My guest for episode 32 is Tonya Nash! Tonya and I met through her work with her organization, The Autism Faith Network. Their goal is to spread autism awareness and acceptance in faith-based settings. We bonded quickly because we have so much in common. We even got to spend time together in person in March of 2019 at the Together Conference in Atlanta.
In our conversation today, we talk about her role as a caregiver to two sons with autism! As the saying goes, when you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism (because they can be so different from one another). We talk about how she juggles the needs of both her boys, what support systems she has in place to help, and how she focuses on soul care. I especially enjoyed listening to her thoughts on mental health and the importance of finding the right counselor for you. July is Minority Mental Health Month, and these conversations are important to have so we normalize mental health care. I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation as much as we enjoyed the chance to chat!
Quick links we mention:
- Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities by Jolene Philo and Dr. Gary Chapman
- Episode 30, Lessons I’m Learning to Live By
- Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family by Sandra Peoples
Where you can find Tonya:
- Twitter @AutismFaithNet
Notes & Quotes from This Episode
“When you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. My boys share DNA, but they are day and night from each there.”
“Using their love languages is helpful in getting them to learn and to build them up … There’s less confrontation when I know what works for them.”
“When I introduce my boys to people and they discover that I have two sons with autism and they are my only children, people don’t know how to react to that … I always try to let people know that my boys are gifts, they are a joy, and they teach me. I’ve become a better person because of my experiences with them. I’m glad to be their mom, and it’s a blessing to have them.”
“If we take time to get to know persons with autism, or autistic persons, I think we would be pleased and blessed by what we find.”
Question: How do you manage the practical parts of life?
“My boys thrive on routine … so each day we have a loose routine of things that we do every day and that routine is based upon what their needs are.”
“Empowering them to be able to help themselves through self care and chores has been helpful for our routine as well … And giving them a voice to be able to advocate for their needs.”
“I need to make sure I am healthy so I can take care of them.”
Question: What support systems do you have in place to help?
“We have friends who have done the work to get to know about autism so they could be helpful friends. They ask questions. That has really been a blessing to us.”
“We don’t have the local support network that I wish we had. And that can be an issue. About a year ago I got really sick and had to go to the emergency room, and Jamie had to take the boys with us … It took some time for me to recover, and so some friends alternated until my mother-in-law and mom came to take care of me and take care of the boys. I’m really thankful for family and friends who will mobilize like that for me, but it would have been a lot easier if I had local support that I could trust with the boys. That’s one area I could improve in, to make more trusted local connections, but that can be kinda difficult when you have children with disabilities.”
“There’s a trust issue too. When you have children with disabilities, you don’t want just anyone coming into your home. Especially when your children may not be able to tell you what happened. You have to be really careful who you trust. But at the same time, there are situations where you have to be willing to let your guard down for the good of the entire family. It’s a balancing act.”
“One of the blessings of being a military family is that you have to make connections really quick when you get to new places.”
Question: What are some of the ways you take care of your soul? Where do you turn in times of stress?
- Better Together: Seeking God with Others – https://www.bible.com/
- It’s Okay Not To Be Okay by Sheila Walsh – https://www.bible.com/
- Find Rest: A Woman’s Plan for Lasting Peace in a Busy Life by Shaunti Feldhahn – https://www.bible.com/
- Choosing the Meaningful Over the Urgent – https://www.bible.com/
- Best Days – Tamela Mann – https://youtu.be/SoO-gTQt6oE
- Again I Say Rejoice – Israel & New Breed – https://youtu.be/i4ETHGLY4tU
- Blessings on Blessings – Anthony Brown & group therAPy – https://youtu.be/OwNzTSLE-4Q
- Kingdom (Live) – Ruth La’Ontra – https://youtu.be/4dGsA08b0Qk
We talk about the fears in this season of COVID 19. Then we look back at previous stressful seasons in Tonya’s life.
“In 2015, that was an extremely stressful season for me. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that year. I started seeing signs of autism in my younger son, and I thought there’s no way that could be happening again. And then we had a death in the family. And then my husband was getting out of the military and we were moving. There was just so much! And all of this was in a span of maybe three months. So I had to get a Scripture that I said to myself all day for like a whole year and that verse was Isaiah 26:3, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.'”
“It’s important to consider when times get really stressful, prayer is good, reading the Bible is good, devotions are good, but you know what else is also good? Being willing to go see a counselor. It is often stigmatized in communities of color, among religious communities, but God gives therapists wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to help us get through the hard times. We have to be willing to allow someone else to help us through when we’re going through those hard times because untreated stress can really cause problems in your health.”
“When you think of all the stresses that special-needs parents face, when you’re talking about making decisions about education, therapies, their health, dealing with societal norms—it’s a lot! So sometimes it’s good to have someone else that you can share your emotions and your thoughts with so they can help you put everything into context. So having a good therapist who can do that is always helpful.”
“I cannot emphasize enough that if you’re feeling depressed, you’re worried, you’re anxious, you’re stressed all the time—it doesn’t mean that you’re crazy or somethings wrong with you or you don’t have enough faith—it just means you need someone else to step in and help out. We don’t think about going to get help if we break our leg or another part of our body. But when we need help with our mind, all of the sudden it’s a big deal. We have to be willing to embrace that and act on the resources that are available.”
“I saw one study that looked at the parents of children with autism. They studied cortisol levels and saw that they were similar to someone that had been in combat in the military. With parents dealing with such high stress, we need to make sure we’re not just doing self care for our bodies, but self care for our minds, and that includes counseling.”
Where you can find Tonya:
- Twitter @AutismFaithNet
When I have guests on the podcast, my Patreon community gets to see the unedited video version of our conversations! If you’re interested in learning more about how to support me and my work each month, visit patreon.com/sandrapeoples