Susanna Peace Lovell: The Phoenix

GA 26 | Children With Special Needs

 

This woman is grace personified. She had a master plan for her life. Everything went according to her plan until she had her daughter, Arizona, thirteen years ago. Arizona is on the Autism spectrum. At first, the diagnosis felt dark and hopeless. She was lost, her husband wanted a divorce. For the past eleven years, Susanna has devoted herself to helping Arizona. In the process, she learned basically everything there is to know about Autism and the resources that are available. She started advising families as she went, to share the wealth of knowledge she was gaining. She is now a certified life coach for families of children with special needs, an Autism advocate, and she’s launching an online program to offer the resource guide she wishes she had in the beginning. In addition, she is a reiki healer who offers women’s retreats throughout the year. She says today, as a single mama to a child with special needs and a life coach to families of children with special needs, she’s the happiest she’s ever been in her life. Her transformation is extraordinary.

Listen to the podcast here:

Susanna Peace Lovell: The Phoenix

I started this show with my dear friend, Mondi, but she decided she’s happy for now to be home with her gorgeous kids, so I’m flying solo. If you’ve been following us since the beginning and wonder where my partner is, that’s the update. Let’s get started.

Susanna Peace Lovell came and spoke with me. She is an old friend of mine and a long-time Bar student. There’s not much more that I can say about her story. She talks about everything. She’s open. She had an amazing thing happen in her life that was unexpected and something that could have been bad and dark. She has transformed it into a huge triumph. Welcome, Susanna Lovell. Thank you for coming to me on such short notice. I appreciate it. We met because you were one of my star Bar Method clients when I owned the studio. Are you still a devoted Bar Method student?

Yes, I went and I was counting. I think I’m almost embarking upon year nine, which means I’ve known you for almost a decade.

It’s always one of the bright spots in my day when I get to see you when I teach, which is rare nowadays, but it’s amazing. I still teach but only in West Hollywood.

I do everything but you’ll have to tell me the dates and times.

Your story is always so inspirational to me. I want to talk about it. You went to UC Berkeley. What did you study there? Where are you going to be a lawyer?

I was going to be a lawyer. I majored in Political Science. I took tons of rhetoric classes, English. I was prepared, then I got burnt out. I took my LSAT and I was getting ready to apply to law schools. I had a lot of girlfriends, who we all took our LSAT together. We did LSAT prep together. I took the test and I was like, “Let me see where I want to go for the next three years and suffer.” I was like, “I don’t know if I can do another three years after four years of undergrad ed.”

It is good that you realized that before starting.

I realized it but I also still was torn because what I wanted to practice was civil rights and discrimination law. I was looking for a job that would make no money, whatsoever and then be in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars for social justice work. It’s interesting now because all I wanted to do was help people who couldn’t help themselves.

There’s a big arc to your story, which we have to get to. You are half-Chinese and half-Caucasian?

Yes, my family is very specific. We are very proud to be Taiwanese. In fact, my grandfather wrote a book, literally the title is I am a Taiwanese, not a Chinese.

I need the book.

I will give it to you. We do have an English version. We’re native Taiwanese on my father’s side. My mother is a mixture of Swiss, German and all kinds of European yumminess. They met in the ‘60s at UCLA.

It was a big deal for your dad’s family.

It is interesting if we take a look at how the country is set up back then in the ‘60s. My mom was tall, blonde hair, blue-eyed girl, the only child of her parents, meets this Taiwanese guy. He was a mixture of Chinese and Polynesian, the South Pacific Island mixture, as well. That’s the whole native aboriginal background of Taiwan. He’s a dark Asian. He came to UCLA to get his PhD in Math and Physics and then go straight back to Taiwan. By the way, he was set up to marry a Taiwanese beauty queen.

He had a full arranged marriage ready to go.

That’s what you do in Taiwan. My grandmother, who passed away at the age of 98, was the daughter of the fifth wife. There are all kinds of fun history of the dynasty.

After Berkeley, you were going to maybe go to UCLA for law school?

I didn’t have an idea. I was interested in staying in Berkeley actually. Boalt Law School was at the top of my list, but I didn’t want to come back to Los Angeles because my family all lived down here too. I was trying to escape and then my family followed me up to the Bay Area.

You can’t escape. They are going to chase you. I’d want to be around you, too. You are such a calming presence. You and your ex-husband met at a job.

We met because we both worked for different companies but in the same office building.

What was the field?

I was at a software engineering firm and he was starting his own business. He’s in the digital space. We met in Westwood, on the seventeenth floor of this office building.

You went into software development once you decided that you weren’t going to be a lawyer.

Yes, I did. I was recruited by Oracle from Berkeley and I dove right into the tech world. It was a fabulous time to be in Silicon Valley way back then. I got my foot in the door very early. For me, everything was happenstance. Everything just happened and I feel that it is the story of my life. If I look back now, I was like, “I had a little something to do with it.” For the most part, I was like, “How did I find myself here with this and connected?” I don’t know but either way, here I am now.

You met your ex-husband, how long was it?

This was in 2001. I met him in the mailroom. We were introduced by a fellow suitemate.

This is where I feel that the beginning of what is to come happen for you. You guys got married. How long into your marriage did you get pregnant?

I had a plan, Jenny. I am a Capricorn, part Asian. My brain is like a spreadsheet. I was like, “Here’s what’s going to happen. This is what’s going to happen and this is what’s going to happen when.” Everything worked out perfectly but I was like, “I’m going to have five kids or at least four.” Ideally, five because I came from a big family. I can do it. I can handle it. I love kids.

To be fair, I want four boys when I was 22 years old. That’s what I’m going to have but I would die, just so we’re clear. What was your plan? You got married and in your perfect spreadsheet plan, when were you going to have your child?

We got married in June and we decided to take our honeymoon in October just to get married and have some time to settle in. We had bought a house. We were like, “Let’s chill out for a minute and then let’s take our honeymoon in October and then relax.” I was like, “Perfect. Let me get pregnant on our honeymoon in Italy.”

This is when it’s happening.

I got pregnant in September.

Did you have to go on your honeymoon pregnancy?

Yes. It was awful. Imagine being in Italy for the first time of your life, nauseated. The smell of Venice to this day. That was our first stop in Italy and I was like, “Why does it smell like this? Why does Italy smell? I can’t have any soft cheeses and glass of wine.” I’m so sick, but my former husband, Brian was like, “This is great.” He’s smoking cigars.

He is having the time of his life.

I was pissed. I was mad at him.

Both times, when I was pregnant, I would have the occasional glass of wine but I did find that I didn’t have any nausea, which I feel very blessed and lucky. I was like, “Let’s wrap it up.” At dinner times, an hour and a half is plenty for dinner and people were like, “Let’s have another round.” I’d be like, “It is time to go to bed.” You’re in Italy and this the first thing that was not planned. You’re like, “Why am I pregnant now? This was not how it was supposed to be.” You’re there, you feel sick and then you come home from your honeymoon. How long were you there?

We ended up cutting it short because I was so sick. We started in Germany, Austria and then Italy. We were supposed to be there for two weeks. We ended up coming back after 10 or 11 days. I remember flying back, we went from Italy to Heathrow and then Heathrow to LAX, which is a very long leg. I was so sick and all I wanted to do was throw up. Brian was sitting there next to me watching movies, laughing, and ordering drinks. He wanted the aisle so every time I needed to get out and use the bathroom, which was often, I was like, “I’m sorry. Can you stop laughing? I’m going to go puke because I’m growing our child.”

Were you sick throughout?

I threw up for seven months and that is the very big reason why I only have one child. I’m miserable, but I’m grateful. This is what I wanted, but I’m miserable and this is horrible.

I feel like we should be allowed to feel both things. You can be very grateful for what you have and still feel this is hard physically. Nothing’s worse than being nauseous. It’s the worst feeling ever.

It is seemingly endless.

Besides the crippling nausea, was the rest of your pregnancy normal? How old were you when you were pregnant?

I was 31 years old.

You are totally young. Was the rest of your pregnancy fine? Were there any issues?

Not really, other than physical symptoms like heartburn and nausea. You eat two bites of food and you’re like, “I’m so full.” I gained a lot of weight.

For anybody who doesn’t know Susanna, she’s tiny. She’s like a gazelle. You’re tall and thin. How much weight did you gain?

I gained 50 pounds and it was fabulous, but it was very uncomfortable for me because it was very foreign to me. I remember thinking I can never breathe because I’ve had this big belly. It turns out that I had tons of amniotic fluid. Everything was fine and normal. I thought it was going to give birth to a fifteen-pound child, but she ended up being seven pounds and twelve ounces.

You have this beautiful baby girl. How old she is?

She is now thirteen years old.

Her name is Arizona. I’m going to let you say, but she is autistic. Is that the term?

That’s a good question. It’s a broad term. We usually say she has autism. She is on the autism spectrum. She calls herself all different sorts of things. She calls herself, someone with special abilities or with special needs. There are many different terms in our world of the special needs community, but she does recognize that she is a girl living with autism. She came up with that question herself when she was about 9 or 10 years old.

When did you feel like you thought maybe something was going on?

It’s hard to say because you’re in this blur of life. It was hard to say back then, but looking back, everything that I know now, there are a million signs. You’re in the throes of sleep deprivation and the newborn phase. You are trying to take a shower once a month. I wasn’t paying attention to any of those things but what I did realize early on which is still the case right now years later, is that Arizona always commanded so much attention. I had some siblings, who had some kids at this point. I grew up with four other siblings and I’m the second oldest. I raised my youngest two. I was like, “This so much work,” and it’s because Arizona had many challenges from day one.

Like what?

The first thing was that she cried incessantly all day, every day, around the clock for the first eighteen months of her life. It turns out that she had severe food allergies. That took a while to figure out. Early on, she was covered head to toe in eczema. She was uncomfortable. It was difficult to observe and watch and try to take care of her. She also had bad colic.

My first son, Clive, had horrific colic. He ended up crying and constant screaming. It is so jarring as a person. You go through the extremes of like, “I want to help my baby. I’ll do anything for my baby and please shut up. I can’t hear you cry for one more second.” It’s hard.

I am running away. I’m getting on a plane. I said that to myself and I still say that to myself by the way. I remember you telling me about Clive and I said, “I feel you.”

You’re sleep-deprived because you are a first-time mom. That is scary because you don’t know anything about anything before you have one and then they cry eighteen hours a day. That’s hard on you. Was it hard on your marriage?

You can be very grateful for what you have and still feel life is so hard. Click To Tweet

I was so unpleasant. I can’t imagine that it was fun. I started not sleeping because even when I was given the chance to sleep, I had so much anxiety about this different child that I couldn’t sleep. After two weeks of not sleeping, I spiraled into the worst bout of postpartum depression, which was a year-long journey of trying to figure out, “How can I get to the next second of each day?” I am taking care of this child. I am also suffering miserably with depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation, which I think are all intertwined hormones.

It’s a tsunami.

It is and I felt like I’m such a failure because I was like, “I’m so capable.”

Especially for somebody like you, you are so capable. Everything is planned out. There was a method to do everything and then why isn’t it working? That is impossibly hard.

Nothing in my control was helping the situation.

Did you get her tested? Did you talk to somebody? Did you have a hunch?

I had a hunch about her being different, but I didn’t know anything about anything. This is not that long ago. She’s thirteen. She was probably around two when I started having questions. Back then, I did not know anyone who had a child with autism. In fact, I had a lot of girlfriends who weren’t even mothers yet. I was sort of leading the pack.

Nowadays, 31 years old is young to have a baby.

I didn’t have any idea of what was happening except for one of my sisters, who had a couple of kids of her own at that point. She called me one day and she said, “I know, sometimes you are frustrated with Arizona’s behavior. I don’t think that she’s trying to be any certain way. I think something is different about your child.”

Was that the first time someone had said something to you?

Yes.

Thank goodness, it was a sister.

I got so offended because everybody’s been talking about this and someone decided that this is the sister who’s going to call me.

In your head, you made up the story that everybody had been talking about it behind your back and talking about Arizona. I do that all the time about other things, “The story that I’m telling myself is.”

It all came from love. No one was trying to be judgmental and was trying to make my life harder. They were like, “We don’t know what to do either.” When my sister had that conversation with me, I was like, “You’re right. Something is different about my child. What is it? Tell me.” She was a teacher. She had kids and she said, “I don’t know but I know that something is different, her responses to things and how she is.”

Was she verbal?

Yes and that was also what was difficult for me to determine what’s going on with my child because she was quite verbal. She was verbal early on and she picked up on Spanish and Mandarin. She had this auditory processing that was quite advanced in terms of being able to hear and then articulate. Her processing was interesting. What was happening is that she was able to express herself verbally, but she could never interact or engage in a receptive or reciprocal conversation. She could not answer a question. She did not respond to her name. Eye contact was completely 0%.

There is no eye contact, no conversation back and forth and no tossing the ball?

No, even trying to engage at all. She would express her needs and wants. Oftentimes, I could hear her in the other room, “I want a cracker. I want salmon and rice for lunch.”

She is very specific.

“That is my jelly and chips, a drink and a cookie.” I would be like, “I’m sorry, what’s that?” I would be in the living room and I would hear this little voice in her room. I’d go in there and she’d be like talking to her stuffed animals or facing the wall or expressing verbally. That’s why I was like, “What is going on here? Is that what you want?” She could not respond yes or no. She could only repeat my question until she was maybe 6 or 7.

She would say, “Is that what you want?

If I said, “Do you want a cookie?” She would say, “Do you want a cookie?” That’s called echolalia. You are repeating what you’re hearing but there is no interaction. There is no exchange. It was very one-sided.

When your sister said this to you, and you thought, “Tell me what’s going on,” and nobody knows, did you go right away to Brian? What kind of doctor did you go to?

I asked her, “What am I supposed to do? You gave me this information.”

GA 26 | Children With Special Needs
Children With Special Needs: Allow some moments to happen with your high functioning child because the only way for them to learn is to have some sort of logical response or consequence.

 

You help now, you handle this.

“You figure it out. What’s my next ten steps?” She’s like, “I don’t know.” I was like, “That is not good enough.” She said, “You would maybe start with your pediatrician.” I was like, “I didn’t think about that.” My next phone call was with Brian.

What did he say?

He had a similar response that I did initially, he was like, “There is something. We don’t know what, but there is something.” He ended up going online, which I think is a curse.

It’s terrible. Dr. Google has told me that I had so many bad things, many scary things I’ve diagnosed myself with that I don’t have. He went down the Dr. Google route.

He did and it was a debilitating and dark time for him.

It seems like a prison sentence. There’s no hope. There’s nothing you can do.

We don’t know what’s happening. We didn’t even have a diagnosis yet. I was just getting this phone call from my sister and I was like, “Something is wrong,” which is such a good distinction because now, I use the word, different. Back then I was like, “Something’s wrong. I need to fix something.” I called the pediatrician right away. He was like, “Come on in.” He is an amazing pediatrician. I love him. I adore him. He was like, “There’s nothing going on with your child. She’s met all of these milestones. She’s talking. She walked at twelve months.” You have that mommy gut, that instinct within that’s like, “You’re saying these things to me, but I don’t understand my child and I feel that there is something.”

We took her to a child development specialist who was referred by Gwyneth Paltrow and all these people who talked about her. I was like, “This is the one.” We went to this person and the person was like, “She’s fine.” I said, “Really?” She was like, “She has allergies and eczema. She’s been in this inside world and now you’re figuring out what it is and you can give her the appropriate foods. Her eczema is clearing up. She’s going to be a whole different person. It’s like the thing where she’s going to come out of this fog from her health, medical conditions.” At this point, I had called my pediatrician back again. He was like, “You’re a new mom, don’t worry.” I was like, “I am worried.” I started bawling and then he paid attention. I was like, “I need to talk to somebody. I need something.” He referred me to a developmental pediatrician.

Is he a different developmental person?

It’s a specialty. A developmental pediatrician, which is maybe not covered by insurance. We had to submit to our insurance for partial reimbursement. Her first visit was $850.

Was this person like, “Yes, you’re right?”

Yes, but getting in to see her was like, “We’re booked for six months.” I was like, “That is not going to hold for me.” Luckily, I am a person who knows how to be tenacious and a squeaky wheel but in a very nice way, “I need your help. Please help me.” We got in. This woman is my angel on Earth. She is Dr. Anshu Batra. She is in West LA. She is a developmental pediatrician. She has three boys, two of whom are on the spectrum and the two who are, are nothing alike. The spectrum is so vast. She never told me that. I knew that from her history and story. For me, I was like, “You’re a medical professional and you’ve lived this life. Sign me up.” She was probably one of the most and only professionals that were positive. She was very positive. It is the energy, in general.

It can make everything different, especially when you’ve been down the Google route of like, “This is a prison sentence and nothing will ever be happy again to have somebody shed some positive light. Thank goodness.” What did she say?

She was like, “Let’s get some therapies going.” She was right way.

Did she told you that Arizona was on the spectrum?

She did not tell us that right away and I think she knows how to deal with this population of parents, which is like, “Let’s talk about what’s going on with your child. She has some sensory processing disorders. There are things that are a little bit backward with her processing auditorily with language, language processing in terms of being able to have back and forth communication. She has speech apraxia, in terms of not being able to have the pragmatics.” There are many details and specifics and I was waiting for a word.

She knew them all.

All of that, over time was, “This is autism-like spectrum, but let’s focus on the things that we can help her with and all of these.” She was like, “We can work on this stuff.” For one of her, there were fifteen others along the way that are like, “Your child is never going to say I love you. Your child is never going to say, mommy. Your child is never going to have friends.”

Were you told all those things?

I was told all of those things and I was like, “How horrible it is to be told.” I remember going to the Westside Regional Center, which is the government agency where. I was like, “Let me be able to get services for my child for free.” I did that. The psychologist who assessed Arizona was maybe 87, 88, 90 years old. She was horrible. It was such a lifeless experience. She looked at me and she’s like, “You know that this is autism, right?” I said, “No, that’s why we’re here.”

If I knew, why would I be here?

I don’t know anything.

That was at the place where it’s free, unfortunately.

I wouldn’t say that’s indicative of the Regional Center. It just so happened that we were assigned to this particular psychologist who the bedside manner was nonexistent.

Some people just feel more comfortable in certain spaces. Click To Tweet

For every Dr. Batra, there were ten others. How old was Arizona when you took her to Dr. Batra?

She was two years and seven months old.

From that point forward, once you realize, “Let’s work on the things that we can help her with. Let’s get her into different therapies.” That’s when you came to life. I felt it because I met you at this time, about a year after. It was your absolute passion then in terms of you were committed to helping Arizona, in every way that you could and being very positive about it, being open and honest about what was going on. As Arizona has gotten older and you’ve done more things with her, it’s become your actual real business, which is the best story.

It’s when life and work are the same. It is my life’s work because I’m living it. I want to be good because I want my child to be good. It was hard to access resources, support and information and even feeling like, “It’s impossible for me to have my own life again.” I consider myself to be fairly resourceful at all of these things, but it was even still hard for me to get what I needed for my child. I was like, “Imagine, everyone else who doesn’t have the time and the energy and the resources to figure things out for their children. Let me help wherever I can.” My passion lies within the parents. I love kids.

You’re doing an enormous service to everyone. You are a reiki healer. I also was reiki attuned. I haven’t done anything with it, but I love reiki. I think it’s so special. Are you a life coach for a special needs family or children? What do you call yourself?

I’m a certified professional life coach for special needs families, if you want to say it that way. I got my certification through Valor University Online. I had to go through this whole training program and to be certified. It is my life experience that is why I have a specific niche. I focus on special needs families and specifically parents. I do have some clients who are adults on the spectrum, which by the way, are my favorites.

They’re adults living in the world somewhere on the spectrum. When did you start your business?

Informally, I probably started coaching people when she was 10, 9 or 8 years old. It started off because I started getting to know more people in the world. People started asking me questions and they started referring their friends to me who also are like, “I have a friend. I have a cousin. Would you mind talking to so and so?” I was happy to. When I realized that I was going to get a divorce, which was several years ago, I was like, “I need to focus on how to support myself and how to support Arizona in the future. This is what I do anyway so let’s create some structure around it.”

Your divorce is amicable.

It’s a choice, but it’s hard even still now. I was very upset when we first separated because it was not my choice. It was somewhat abrupt. We went through this weird period of purgatory after he moved out for a year and a half. We’re going to therapy and counseling and I’m trying to work on my marriage. He’s like, “Everything’s great because we’re still friends and now I have my own space in life.” That was a very difficult time.

Do you have split custody?

We split physical custody. That being said, Arizona largely lives with me. I would say 90% of the time. He sees her for sure. I was in Taiwan so he had her. I had to take care of some family business. We live fifteen minutes away from each other. For the most part, we are very respectful. We talk about everything. It’s very uncomfortable, but in many senses of the word, we are still very much like life partners because of Arizona. We do many things as a family. We’re going to go get a Christmas tree together.

That’s the way to do it if you can put your big kid pants on.

It is a choice.

When you got your divorce, you knew you had to find a way to support yourself and this was perfect. You know it so much. You’ve been living it, doing it, loving it and finding great personal fulfillment in helping your daughter. You’ve been doing it unpaid as a thing that you do as a service for people since she was little. Now you get to do it as a business. Do you have a lot of clients or does it vary?

It does vary from time to time. It depends. Sometimes I’ll get clients who want to have a single session here and there. That’s not preferred for me because I want to be able to take someone from point A to point B to point C to point D. I typically like to work with people for at least three months to be like,” What are some goals that we’re working on and let’s figure this out?” Other times, I’ll have clients who I’ll have on retainer for a couple of months or a year. It depends. It’s very seasonal. Also in the summer, a lot of families are away, busy or doing things. I’ve started doing different types of projects for my business that I’m excited to talk about.

I saw on your Instagram that there was a reiki retreat.

Reiki and my coaching are separate, but the reiki retreat I’m doing it. I do workshops for women. Those are really fun.

It says it’s a retreat for women of color. I didn’t know if I was allowed to come, but it looks amazing and I want to hear about it.

I will tell you about it.

Can I come?

No, I don’t think so. It’s a specific offering and it’s like, “I have specific offerings from others. I have specific offerings for special needs families.” I’m not trying to be exclusive, but some people feel more comfortable in certain spaces so that is that. I have been working on this labor of love all year and it’s an online course. I’m almost done. I did all the video. The editing is almost finished. It is like my heart. I can’t even think about it enough.

What is it?

It’s called Life Management For Special Needs Families, An Ultimate Resource Guide for Creating a Thriving Life. It’s what I wish I had when I was going through this. It’s all about practical help but also emotional and spiritual. How to find your joy in the midst? How to honor your child for exactly who they are? How to fall in love with your child? How to see your child as not broken and something that needs to be fixed but whole, complete and perfect? I can go on and on but I need to reach more people because I am only one person. I pick Arizona up from school every single day. I do homework with her every day. I take her to therapies. It’s important to her and I made the decision for that. I was like, “How can I create a lifestyle around these needs that my child has and also meeting the needs that I have?” As I can launch this course online and also I’ve been working on a memoir for years and I’ll finish that up after I launched this class. I’ll have a guidebook as well.

What are you doing?

GA 26 | Children With Special Needs
Children With Special Needs: There is help out there that is free and readily available for those with high functioning autism. You just have to ask for it.

 

Because I need to be able to be present for my child, I can’t have ten clients a day. That doesn’t work. I have three clients a day and something is amiss.

An online course, how wonderful for any person, any family who is not in California, to be able to have this full and complete resource from you. It’s awesome.

That’s how I feel. I would love for it to be in the hands of everyone who receives the diagnosis for their child. That to me would be a miracle upon miracle.

That’s a great idea. Are you going to reach out to pediatric development?

Yes, I have talked to a lot of pediatricians about it. I am going to meet with a big hospital to talk to them about the different wellness, whole body spirit and soul wellness and I think it’s important. Not everybody necessarily thinks it’s important. They’re like, “What’s your degree?” I was like, “Political Science.” That’s what I say, “All I’m saying is that I teach what I most need to learn. I am sitting here as a product of me, coaching myself for the several years of getting out of this miserable funk and realizing there’s something else besides throwing everything away in my life to only sacrifice for my kid so that she can have a chance in life. What is the point of that if I am a shell?”

Arizona is thriving, amazing and beautiful. I see her when you post pictures of her. She was at a therapeutic school and you used to talk about it?

It is Cheerful Helpers Child and Family Study Center. I sit on the board of directors now because that school gave me everything. It’s a private school. We ended up getting it funded by LAUSD. They were enabled to provide a free and public education program for our child’s needs. If there is a case for that, you hire an advocate, special education attorney. There are many of them here. You can make a case for LAUSD to pay for or reimburse which was fantastic. A lot of people don’t know how to do that. I know how to do that so I can help you. It was such an amazing experience and because of that, she was able to graduate into general education.

I was going to say that and now she is at a public school.

Yes, in general education and she has a lot of support. She has a one-to-one shadow, like a one-to-one aid with her all day.

There are a couple of students in my son’s school that have that and I wonder. That’s great.

It’s called BII or Behavior Intervention Implementation aid.

Were they paid for by the school districts?

Yes.

Arizona has one.

She’s had one since day one.

Was it always the same person?

No. Usually, they last for 1 to 2 years max. They’re typically Master’s students, which is phenomenal for me, who are getting their hours. They’re young. They have so much energy.

They’re probably at the forefront like reading all the new stuff, the different studies that come out.

It’s nice also to switch it up too, because then what happens is that Arizona will get really comfortable with you, she’ll start testing you. She’s a little sassy one. The things that come out of her mouth are not always pleasant. You have to be able to not take things personally because then you’re just not here.

It’s good that they get switched out. She has a BII. She’s in a public school and then she also goes to all the therapies that you take her to.

She also has a lot of stuff implemented within her school day. She has an adaptive PE. It is physical education that is adapted to meet the needs of students who can’t participate in a regular curriculum.

How many kids are in her Adaptive PE?

There are fifteen. It’s still a group and then her elective is specifically for kids on the spectrum who are high functioning. It’s called an HFA Program or High Functioning Autism Program and it is social communication. Every sixth period, which by the way is the last period of her day, she goes into Ms. March’s classroom. There are maybe ten other kids too. A lot of them have ASD also. They talk about the day, they express their feelings. They decompress. They talk about worries. They talk about social cues. They talk about thinking as a group and this is all free.

It must be harder, I’m imagining, for people or families, who have a child with high functioning autism because it’s a big spectrum. Are there all these different things for kids who aren’t high-functioning?

Yes. To address that, Jenny, Arizona was not always high-functioning. Just because she talked, did not mean she was high-functioning. She was still very unable to connect to anyone or anything in the world. Forgets about any safety or restraints, she would run into the middle of the street. Her sensory needs were severe and they still are that if there was a loud noise, especially if it was unexpected like a siren coming down the street, a bell or hand dryers. We can’t go into a public restroom for the first ten years of her life because of the meltdowns that would occur. Getting on airplanes and the bathrooms, the list goes on and on. My child cannot sit in a movie theater. It’s too loud. She freaks out and she doesn’t like headphones. She doesn’t have a filter. I call her truth serum, which is quite refreshing most of the time.

Your child is not broken. They are whole, complete, perfect. Click To Tweet

Sometimes a little filter would be nice.

Sometimes when we’re in the elevator with somebody, who fills in the blank. She likes to announce, fill in the blank. When you’re three, it’s cute but when you’re thirteen, people are like, “What is wrong?” People look at me like, “Control your kid.”

What do you do in those instances?

I allow the moment to happen because the only way for Arizona to learn is for her to have some logical response or consequence. If she says someone something untoward somebody and they have a response like, “That wasn’t very nice.” She has to hear it from them, not me. It’s hard. I want to intervene all the time. I have to zip my mouth shut.

I love the fact that Arizona has made so much progress with your help. The fact that she wasn’t what would have been defined as high-functioning autism, she now is and that there is all this help out there and a lot of it is free.

A lot of it is readily available. We just have to ask for it. It’s not just given to you.

I think that you’re one of the most important resources that I’ve ever met because you know everything about this and you have all your added things like your reiki and then your women’s retreats. You have your clients that you see, you have your online program that you’re launching. The retreats that you do, are they at your home?

Yes and those are three times a year.

That’s cool. Have you heard of a company called Sheltered?

No.

I’m obsessed with them. She is a woman who has a child who is somewhere on the spectrum. She definitely has sensory processing something. She makes these gorgeous, amazing, handmade weighted blankets. They’re so beautiful and she makes them from a deadstock. I found her somehow on Instagram. I bought myself one. It is one of the most comforting and incredible things I’ve ever bought so then I went through a spree. Anytime someone would say to me, “What should I get this person for a gift?” It was a nice gift because they’re very nice. I would always recommend her blankets anyway. Now she’s huge and she should be and she deserves it. I think she’s on Goop and everything, but her name is Pamela. You can look her up online. She has a daughter, whom she made the blankets all for her daughter because when her daughter would have a meltdown or freak out about whatever was happening, it was the weighted blanket. Does Arizona use one?

Yes, she does. She sleeps with one. There’s something about that input.

I used to love being at the dentist and then putting the extra blanket on me. I was like, “That feels so good,” and it’s the same thing. You and Pamela should maybe connect.

I’m going to Sheltered. I love it when something comes from a need and it’s purposeful.

It’s exactly what your story is. Life can throw many curve balls and many surprises all the time and some are good and some are bad or defined as good or bad and look what you’ve done with something that upon first hearing is scary. There’s no information. You don’t know what to do and it’s your child. To have made a career that you love from it and to have your daughter be successful right now.

Even more importantly, I was thinking about this the other day. I was like, “I am a single mama. I have a daughter on the spectrum. She also has ADHD. She has debilitating anxiety and food allergies galore. It’s very prohibitive in terms of traveling, exploring and going to different places. My husband left me and all of these things.” I was thinking to myself. I was like, “I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. My child is thriving. I have such a thriving relationship with her, even though she hates me most of the time.” I feel like, “What is possible?” I don’t even know.

Everything is possible because look at what you have done. If you were to see this in the movie, it would seem almost like that couldn’t be the case. Your husband left you, your daughter got a diagnosis, everybody was telling you she didn’t that there was nothing wrong with her. Now, look at you, the happiest you’ve ever been single mama. I think you’re the coolest. I think anybody who has a child with special needs or who knows somebody with special needs should definitely reach out to you. How can they find you on Instagram?

I am @MamaPeace. I have a website and a blog.

What’s your website?

It’s my full name, SusannaPeaceLovell.com.

When will your online course launch?

It should launch December 2019. I’ll send that to you. I’m on the final edits. I have my trailer ready to go. It is fun. It’s again a labor of love. It already helped me. It is already out of the gate and it’s a success. I don’t have any ideas or plans, but I want people in my shoes to be able to access or know that they have access to joy.

It is an important message. It’s important to be inclusive of everybody and to be open about it. I think it’s good when Clive is in school with people and kids who have all different things happening and some have aids with them, that BIIs. There was a girl in his class, who was completely nonverbal at all. She had an aid with her and we talked about that. He would say her name and she doesn’t talk. We would talk about why and that was maybe. It’s important and people like you, who are joyful and happy as they’ve ever been in life and your career has come out of it like the woman I found inspiring on Instagram, Sheltered. Do you follow Amanda Booth?

No.

You have to look her up. She is a stunning, gorgeous model. She has a son with down syndrome, who’s also been diagnosed with autism. He’s on the spectrum. She is very open about it and talks all about it on her Instagram and he’s also a model with her. I think that these things, the more we can have them and be around us and not have it be some secret weird thing. As you talked about, whatever she’s saying in the elevator, you let the moment happen. It’s good and inclusion as vital.

One of these days, you will need to have her on your show, Jenny. It will be a hoot. She would probably do half of it in Japanese because she’s decided that it is her new thing.

I love that. It would be an honor to have Arizona here. Thank you for coming to join me. Anybody who may need your services and your love and wonderful presence should look you up. Thank you.

Thank you. I feel like I’m ready. That’s why I’m here.

Thank you, Susanna.

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About Susanna Peace Lovell

GA 26 | Children With Special NeedsSusanna Peace Lovell is a certified professional life coach and advocate dedicated to the health and wellness of special needs families everywhere.  Her own daughter, Arizona, has multiple challenges and diagnoses, including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and food allergies.  On her journey of navigating through the worry and heartbreak of raising a special needs child of her own, Susanna found her TRUE life calling: to help other parents find and realize joy and passion in their own lives.

It is a true gift to realize that your child’s potential doesn’t have a limit; but to realize YOUR possibilities are also unlimited is a tremendous breakthrough not to be missed!  Susanna can help you unleash this potential within and start soaring in your own lives.

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