The other night, as I was sharing with my husband another wonderful change I’d observed in our son Marco since we started doing NPT, he chuckled. When I asked what was so funny, he said he was having déjà vu. He reminded me, gently, that I’d been enthusiastic in the past about other three-letter therapies we’ve tried, only to grow disillusioned, and eventually regretful—always after investing lots of time and energy, and tens of thousands of dollars.
I’m glad he pointed that out, because it got me thinking about the differences between NPT and the other interventions we’ve tried, and why I feel confident that I’m not headed for disappointment this time around. I can think of lots of differences, starting with the NPT attitude of genuine respect and appreciation for people with autism—as they are. But the difference I want to focus on today has to do with the practice in NPT of listening to your inner voice and being true to your intuition. One of the basic principles in NPT is this: Never do anything that doesn’t feel right in the moment.
The practice of “going with your gut” may not sound particularly groundbreaking, but it actually sets NPT apart from most other autism interventions. Part of the reason I eventually became disenchanted with the other therapies we’ve tried is that, in each of them—even some that have helped us a lot--I was coached at some point to do things that didn’t feel right. When this would happen, I would suppress my objections in an effort to be true to whatever method we were using. My thinking went like this: If I don’t follow the rules, I’m not employing the method as it was designed. Then, if it doesn’t work and Marco doesn’t “recover,” it will be my fault. I certainly didn’t want to bear that guilt. So when a conflict arose between my instincts and the method, I usually went with the method.
I can think of literally scores of examples of how I ignored my better judgment--starting with allowing therapists to lock up Marco’s favorite toys, when he was very young, and deny him access to them except for the thirty seconds or so when he would get to play with them as a reward for performing various rote tasks. That example really makes me cringe—even cry, sometimes. But there are many other less egregious examples.
I remember a video we made to send to a certain consultant for feedback. In the video Marco and I were making pancakes. Marco was “with me,” and we were having a good time. Then, in the middle of everything, Marco broke out in song. He was looking right at me and singing his little heart out, so I joined him. For a few minutes we forgot all about the pancakes and had a great time singing. When the song was over, we went back to making pancakes without any problem. I was thrilled with this video. I had truly enjoyed the experience, and had felt genuine connection with Marco. But the feedback I got from the consultant was that, by initiating a song that had nothing to do with making pancakes, Marco was trying to control the interaction. The rule was, he was not allowed to add “variations” until he had mastered “co-regulation.” I took this to heart, and in the future I did my best to ignore Marco when he tried to “control” our activities.
Eventually I came to my senses, and realized that the person with control issues was the one who had decided that young children need to earn the right to sing a little song in the middle of making pancakes. But it took me a couple of years to arrive at this realization.
Before continuing, I should say that it’s not my intention to bash other therapies. Most of the methods we’ve tried have been innovative and interesting in their own way, and beneficial in some respects. It is also not my aim to paint myself as a victim, forced to do terrible things against my will. I chose to do these therapies, and I chose to ignore my intuition.
I am comparing NPT to other interventions because, for me, NPT’s emphasis on doing what feels right seems like a really useful safeguard—one that I apparently need—against doing things “for Marco’s own good” that I’m going to regret later on.
Everybody knows you’re supposed to “go with your gut” and “trust your intuition.” But knowing it and doing it are two different things. In order to listen to your inner voice, you have to be able to hear it. In the NPT Connection Course, the practice of recognizing and listening to your intuition is built into the program.
As part of the online Connection Course, we parents record ourselves interacting with our children as we practice the steps of NPT. We are given reflection questions to think about before implementing each new step. After the interaction is over, we watch our videos and write our answers to the reflection questions. The questions are simple and straightforward: How did it feel to practice this step? What did you learn from practicing this step? After watching the video, what will you be more aware of next time you practice this step? The questions may be simple, but the impact is dramatic: Instead of worrying about whether we’re “doing it right,” and waiting for a consultant to tell us what we need to change, we are cultivating our own intuition about what works and what feels right.
I should point out that the first step in NPT is called the “WATCH process.” Through this process, we cultivate the habit of paying very close attention to the many messages our children are sending us. Obviously, these messages are just as important as the ones we send ourselves.
In our online class meetings, we share our videos with other parents and NPT coaches. We are encouraged to express our observations about each other’s videos in the form of questions. The goal of the questions is to spark personal insights and to help guide each other toward increased self-awareness.
These exercises in self-awareness are already paying off for me. As I interact with Marco, I find myself asking questions: What was my intention going into this activity? How is Marco responding? Do I want to pursue my original intention or let it go for now? Although it sounds like hard work, being in tune with my feelings is actually making me more relaxed in my interactions with Marco, because I’m making better choices and generally getting a more positive response.
So now, having thought about his question, I think I can tell my husband that whatever may come from my participation in the NPT Connection Course, it definitely won’t be more regrets.