love

Remembering my Mentor

Tris Smith was the greatest combination of intelligence and kindness I have ever known.

The distinction is one he won in my heart without my knowing and secured in my mind as he mentored me toward my dissertation. He listened to my cynicism and endured my self-doubt, giving me hope and confidence at a time when I lacked it and sorely needed it.

Today marks 1 year since his passing.

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Much has been written and said about Tris’ contributions to the field of psychology and his care for those in it – both patients and providers – so I will not belabor a point better made by others.

Tris examined the impact of early intensive behavioral intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorder. This work began about 15 years ago and a follow-up study recently looked at how these children are now faring as adolescents and adults.

The clinical research Tris led lives and breathes still. 

Participants who were once children in these studies are now adolescents and adults, and I have had the fortune of knowing a few of these people as patients. I know that much of their progress is due to their own hard work and that of their families’, but I often think of Tris and his belief in scientific progress when I meet with them. I see the impact of his work every day.

During my training, Tris gave me the opportunity to work on a clinical study that focused on helping parents and caregivers learn strategies to support their young children with autism. This experience has shaped how I work with families and led me to adopt an approach that generally insists on getting to know parents as well as their children as part of helping the family as a whole.

Tris gave so much that it’s hard to imagine anyone filling the space his absence leaves. On learning of his passing last year, I shared a few words with others. I share them again here:

It is beyond my ability to summarize his intellectual contribution to the field of autism research. He studied under Ivar Lovaas as part of the initial group of researchers at UCLA who used the scientific method and randomized clinical trials to quite literally prove that therapy could help improve the lives of children with autism. He expanded on this research at the University of Rochester Medical Center and showed further how parents could learn strategies to improve the behavior of their children with autism in home and community settings. His more recent research reached directly into school districts and minority communities.

His contributions to the field of autism research are innumerable and incalculable. The work he led and supported will ripple out for many years after his passing. Tris was on my dissertation committee and the person I most credit with my being able to defend my dissertation. He was a consummate mentor. He was a mensch and will remain a saint to those who knew him well.

Three Years In

Today marks the anniversary of when the practice first opened on July 11, 2016.

In this time I have had the privileged to serve so many amazing people, get to know wonderful families, and help people through life’s challenges big and small. As I reflect on all of the things that have happened over the last three year my most overwhelming feeling is gratitude…

Gratitude to have a job that I love going to each and every single day.

Gratitude to have a career that offers flexibility to be a present parent and partner.

Gratitude to have a business that supports and works with our community.

Gratitude to be in a community that creates services to meet community needs.

Gratitude for YOU for supporting my dream to help people in our community.

In the last three years, so many things have changed. I’ve practiced in three different locations before landing in my forever home in January 2019. I started out as one person in 2016 and today we are in the process of hiring talented therapists to join me in serving our community.

In 2016, I planned on focusing primarily on weekly therapy. Between then and now, I have had opportunities to use my skills for educational evaluations and advocacy; helping patients obtain OPWDD services; testifying in federal court as an expert witness; and working with different school districts to provide social skills for students with developmental differences.

In the last three years, a lot has also remained the same. I’m still committed to serving every patient and family to the best of my ability. I’ve kept the quirky even as I have moved and upgraded my office location. Patients and their families have gifted me sentimental tokens - Lego mini-figures and socks. These mementos have traveled with me and bring a smile when an unsuspecting character is spotted in an otherwise professional looking office.

The traditional gift for a 3rd Anniversary is leather, so My Better Half recently upgraded the chair I sit in to a new leather one. Feels like I have celebrating covered even while sitting.

New office, new chair, but I still wear goofy socks everyday. Today is fox socks.

New office, new chair, but I still wear goofy socks everyday. Today is fox socks.

Thank you for believing in and supporting my dream. That is the greatest gift of them all.









"The Shitty Stop Saloon"

Most guys talk about a man cave as a place to escape and relax while watching sports. When you have two children in diapers at the same time, you manage to get creative about what constitutes a man cave. And then a third one comes along, and your remember the joy of it.

In the unfinished basement of an 86 year old house, there’s a high efficiency washing machine with my name on it (figuratively, of course). There’s two or three sacks of “used” cloth diapers gathered about this marvel of modern technology and gloves reminiscent of Breaking Bad.

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On Wednesday and Sunday nights, I trod down the steps to tackle all manner of excrement from cloth diapers and two twin cat litter pans beneath our wooden stairs. Before I started, I'd pop open a beer, plug my iPhone into a stereo I saved and retro-fitted from my middle school years (yep, old), and set it to play what My Better Half lovingly refers to as “my old fart music” (she’s right). I throw three days worth of cloth diapers in the basin and get down to scrubbing.

So here at the Shitty Stop Saloon, I take 30 minutes of musical silence twice a week and find comfort in the ritual of dirty work that remains a part of staying committed to cloth diapering.

After four years of this lovely routine, two children potty trained, we decided to do it again (and by “we,” I mean My Better Half). Our third child arrived in May of 2017, and I’ve started to realize how much I love the ritual of cleaning as way to care for and think of our children. It’s odd in the smelliest sense (pun intended!) to appreciate the value of an awful task, but it helps me absorb the awful with greater appreciation for how important each job/role is in our life.

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Now in an even older house, we purchased a high efficiency laundry machines (this time the largest size they have for residential homes) as a Christmas present to ourselves and set to the work of making “The Shitty Stop Saloon Part Deuce” (get it? poop - #2).

Much like the first, I have the same stereo, plastic gloves (new gloves every month but same old style), and stacks of the same diapers that have covered the butts of all three of our children. However, technology and time have afforded us some upgrades like a curated play list, windows to the outside to air out the funk, and a steam setting that really blasts out the ick. In honor of the new space, my Better Half and two big kids made a sign to decorate the cave.

You’ll find me here every Wednesday and Sunday night cleaning the diapers for their next wear. Hopefully I only have one more year of this before potty training. Here’s hoping (not predicting) a less smelly future.

Full name added online only. We couldn’t bring ourselves to write expletives over the kids’ art. Parent-life.

Full name added online only. We couldn’t bring ourselves to write expletives over the kids’ art. Parent-life.

Third Time's the Charm

What counts as luck depends on what you're looking for…

My Better Half gave birth to our third child in May of 2017, so he's coming up on a year and a half on this earth as we roll through fall. He's about as close to perfectly adorable as one baby could ever be. He's generally happy and adored by his siblings; he loves social gatherings and being held by lots of friends. He goes by a lot of different nicknames based on his behaviors.

But he loves to wake up more often than our previous children and has less variety in his diet. He has not hit his speech and motor milestones at the same time and rate as our first two kids. So in many ways, our third child has held the mirror up to my face when it comes to my work. 

I work with a lot of people who work hard at improving their sleep or that of their loved ones.

I work with a lot of people who work hard at increasing the types of foods their loved ones eat.

I dispense a lot of advice and guidance around eating and sleep routines in my work, and the process of parenting our third child has been quite humbling and eye-opening. Put simply:

Sometimes the evidence does not work so well.

I have read (and re-read) the literature on sleep hygiene, and we consulted with our providers to put in place a well-organized evidence-based approach to increasing the variety in his diet.

And still every day feels the same.

This is all not to say to heck with science/medicine and to go rouge on reality because of it. But this is me acknowledging as a human who happens to be a psychologist that sometimes the ideas and the plans that derive from the scientific method don't apply equally well to all.

That is a sobering thought to hold. 

Our third child has given me a different type of appreciation for those who face these issues and deepened my empathy (and my resolve) for how stressful, challenging, and rewarding these things can be.

When I became a parent, I did not know that love could come in so many forms. The way I feel and I respond to each of our children is so different and implicit it defies the words I have here.

Our youngest is his own unique person - challenges, successes, personality, and all. The big kids often call him “Boss Baby” because he has a huge head on a small frame. And, because he wants what he wants when he wants it and he lets us all know it. So as luck would have it, his smile and his laughter are so infectious that our joy clearly continues to outweigh our work.

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Wind, Snow, Time, & Faith

These last two weeks (March 7 to 16) have been full of weather and safety-related concerns, and it's led me to take stock of what drives me these days and how I want to live my life now.

For those readers living outside the Rochester metropolitan area, we experienced a windstorm on March 7 that left over half of the region without power for days followed by a cold weather snap with daytime temps in the 20's. As many of the trees were cleared and power was mostly restored by the start of the next week, we were hit by Winter Storm Stella that dumped approximately two feet of snow in an on-going two day snow shower starting on March 14. 

I had a full caseload every day these last two weeks, but the windstorm and emerging snow storm prompted me to shuffle my schedule and cancel a full day of patients on March 15.

Now I'll be honest: I do not like it when anything prevents me from doing what I had planned. Yes: this is the pot calling the kettle black coming from this here clinical psychologist.

But the truth is I needed this dose of reality that was served up to me over the last two weeks.

It gave me a chance to meet people near us who took us in while our power was out.

It gave me a chance to be present for my daughter during and after outpatient eye surgery.

It gave me a chance to connect with people deeply because there was space and time for it.

I wish I could say that I’d never been here before
— Chris Stapleton, Fire Away

That's how I feel right about now as I realize I would've missed my daughter's surgery had the weather not laid to waste my plans to focus on my work instead. So many times before I've been so driven that I don't even see the road I'm driving the car of my life on. And for that, I feel compelled to reflect on how I can align my priorities more consistently with my values.

I had planned on my previous post (UnReal InstaLife) being the final one in a series about digital communication and re-framing our experience with it. After my daughter's surgery, I am reassessing how my digital existence impacts my reality as a parent, partner, and provider. I have such an intense, unrelenting desire to improve things that I very often forget to slow down, turn off the phone, and make the time to reflect rather than react to the moment I'm in.

So the weather gave me cause for pause and the opportunity to be present for my family, but another thought snuck in without my realizing it until the past weekend turned into this week.

When I think it could be therapeutically helpful and when I feel it logistically necessary, I have shared with my clients a bit about my personal life. Many folks know that My Better Half and I are expecting our third child in May and have showed such care and interest in her well-being. 

Knowing that my client's think and care about my family is something that moves me in a way I can't really describe in words, which is saying a lot given my predilection for hearing my own voice.

And on more than one occasion in the past two weeks, I've had clients look me in the face or tell me sincerely in writing that they have prayed for my wife's health and my daughter's. Now my faith is something I have generally regarded as a private matter, but the deep gratitude I feel toward my client's in sharing their faith with me has led me to re-examine mine in my work.

This then is a long-winded thank you to my clients, my family, my friends, and my community for calling my faith to mind during this unexpectedly trying month of March. So in the spirit of sharing more of myself, here is a picture of my family, in our comfy clothes, celebrating St. Patrick's Day by appreciating our warm home, our health, and some much needed time together.