As a child, Erich Shafer did not understand what he was and how he was different. He knew he had balance issues and had to go to speech therapy every week for a heavy lisp to make himself “better.” It wasn’t until later in life that he discovered he had Dyspraxia (Developmental Coordination Disorder) and was on the Autism Spectrum. In this podcast episode, Annette speaks with Erich about his neurodiverse journey and how he overcame his childhood struggles to create a successful and fulfilling life for himself.
Childhood Years in Therapy
Erich spent many of his childhood years going through what is now known as ABA Therapy. He felt there was a value placed on the items he had, what he wanted to do and the friends he wanted to see. Erich felt the value was his behavior, his compliance. If he did not act a certain way, he was not allowed to watch television, to go outside, to play with his friends, to do the things he wanted to do. Erich felt his therapy was similar to “clicker training” with dogs – a good behavior was rewarded with a treat.
Moving towards adulthood, Erich felt like he was “playing pretend.” His therapy taught him the technique of “Masking” which is wearing the appropriate mask or behavior for each social situation you go into. Therapy made him feel like he needed to adapt, he needed to act a certain way, he needed to wear a mask to fit into normal society. Erich felt his therapy did not allow him to be himself.
Driven To Succeed
After getting a communication degree in college, Erich did a complete behavior shift and got into broadcasting. He got a radio internship where he was eventually able to open up. He was in a place where he was thought of as unique, one of the “creative types.” Over time he also developed what his wife calls “motivated by spite” – if someone told Erich he could not do something, he purposely would turn that around and figure out a way to do it – and then do it!
Erich now has a fantastic life he has worked hard for. He has been married for almost 10 years to a wonderful woman who understands his neurodiversity, his needs and supports him in every way possible. Erich has a full-time job with Work Community Independence, also works as an IT person for Boston Managed IT, and even created his own company, Rabid Badger Studios. He feels a huge sense of freedom that he is now able to be very flexible, to make his own schedule each day depending on his needs.
Advocate For Yourself
Annette and Erich also speak about the importance of advocating for yourself If you are able to. Make sure you are able to say what you want, what is important to you, have your voice heard. Erich also feels that people should ask questions of a disabled person, don’t automatically assume that what works for some with that disability, will work for all. Erich says “there’s as many opinions as there are neurodiverse people.”
Erich’s Closing Advice
Erich’s advice to other kids growing up neurodiverse – it gets better – “with knowledge and understanding, comes a level of comfort.” His advice to parents– listen to your child, listen to what motivates them, listen to what they feel, what they want. Your child wants to be heard, ask them questions. “Nothing about us, without us.” Let your child have a voice.
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Listen to the full episode here!
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Annette Hines has been practicing in the areas of Special Needs, Elder Law, and Estate Planning for more than 20 years. Ms. Hines brings personal experience with special needs to her practice and podcasts as the mother of two daughters, one of whom passed away from Mitochondrial disease in November 2013. This deep, personal understanding of special needs fuels her passion for quality special needs planning and drives her dedication to help others within the special needs community.