One of the things I’ve learned from Henry is how to train my own brain. When Henry was first diagnosed we were told we needed to get early intervention because wherever he was at by age five would be it. The time to train the brain was NOW, NOW, NOW.
You can imagine the pressure. Most autism moms, and really most moms and dads, could probably have told you then what neurologists came up with a few years later — that the brain is plastic. You can constantly train it. You can re-shape it. You can make it better.
When we see a groove in Henry’s behavior that is not positive or productive, we retrain.
For years he picked at the skin on his nose until he had a permanent scab the size of his thumb on top of his nose. SO stressful, so unpleasant to look at, and painful for him. But he couldn’t stop.
My friend Noel made a coconut balm in her kitchen from the flesh of real coconuts. I would give her twenty bucks and she’d make me a little container, of what turns out to be coconut oil — years before it became the answer to everything that kale doesn’t solve. I gave the little tub to Henry and anytime he had the need to pick at the skin, he put coconut balm on it instead.
The physical activity of opening the tub, scooping out coconut oil onto his fingernail, rubbing it onto his nose, washing his hand, and then replacing the lid created a new habit — and a new neural pathway. When the desire to pick would come over him, it was replaced by a desire to twist a cap, touch a soothing balm. It was replaced and then it went away. After all, opening a tub of coconut oil every few minutes grows tiresome.
Creating a neural pathway is important stuff when it comes to reaching your goals. Stretching my hand out to my dream of writing as a career was filled with roadblocks — all of my own making. I’m not good enough. I don’t have time. Who would care? Hey, there’s a cat video.
While I was stalling, Henry was telling Coach Silvia he wanted to be a talk show host. Except he didn’t just tell her his dream. Everyday at 4 p.m. he said “I’m the host of the OCA show in syndication.” Then he told her the guest line-up for that day.
Two years after he started this persistent, positive declaration she finally broke. I got her text: “I’m making Henry’s dream come true.”
Here’s the lesson for you and me: Persistent, positive declaration creates the neural pathway for your goal. When you speak your goal out, it’s not some woohoo speaking something into existence. You’re actually creating a path in your brain. Not only could it actually happen, you’re creating a path for when it does happen that your brain will accept it. Like a donor to a host. When the blood starts flowing, the vision starts unfolding, the host is receptive because you’ve created the room for it.
Here’s another lesson: When Henry started saying his mantra, the only way to have a talk show was to go to a TV studio and shoot one for broadcast. That the technology for Henry to have his own Youtube talk show was available two years later helped Coach decide to do it. If Henry had waited until the technology existed to tell us what he intended, we wouldn’t have been prepared to make his dream come true.
He declared it as a truth, not as a want, not as a possibility, but as a reality: I am the host of the OCA show in syndication. When the way to produce your own talk show appeared, we knew what to do. Our neural pathways were also trained by his declarations.
And, as of this year, or this season as Henry would say, he has a band! That’s right. He’s the host of the OCA show. He has a band made up of staffers and participants. He was featured in a syndicated newspaper about being a talk show host.
Create a new neural pathway today and proclaim your positive plan with persistence!