m so, so grateful because I had unlimited access to him with my questions, ’cause he knew that he was gonna have a book to give other parents, to support other parents in his practice. He has a very popular private practice. And it was just a real win win for everybody.
David Brower: I saw that you have it on your website, and I wondered about that. And it certainly has gotten rave reviews, especially from parents in so much as it really speaks clearly, and I guess easily, to people to understand how he can help you with that book. And you’re obviously not only one of the benefit people from it, but also one that helped create it. So that’s pretty cool.
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. Dr. Wahlberg’s approach to autism is different. He definitely explains certain dynamics that happen in the mind of someone with autism. And because we can understand those dynamics, we can understand how to interact with our children in a way that actually gets through to them. Because traditional parenting techniques are not gonna work for a kid on the autism spectrum. They’re not gonna relate to that. There’s a whole social language that the rest of us use that kids on the spectrum don’t relate to. And so we can’t say, “… because I’m the mom.”
David Brower: Right.
Jeanne Beard: That’s not a reason. I’m glad you’re the mom, but that’s not a reason. So, we learn to motivate our kids, which has to be done differently. We learn to understand their thinking and why they’re so black and white. And we learn to work around those issues and actually to … Dr. Wahlberg’s techniques that he’s taught me that I’m now teaching other parents, help us to expand our children’s ability to function in the world, and to use their brains in different ways. They begin to realize how black and white they are. And then, they actually create new neuro pathways.
David Brower: Wow. How fascinating. So autism is, I guess officially if you will, called Autism Spectrum Disorder? I heard you say spectrum a couple of times. What does that mean?
Jeanne Beard: Well, the diagnostic manual that came out in May of 2013 got rid of the term Asperger’s, which is high functioning autism. And it lumped everyone together under a new umbrella called Autism Spectrum Disorder. So that’s what we have today ASP.
David Brower: Got ya.
Jeanne Beard: And that can be … people suffering with ASP can go anywhere from being very cognitively impaired and having low IQs to having genius IQs and being able to function at a reasonable level. Autism affects every person differently because it’s personality first, and diagnosis second.
David Brower: My wife and I have talked about this over time, but I remember the television show Parenthood drew a lot of attention to Asperger’s …
Jeanne Beard: Yes.
David Brower: … with their son. And now, I think it’s called the Good Doctor where there’s a young doctor or surgeon who is autistic. And so I’ve been watching that just to be fascinated and try to learn more about what that means. Have you seen that show?
Jeanne Beard: I have. I have. I’ve watched it all. I really like it. That character is an autistic savant. So he has savant abilities. When they show him thinking, and you can see he sees it all in pictures in his head, and he can see the whole diagram and everything. That’s a savant. His mind being able to capture every detail and remember it is a savant characteristic. About 10 percent, the numbers I’ve seen recently, about 10 percent of people with Autism are savants, and about 50 percent of savants are autistic.
David Brower: I’ll be darned.
Jeanne Beard: That’s a very classic description of someone with autism. Not everyone has that capability.
David Brower: Right.
Jeanne Beard: But a lot of people have very … a lot of people with autism have very unique gifts … kids that can memorize the map of the United States, and they can tell you how to get from here to there, every road every turn.
David Brower: Fascinating.
Jeanne Beard: It’s amazing what some kids can do.
David Brower: And when you understand that, I would think … and this is purely conjecture on my part. But when you begin to understand that and understand more about that and what they learn, and how they learn, and really what they can contribute, I’d be going, “Man. I want some of that.” You know?
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. And it’s true that people with autism can make huge contributions. If you google famous people that were autistic, you’re gonna see the brightest and the best all through history … the best artists, the best musicians, the writers, the most creative geniuses ever are all gonna appear on that list. And so, if we can help our children manage to be functional enough in the world, so they can get to class with a pencil, and learn to drive a car, and figure out how to put money into a bank account, and do those types of functional things that can be very challenging for them … if we can help them with that social, those social [inaudible 00:09:07] actually help them become far more functional, and actually deliver their gifts to the world. And that’s really … that’s exciting.
David Brower: That is exciting. Is that the goal of the National Autism Academy?
Jeanne Beard: Yes. Certainly to help parents nurture their children and live with their children in a way that allows them to live their best lives. But it’s also about helping them to realize that this isn’t the end of the world, and that we can work with this, and there is hope, and there’s so much that can be done. And just having some community, I think, is really important for a lot of these parents because many of them get highly criticized by their spouses, their parents, their family members. You know, you’re just not parenting right. Because a lot of kids, the high functioning kids, on the spectrum … you can’t see their disability. And it’s not until you live with them that you can see the challenges that we face as parents.
David Brower: Yeah. So, community makes sense to me. And I was just reading your mission statement as far as encourage, educate, and support parents, families, and caregivers who live, love and work with those on the autism spectrum to increase understanding and effectiveness. It really does start at home, and it really does start with the community. Doesn’t it?
Jeanne Beard: I think so. I think that parent education and parent support has been the missing link in autism treatment. There’s a lot of great therapies for kids … speech therapy, and occupational therapy, and different types of therapy that are really beneficial to the kids on the spectrum. But very often, the parents are left sitting on the sideline watching an hour or two’s worth of therapy every week. We’re not leveraging the amazing position that a parent has. You’re with the child all the time. You know the child the best. They trust you. You know how to work with them. So, we need to leverage that to help our kids really get the best advantage they can when they’re younger, because there’s things that they need to learn about themselves and the way their minds work that, once they learn that, they can really be very functional and live wonderful lives.
David Brower: And you have to be, I would think, you have to be selective on the therapist. Right? You have to do your homework to make sure that you’re connecting with someone who gets it, who understands it.
Jeanne Beard: Absolutely. That’s a great point because it is unfortunate to say, but the psychological community … social workers, school teachers, therapists and what not … many of them are not up to speed on autism. It’s hard to find someone who really knows autism. As a matter of fact, every psychologist I talk to says, “We don’t know where to refer families because there aren’t that many really great therapists who understand the autism and know how to work with it.”
David Brower: Wow.
Jeanne Beard: And that’s why it took me so long to find Dr. Wahlberg.
David Brower: So let me ask you. So, are there more doctor Wahlbergs out there? Is it a resource under the National Autism Academy that you can connect people with? How do you grow that community, I guess?
Jeanne Beard: What we’re trying to do … I’m sure there are some. And I will occasionally run across a parent who says, “Oh, we have a phenomenal therapist who’s really helped us.” But, I’ve never had anyone say to me, “That therapist explained autism to me to the degree that I know what to do to work with my child.” And so, that’s what we’re doing at the National Autism Academy is taking Dr. Wahlberg’s 25 years of clinical experience, and his base of knowledge. And we’re translating it into something that’s digestible and understandable for a parent, so that a parent can actually take those things home and use them themselves.
And we do everything on line. So that means we can reach people wherever they are in the world, really. And there’s so-
David Brower: That was my next question. Good.
Jeanne Beard: So many people are in rural communities where there are no services. We work with people in Idaho and Montana, all over Canada and Florida. I mean, we’re with people all over North America, really.
David Brower: Do people … does the medical community refer families to you?
Jeanne Beard: I wish they would more often. That would be our goal is ultimately to become the sort of the first line of defense when you hear the word autism, that people would say, “Here. Go here. They’ll help you understand it. It’s not as bad as you think. Don’t freak out. Go here and learn about it, and then you can take that information back home and work with your child.”
And that was not available. It’s very hard to get it from a book. You can read all the books you want.
David Brower: Absolutely.
Jeanne Beard: But having a community and having a class where it’s being explained to you live, and you get to ask questions … that’s just much more powerful opportunity to get your head wrapped around the whole picture.
David Brower: You must be a unique individual then to be able to get all of that out of a book, and be able to assimilate it in such a way that you can help families all over the world. That’s … what a gift.
Jeanne Beard: Thank you. I’m so honored to be part of people’s journey, and to support them. And it’s so, so gratifying to me when they say, “Oh my God. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, and now I have hope again.”
David Brower: Yeah.
Jeanne Beard: And I just … so, I love that.
David Brower: Do you travel around the country at all and speak on this?
Jeanne Beard: I do.
David Brower: Good.
Jeanne Beard: I do travel and speak and hope to be doing more and more of that going forward.
David Brower: Outstanding. So, if people want to learn more. We’ve still got some time here, but if people wanna learn more about the National Autism Academy, and maybe they don’t have a family member that has autism, but maybe they know somebody who does, maybe they just wanna learn more about it because people are talking about it more … how do they reach out to you? How does that program work?
Jeanne Beard: Well, if you go to my website, which is nationalautismacademy.com. If you look across the bar on the top, there’s a … it says “Free Support” and if you click on that button, the first thing that comes up is something called Autism from the Outside. And if you’re interested in autism, but you’re not a family member, that’s the first resource I would recommend to you.
David Brower: Nice.
Jeanne Beard: But all the … I mean there’s seven or eight things there that are all free resources and will help people learn more about being around someone with autism and understanding what families are going through, which can be very harrowing for a lot of families.
David Brower: Yeah. I can only imagine. Are you able to utilize social media at all in helping to get the word out about the academy?
Jeanne Beard: Yep. We do. We have a very active Facebook page. We’re posting in there all the time. And I think we have about 25,000 followers.
David Brower: Oh my gosh. That’s awesome.
Jeanne Beard: So yeah. We have a nice Facebook presence.
David Brower: Good for you. Good for you. And how long has the academy been around?
Jeanne Beard: We’re relatively young. We were founded in May of 2016.
David Brower: Oh my gosh.
Jeanne Beard: We’re a year and a half old.
David Brower: You’re just a puppy.
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. We’re very young, but this has been my passion for a long time. My book was published two years ago. Dr. Wahlberg’s book was finished 2010. And I’ve been working with Dr. Wahlberg since 2006. So, it’s been 11 years that he’s been training me. And I recently retired from a career in business to business sales. And that’s when I founded the academy.
David Brower: Good for you. You found your lifelong goal. Huh? Or dream.
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. It’s very, very gratifying work.
David Brower: How’s your boy?
Jeanne Beard: He’s great. He’s great. My son’s 21 and he’s currently attending a career college for young adults with autism at a place called Turning Point, which is an autism school in Naperville Illinois.
David Brower: Okay.
Jeanne Beard: And they’re wonderful, wonderful people there. They are just really lighting him up and bringing the very best out in him.
David Brower: Wow.
Jeanne Beard: Teaching him a lot of practical life skills, and helping him build his confidence so that he can be more functional in the real world. And near the end of the training … it’s a year long program. It’s like a year of college. And at the end they actually help place them either into a job or into an internship. So that will be my son’s first paid work.
David Brower: Wow. I’m seeing a proud mom right now.
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. I’m very proud. He’s doing really well.
David Brower: That’s cool.
Jeanne Beard: Yeah. He’s doing really well. If he came into the room and started talking to you, you wouldn’t know that he is on the spectrum. It’s only when certain things come up, certain things that are difficult for him that he has to do, that’s when you can see that he’s not as functional as maybe you would expect him to be.
David Brower: When the black and white kicks in.
Jeanne Beard: Right.
David Brower: What’s the uniqueness of Illinois? I mean, Dr. Wahlberg, you, this college … it’s just all right there in your back yard.
Jeanne Beard: Well, I don’t know that it’s all that unique, it just happens to be my story because this is where I live. Yeah.
David Brower: Well said. Well said. So, your website again is nationalautisticacademy.com. There’s lots of free resources there folks where you can learn about autism whether you have someone in your family or a friend or not, or if you’re just like me and you’re curious about what it is and to get an understanding of it, that’s a great place to start. And you can learn more Dr. Timothy Wahlberg’s book Finding the Gray, and of course Jeanne Beard’s book, Autism and the Rest of Us: How to Sustain a Healthy, Functional, and Satisfying Life with a Person on the Autism Spectrum. Jeanne, this has been a real treat. Thank you so much.
Jeanne Beard: Thank you David.