Saturday, May 15, 2010
Yesterday, I spent time in a coffee shop interviewing Gayle Nobel, a Phoenix neighbor and author of the new book, BREATHE: 52 Oxygen-Rich Tools for Loving and Living Well with Autism. Wait! Before you click away from this page, thinking, "I don't live with autism. What's this got to do with me?", consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
_An average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have some form of autism.
_Most of these children are boys.
_An estimated 730,000 children up to the age of 21 now live with autism.
_The median age of diagnosis comes around age 4 or 5, but most children have shown developmental symptoms before age 3.
With those numbers being what they are, it's likely you may already know a child who has autism, and Nobel's new book should be a successful one for her target market--parents of children with autism. She and her husband Neil have a son, Kyle, who was diagnosed by age 1. He is now 26, so the couple has been living with autism for 25 years. Nobel draws from her own life experience and life lessons to help other families survive and thrive through what can be very trying and often heartbreaking times.
The couple also has two daughters (Rachel and Leah) who are not autistic. In her new book, she relates stories about how they fit into the picture as well. As you probably can understand, it's not easy to find balance when you're "living with autism" but that doesn't stop her from trying. So her book goes beyond the autistic family's needs; it's about every family's needs. The tools she shares in BREATHE can work for anyone experiencing an unexpected life challenge. To be frank, don't we all have them in some form or another?
That's why I wanted to bring her words of wisdom here. Nobel's oxygen-rich tools and the story that led her to them has involved heartache, pain and even despair, feelings similar to what led me to my special brand of BIKE. The author, whose first book (It's All About Attitude) was co-authored with Kathy Almeida through their independent publishing company, offers in this second book 52 topic-centered and inspirational stories with exercises at the end of each chapter that will have you breathing easily through your own daily challenges. She doesn't claim to fix them, but she does steer you toward a more peaceful and loving acceptance of them.
Of all 52, one of my favorite stories from Noble's book takes place in the grocery store where she's shopping with her son Kyle. From his outwardly appearance and his 6-foot-tall frame, he looks like a man. But from the inside he's really still a small child, and Nobel says the grocery store is a land of temptation for her big boy who likes paper:
"His self-stimulating activity of choice is to flap and crinkle a crisp piece of paper until it is limp. Flapping is a stress relief, and sometimes entertainment. Over the years it has become a very strong habit. He is drawn to paper when he feels uncertain, or stressed, or in need of some sensory input. Come to think of it, he is drawn to paper when paper is around. And, in the store, coupons are sticking out all over the aisles, just asking to be grabbed. Sale tags abound. Kyle is like a kid in a candy shop; he can't keep his hands, or his attention, away from these paper magnets.
So, last week, price tags called out to Kyle. He would stop every few feet and reach to grab one. I would gently remind him the paper must stay on the shelf. A few times, he snatched one before I could preempt the strike. This, then, became an opportunity to help him practice returning the paper to its spot.
As time went on, the dynamic evolved. Kyle began to pause in front of tags and point to them. This was his way of asking for one. When I told him he couldn't have one, he was able to move on without grabbing. Pointing soon evolved to looking longingly at the tags...By the end of our time at the store, Kyle had shifted from impulsive to mindful. He was able to slow down, think, and control his actions."
The story starts out mentioning her dad's warning about not always having to do things the hard way. While walking through a grocery market with an autistic son who seems to be misbehaving might seem like the hard way to shop, for Nobel the opposite is true. It proved to be a lesson-building experience, giving the "hard way" some merit.
Noble also discusses another topic I found interesting: those "magnificent moments" we all experience in life. Hers, in particular, involves a rare moment--actual eye contact with Kyle. The emotional connection occurs during one of his music therapy classes. Nobel says she relished it enough to write it down as soon as she returned home. That way, she's now able to return to that moment on those less magnificent days. Her oxygen-rich tool at the end of this chapter then calls for the reader to do the same. Interestingly enough, it's something I call on you to do frequently here as well: Write it down. Record your celebrations in a gratitude journal so you can treat yourself with this same experience another time. It certainly makes sense to me why I like this woman.
In the interview below are a few reasons why you might like her, too:
What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing BREATHE?
My biggest challenge was the writing itself. Sitting down and keeping the momentum going. It's so easy to have a million other things infringe on that.
How did you come up with the idea for the oxygen-rich tools?
They actually started out as a gimmick. I was at a conference, a tradeshow with my first book. We had a table with our books to sell. And I wanted something to give away. So I developed cards with prizes written on them that you'd grab out of a fishbowl. One of those cards offered free daily inspirational tools for one week. When someone drew the card out of the bowl, I had to then come up with the inspirational tools...That was the start of this book.
And what was your original point of the book?
It was basically to answer the question: How do I get from here to there? Here being, "Oh, my God, I have this kid with autism, and it's miserable sometimes." There being, "How can I shift my attitude?" In fact, "Attitude in Action" was one of the original titles I considered. But Andrea Beaulieu, my editor, noticed that I had a lot about breathing in the book, so the actual title evolved that way.
How long did it take you to write?
I wrote it based on things I noticed in the journey with my son. I wrote down whatever I was inspired to write, and the whole process took about two and a half years.
Since breathing exercises are an important tool you include in the book, and you use yoga exercises where applicable, share with my readers another reason it's so important to you:
It started in the emergency room. Kyle had been in a car accident, and he'd broken a finger. We were at the hospital, waiting. I noticed Kyle was being very quiet. And then he started making this breathing sound. He was humming, calming himself. He plays a lot with his breath anyway. He can make a lot of sounds with his breath, and he can hold his breath for a very long time. But this time, I think he was calming his anxiety, quieting the rage, maybe even dulling the pain. Even the emergency room physician noticed, saying how zen the room felt when he walked in. And it really did. The breathing created a peaceful environment.
In the book, it seems like you have this gift to be able to try new things, if you think it'll work, to calm your son, or to shift an attitude. How did you get there?
Keeping in mind that my mother was the parent of an autistic child--My brother was autistic--parents with autistic children get really, really worn down. You try all these medicines, treatments, therapies, and your child still isn't fixed. He's not getting better. You just get worn down from all of that. So I learned early on that I had a choice. I could be miserable like my mother was, or I could be joyful. And I was also impacted early on by the words of another father I knew whose son was autistic. He said (paraphrased), "I never want to look at my son and see tragedy. I want to see him as a gift." His words stayed with me. I wanted that. Kyle was 3 at the time. And from that moment on, I started working on my attitude.
If you would, share with us your three most important pieces of advice readers can find in your book:
When I speak, I share these tips, and the theme is about taking care of yourself:
1) Exercise -- I think it changes your physiology, and a shift in attitude takes place that doesn't without regular exercise.
2) Gratitude -- That message is sprinkled throughout the book, but make it an intention.
3) Breathe, of course! -- It allows you to be less reactive.
And here's one more:
4) Reach Out -- Ask for help. Build a network of support so you won't be in this alone.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click on this link to get your own copy of BREATHE: 52 Oxygen-Rich Tools for Loving and Living Well with Autism, and other products created by Gayle Nobel with the help of her family and friends (t-shirts, posters, notecards). If you do, tell her I sent you.