Making the Shift for Autism for Parents & Caregivers


By Vicky Westra

Today, Autism is a very stigmatized diagnosis.  I’m sure as a Parent or Caregiver of someone diagnosed with Autism, you already know this.  All you have to do is to look at the current employment rate for individuals with Autism, research the diagnosis on line to see how it is defined, or even just talk to your child about whether they feel like people truly understand them or their diagnosis.


When my husband and I received the diagnosis of Autism for our own daughter Gabbi at the age of four, we were devastated to receive this news.  Our doctor delivered the diagnosis of PDD-NOS, which he added was “part of this broader diagnosis called Autism”.  That was almost 20 years ago and we had no familiarity with the term “Autism”.


After doing our own research, what we were able to find (the internet was much more limited back then) was very scary, causing fear to rear its ugly head in our household consistently throughout Gabbi’s first decade of life.  We feared not finding the right schools or resources for her, whether we would be able to manage all of the therapies (having enough time and money), and what kind of future she (and we) would have, just to name a few.


The first sign of a Shift for us came when we found a wonderful Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) instructor, a professor teaching the Master’s program at the local University, as well as finding a school that used ABA as an integral part of their curriculum.  Working with these amazing individuals started to help shift our focus from the negative behaviors that we were seeing, to actively focusing on those things that Gabbi was doing well.  This approach became the basis of a philosophy we use now as part of our teaching – “that which you focus on will expand”.  It also did wonders for Gabbi, because she went from negative attention seeking behaviors to more positive ones.


Our Shifting journey continued as I left my corporate America job and started a coffee company and a Non-Profit for Autism at around the same time.  These two organizations came together to form the first of its kind Café called “Artistas Café” in 2011, which developed into a barista training and employment program for individuals with Autism.


Artistas Café allowed me to become fully immersed in the world of Autism.  I could more clearly see and understand some of the behaviors and characteristics that with Gabbi, I couldn’t quite understand.  I often say, sometimes you are so close to your children and have so much emotion tied to the relationship, that it’s hard to understand the things that are happening (as in, “you can’t see the forest for the trees”).  Through this process, I developed new understanding of Autism…one that allowed me to better see how the world misinterprets this population’s way of being and the things that they are doing.


As a result, I’ve now come to appreciate Autism in a whole new way, which has renewed my relationship with Gabbi to one that is based upon appreciation and unconditional love.  However, this couldn’t happen until I shifted my thoughts around her and the diagnosis.


Learn how you can shift your thoughts around Autism and so much more by joining our Shifter Membership program by going to

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