NBC’s new drama Parenthood has moved Asperger’s Syndrome into the familial limelight by pulling back the curtain on mothering a child with special needs. And, while the nation watches as Kristina Braverman (played by Monica Potts) struggles to find her parental footing following her son’s Asperger’s diagnosis, one area mom is dedicated to helping others find theirs, as well.
At 38, Lorin Neikirk was diagnosed with Asperger’s—six years after her son Chili was diagnosed with the same condition. At the time, reveals the TCU alum and mom of two (Addison, 15, and Chili, 13), the common belief was that only boys could have Asperger’s. But she confides, “I related so well to Chili, I secretly wondered if I had Asperger’s, too. Our autistic brains have the same thought process,” she explains. “It’s a different way of seeing, understanding, processing, reasoning.”
After her divorce in 2005, when Neikirk says she was having difficulty fitting into a typical office environment, a friend encouraged her to seek an evaluation, and the evaluation confirmed her Asperger’s diagnosis.
For Neikirk, it was good news. It meant that “fitting in” was about finding the right work and people to surround herself with, not about trying to change who she was.
These days, says Neikirk, “Having Asperger’s helps me in my work, and that is a refreshing change!”
Based on her intimate knowledge of Asperger’s, Neikirk has established a tailor-made, multi-faceted career as an Asperger’s specialist (she runs AspieFriendly.org) and professional speaker and author.
Through AspieFriendly.org, she provides a kind of help she calls “aspie logic.” The unique, inside perspective to the “aspie” brain helps “parents interact differently with their kids in an effort to manage behaviors and emotions.”
And she shares from her own life experience. “I used an idea I had with my son when he was having trouble staying on task with homework. The idea worked, so I developed a tool [for parents] based on the concept.” That tool was the “Great Idea!” Homework Process, which encompasses two techniques: The Break Away (Completion) Method and the Inch by Inch (Writing) Method, she says. The tool applies general information about kids and homework, but includes added autism-specific information for spectrum students. More specifically, she says the technique uses a combination of drill-type, frequent commands with consequences and a token reward system, in which the student is able to control their reward.”
Her series of children’s books also began as a personal tool for son Chili. “After Chili was diagnosed [with Asperger’s], I wrote some learning stories to help his behavior. His speech therapist loved the books—showed them around school—before I knew it, I’d written 15 or 20 for teachers.” The series, for use in both the home and classroom settings, is a collection of short stories used to help correct and support social skills and everyday tasks like following directions and sharing.
In total, Neikirk has published seven children’s titles (six in the Little Learning Book series), including Jack’s Fantastic World!—a story with which both of her sons were creatively involved. And Neikirk’s eighth title, …But That’s Another Story!, is a collection of posts from her widely acclaimed blog, A Panoptic Life (http://apanopticlife.blogspot.com).
How does this busy single mom manage a prolific writing career, a thriving consulting service, two children and two aspie diagnoses when most of us can’t even keep track of our shoes?
“Everything is scheduled around my top priority: being available for Addison and Chili,” shares Neikirk, whose mission is to also help moms and dads help their special-needs children.
And, it seems, helping others is in the Neikirk genes.
Neikirk’s son Addison, an avid skit and monologue writer and vlogger (video blogger), recently created a humorous, practical workbook process to improve interpersonal relationships. He and Neikirk are now co-authoring the manuscript together.
With several more Little Learning Books in the works, an eBook in production for AspieFriendly.com and her writing venture with son Addison, Neikirk is tireless in her efforts, but says, “There’s always more to write!”
But at the heart of all she’s done—or will do—Neikirk says it’s all geared toward helping parents find the same peace she has found.
And, ultimately, she says her greatest reward has been “loving Chili as he is. Not having a need to change him, but having the emotional freedom to accept him as he is and love him without limits.”