Valerie Brooks of Autistic Interpretations joins me today to share her journey, joys, and struggles as the parent of an adult with autism. She explains how community and connection has led to tremendous growth for both herself and her daughter, Jess.
Val shows us the reality of her experience, from all the good times with her family, to advocating for her child throughout life, to the things she wishes she had done differently. Her humility is a great example to us of doing the best you can and continuing to learn as both a parent and an adult.
Being able to share her story and see the positive impact it has on the lives of others seeking to learn has given Valerie hope. Her message is that the future doesn’t have to be scary, even when you don’t know how or if things will work out. Parenthood isn’t easy, but there is always joy to be had, lessons to learn, and a better tomorrow to look forward to. Tune in!
About Valerie Brooks:
Based out of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area, Valerie Brooks, BSN RN, is the founder of Autistic Interpretations, a social media community spanning a blog, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. A mother of three children, Valerie is the primary caregiver to her fully dependent, Autistic, and blind 34-year-old daughter, Jessica. Together, they glimpse into their lives, rich with family, poodles, and Southern cooking. Their posts reflect the joys and struggles of life with an adult autistic family member.
Having achieved her hard-won registered nursing designation and working in cardiac care, Valerie made the courageous decision to leave nursing to work from home and ensure Jessica would thrive. Through a steadfast commitment to sharing varied, authentic posts, Valerie has built an online community of more than 100 thousand subscribers. Val and Jess aim to share their version of “normal” to show that it is good.
Mentioned In This Episode:
Lindsay Recknell 0:03
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Hope Motivates Action podcast. I’m your host Lindsay Recknell. And I am so looking forward to the story that my guest has for you today. Val Brooks is the founder of artistic interpretations a social media community spanning a blog, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, all from her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A mother of three children, Valerie is the primary caregiver to her fully dependent, autistic and blind 34 year old daughter Jessica. Together, they share a glimpse into their lives rich with family, poodles and Southern cooking their posts reflects the joys and struggles of life with an adult artistic family member and it’s inspirational to watch. Having achieved her hard won Registered Nursing designation and working in cardiac care, Valerie made the courageous decision to leave nursing to work from home and ensure Jessica would thrive. Through a steadfast commitment to sharing varied authentic posts. Valerie has built an online community of more than 100,000 subscribers, Val and Jess aim to share their version of normal to show that it is good. Valerie has an incredible heart combined with her mama’s soul, and I cannot wait for you to hear more.
Lindsay Recknell 1:10
As a reminder, if you’re interested in any of the books, resources and tools I mentioned in this episode, all the links you’ll need can be found in the show notes of your favorite podcast player or had the blog and pod page of my website at WWW.expertinhope.com, and you’ll find them all there too. I truly believe that the future will be better than today. By taking action over the things we can control. conversations like this really reinforced that hope. Let’s get going. Hello, welcome to the show val. It’s so great to have you here.
Valerie Brooks 1:42
Thanks for having me, Lindsay. I’m happy to be here.
Lindsay Recknell 1:45
I’m very excited for this conversation. When you and I connected before the show. I just thought your story was incredible. I think you are one of the strongest humans I’ve ever met. And I’m excited for you to share your story with with the with our audience. So I wonder maybe let’s just dive into it. Could you tell us your story of how you use hope to motivate action in your life?
Valerie Brooks 2:07
Sure. So my story goes way back, I am now oh geez, I’m home to think about it for a minute. I think I’m going on 53. And so my story goes way back to when I was a youngster and my firstborn was diagnosed with vision impairment, which was the first of many diagnosis, I was just the one that kicked it off. And, you know, I think at that point is when you can consider the the help. prompt action story begins for me because from that point forward, we had hope that Jessica would be able to just come as my daughter. She is not 34 years old. But I had hoped that through therapy, she would learn to crawl through therapy, she would learn to talk through therapy, she would learn to do this, that and the other. And that same kind of hope carried us through her whole stint in education and never gave up hope that she was going to learn all the things that I believed in, that she could learn and hope that she would be independent enough to have a job and contribute to society in that way. Met potentially live on her own. So I always always looked forward and moved forward based on a hope and belief that there was progress yet to be made accomplishments that we could reach. And that’s that got me that got me through all of it. That was my focus. My focus remained hopeful throughout. You know, I had personal struggles with depression and being overwhelmed with raising children. I had two other children, a boy and a girl. And so at times life was very challenging and a struggled but throughout that I never gave up hope about Jessica’s journey.
Lindsay Recknell 4:38
What a beautiful message of not only hope but of of belief in the human in in your in your beautiful daughter. You know that you you are definitely putting Jessica first instead of her ailments instead of her medical conditions. You are really seeing the patient tential in the woman that she’s become, which is a pretty cool perspective, and I imagine that not everyone comes to that perspective, or everyone has that perspective is, I know that you have a community of people that have that you support and that also support you. And is that is that a perspective that you see within your community?
Valerie Brooks 5:25
I think so. So over the last, I guess, seven years or so I built a community of followers online. That was outside my comfort zone completely. When we first started doing that. It was Hannah and I, my youngest, were just talking about this, it was in 2015, when I started blogging, and then in the summer of 2015, I started my Instagram account. And I started just sharing little snippets of our journey. And hope is kind of what kept it going because sharing our journey and gave other people hope. And they would reach out to me and tell me what it meant to them to see that they weren’t alone, or to see that the future wasn’t as scary as they thought it might be with them and their dependent child who would be an adult. And so throughout, there’s been this, the two sides to the hope, I think I have hope. And I think sharing our story gives others hope. And then there’s reciprocal part of that is throughout building this community, Jessica has been able to connect with a lot of the followers, a lot of our community members, and she’s developed this relationship with some of them, she knows them by name, and we have weekly, she calls them a live meetings. And she she chats with. So the way those work is it’s a live stream, but she can’t see the screen. So I read comments to her that people are sending her messages. And then she replies to them and asks questions about it. And this interaction with a broader community has brought forth this growth. And Jessica, that is something we never anticipated as a byproduct of having this community. And now because everything has been shared, for so long, we can go back and and look at the difference in her and her maturity and her communication style from when we first started sharing until now. So it continues to give hope, because families who are in similar situations can see that growth, even as an adult, as she’s 34. And she continues to develop skills. It just provides a whole lot of hope to others. And you know, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Lindsay Recknell 8:24
Oh, it feels wonderful, just hearing you describe it. And I haven’t even participated in any of the videos. And very, very cool to see that progress in her I can hear the pride you have in her and the love you have for her. And just seeing that progress. I’m a huge believer that hope is contagious absolutely is contagious. And so I can imagine what the community support would be like, and the truly the hope that you’re offering other families that may be in similar, similar situations, maybe not as far along or haven’t found as many of the tools to, you know, survive, and not only survive, but also thrive. And, yeah, I can absolutely see how that hope would be would be contagious in there for sure. It’s very, very cool.
Valerie Brooks 9:15
And you know, the interesting thing to me and this has probably been one of the biggest surprises to me is that it goes beyond the special needs community and the other parents in similar situations. It goes beyond that a lot of the people I’ve heard from who tell me that our story has made such a difference in their life. They’re people who don’t have maybe don’t even have children or their situations with a parent who has declined for one reason or another and Sometimes it’s just people that are depressed or that have been fighting an illness like cancer. And they come across our content. And there’s just something about watching Jessica, that lifts their spirits and gives them help and helps them project forward. Instead of giving into the despair that they feel, and that it’s to me the most powerful thing that has come from doing what we do by sharing our story. You know, when people reach out to you multiple people and say, Hey, you saved my life. It’s very, it’s very humbling. It’s very, it’s a lot to grasp and take in. I mean, it’s hard for me to understand, and I’m so thankful that people let me know because that helped me. In the past, when I was struggling to continue with social media, I’ve had a lot of times where it was so overwhelming, I would be really discouraged. Somebody might say something mean, or whatever. And I would be like, Hannah, I’m going to quit. I can’t do any more, I’m going to quit. And I don’t know how many times I said that years ago, I hadn’t said, Wow. But I’d be like, I can’t do this anymore. It’s just I’m going to have to quit. Inevitably, I would get a message from someone and they would say, Hey, I just want you to know, what a difference you make. And you know, you’ve given me hope you’ve saved me, you’ve whatever, all these messages and I’m like, Okay, well, then I gotta keep going, because it’s helping somebody else. So I gotta keep doing it.
Lindsay Recknell 11:52
The power the power of others to lift us up.
Valerie Brooks 11:55
Hey, yes, absolutely. Yeah, very, very cool.
Lindsay Recknell 11:59
And can we talk a little bit about your personal journey over the last 34 years? Um, and the reason that I’m kind of going down this road is I imagine that there are people listening who are, you know, in our 10 years into their journey? Or maybe they’re the very beginning of their journey? And do you have any advice for those families? Like, is there anything that you wish you’d knew sooner in your journey that you could, you could tell these fine folks that are at the beginning and save them from some heartache? Or maybe save them from some mistakes or anything like that?
Valerie Brooks 12:39
Sure, I think the first thing that I would say is to know even if you haven’t discovered anyone else yet, that you’re not alone. That was the the worst part to me was for so long, I felt so alone. So it wasn’t until I started blogging, and at this point, Jessica was in her 20s. It wasn’t until then, that I knew that I wasn’t alone. Because, you know, we’re where I live, and we’re just going went to school, there was no one remotely close to being like she is. And because of her age, and when she was diagnosed with autism, there just wasn’t a lot of awareness or resources or anything. And I always felt nobody knows. There’s nobody on earth that understands what it’s like. And that was true. And when I started reaching out and saying, Oh, here’s my story, then people go, Oh, yeah, that’s my story. Two, that sounds just like my child. Like, oh, my gosh, it’s not just me. And that was very powerful to me, because there’s something about knowing it’s validating. It’s just validating to know Oh, it’s not just me, it’s not in my head. It’s not excuses. It’s a real thing. So that would be our first thing is to to let parents know they’re not alone. I found social media to be an excellent resource for reaching out and connecting with people. Another piece of advice I would give or just a little tidbit to share would be one of the things that I experienced, that I think I can I can pass along, and that is that parents are the experts on their children. And when you’re at school and an IEP meeting, or you’re at a doctor’s appointment and professionals dismiss your view or your opinion or what your perspective don’t fall for that and say, I’m an expert on my child. And just don’t doubt yourself. I think that I did and didn’t both. I mean, I think I did a little bit of both. And as time went on, I realized what was happening and and I knew that I knew better. And so I think that’s very important factor is to have confidence in your advocacy for your child. And no one knows them better than you do. And generally, I think this is kind of moving on to the next thing. And that is that most professionals are going to, I don’t know if the right word is underestimate, but they’re not going to overestimate. They’re not going to say, Oh, your child’s going to accomplish great things and, you know, blah, blah, blah, it’s almost always limitations, there’s these limitations that they expect. And that’s what I faced a lot with Jessica was, she won’t be able to do this, she’ll, she’ll never be able to do that. And they were wrong. And it’s, it has a powerful impact on your children’s future when the people working with your children have that attitude. And their attitude is one of like, like a self fulfilling prophecy of Phil never learned to read. So I’m really not going to give it my all. And then the next teacher says, well, she’s so far behind, I don’t think she’s going to learn to read. And the next teacher says, well, these two teachers said that she’s not capable of learning to read. And then you have a history of professionals saying she can’t do it. Whereas if the first professional said, I believe she can look at the progress we made, I think you can make progress to, then you have a history of progress. And that was detrimental to Jessica affected her entire future. And I probably will be bitter about it forever. They really shortchanged her, but you can’t go back and change that. But maybe that’ll help somebody else.
Lindsay Recknell 17:22
That that’s incredible. I love the advocacy part. Especially I mean, the building a community is awesome as well. And I was gonna ask you how people find community. And so I like what you said about social media being a really great place and, you know, listening to podcasts like this that, you know, have have awesome speakers like you to share that kind of information. But if I think about the advocacy, because you’re right, like, you know your child the best, and it’s not, you know, sort of adjacent, but we have a we have two golden retriever dogs and one of our dogs is very sick. And we knew he was not he was not well, but the the veterinarians said, you know, he’s old, it’s his arthritis, you know, and but it turns out after continuing to advocate for him and continuing to test, we found out what was wrong with them. And we knew, like you we know, we know our dog, do you know your child. And I mean, the doctors are doing the best that they can with the resources they have, and the information for sure, we got to give them some grace about that. But, you know, continuing to advocate, I think cannot be underestimated. Because your intuition about your child is absolutely going to be right every time.
Valerie Brooks 18:36
That’s right. And I think, you know, professionals generally base their opinions on what they’ve read in a book or what they’ve learned in a classroom. And it is a generalized view and opinion, I even see it in my own son, who you know, is in his fourth year of residency, as a doctor and I see, you know, it’s kind of amusing to me as a seasoned parent and parent of a complex child watching him generalized things. And, you know, I, I just come to have to bite my tongue because, you know, he’s my child, and he’s still learning but that that generalized view and and speaking of that, he was home for Christmas this this recently. And he was so impressed with Jessica’s growth and progress, and surprised and he kept saying, like, she called him on the phone before he came home. And they had the best conversation they’ve ever had, and I was listening from another room. And I kept hearing him say, really, you think that really, you feel that? And, you know, he’s one of those that would have kind of taken that textbook approach with limitations and capabilities and stuff. And so when he came home, they had some more great interactions. And I think he was just really surprised at her growth. And he also did attribute it to community. And the Hispanic community, and he talked about because he’s studied the brain a lot. And he’s he talked about how it just creates these new connections in your brain, the community aspect of meeting more people communicating with more people and social interaction.
Lindsay Recknell 20:37
Folks, isn’t it cool how, like, we are learning so much more about the brain. And I feel like, you know, having having the up and coming doctors, like your son, you know, it’s just gonna increase patient care as we go ahead. Because, you know, they are not learning new tricks, you know, they are not build on 30 new tricks. They are learning the tricks as they’re, as they’re getting educated. And I think, as we continue to learn more about the brain, you know, kids like Jessica, you know, 30 years ago, are just going to have that much more of an advantage. Yeah, because we have that much research. And I’d love to hear the impact on your other two kids. Because I again, I imagine that lots of families that are listening, have multiple kids in their family, and how has it been for your other kids? And do you have any advice for parents on, you know, including your other kids in this journey or continuing to support them or any of that?
Valerie Brooks 21:41
So what a complex issue, this is, and I’ve been asked this multiple times over the last however many years, I have two very different experiences from the two siblings that Jessica has. Hannah, who is the youngest one. It’s all she’s ever known. She’s a very go with the flow, personality, top easygoing, patient kind calm. And she has never had an issue with it. She didn’t feel neglected, she didn’t feel like we always put just a first. It just she’s done a q&a on YouTube about it’s a q&a with Hannah Kay, where she talks about her experience, because people were asking her what it was like, because you know, when you’re in social media, people watch you and they think they know everything. And people feel sorry for Hannah, because they think she never gets any one on one with me. And I don’t ever have time for her. And so she did a q&a to address some of that. And that was those so that what I’m expressing that’s her words. That’s how she told the story. My son, on the other hand, who was the middle child, has great many more struggles with it. We didn’t talk about it when he was younger. And I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it had on him until his adulthood, when we were able to have an open conversation about it. He did feel like Jessica always was put first and that he missed out on me that I loved her more because I paid her more attention. And he also told me something interesting. He was a very challenging child to raise. He was very Anyway, i It’ll come to me maybe in a minute, but His personality was the opposite of Hannah’s so intense. That’s the word I’m looking for. He’s very intense. And he was more challenging, in my opinion than Jessica, and the growing up years. And he told me a few years ago, that part of his behavior was him trying to duplicate Jessica’s behaviors to see if he could get away with what she was getting away with. Which of course didn’t work, because she wasn’t getting away with stuff. It was a different circumstance, a different situation. And capabilities and behaviors and, and all of that. But as a child, he didn’t understand that. And so it definitely had a big impact on him and I think one thing I would do differently if I did it again, or if I could do it over I think I would try harder to teach. Rather than not that I was making excuses, but rather than just saying I this is the way it is. And, and I don’t know, if it would make a difference, you know, either he would have had to been receptive to what I was trying to teach. But you know, and I don’t blame him for any of that. It’s just differences in personality between he and Hannah, and how they handled that differently. And, at the same time, I went through, like, I’ve already mentioned, a lot of struggle with depression. And I was doing the best I could do every single day. So I knew that I was doing the best I could do every day. So I don’t, I don’t have regrets. I wish it hadn’t been so hard for him.
Lindsay Recknell 26:21
It’s interesting to me that he’s chosen the medical profession as well, which is kind of pretty cool. You know, maybe there’s some further learning that he’s doing now as a result of his childhood, which is very cool as well.
Valerie Brooks 26:37
Yeah, he’s, he is actually a brilliant person. And I think that probably have a lot to do with his early struggles, because he’s so brilliant. And he was bored to death on a daily basis with education with people in general. And he ended up in medicine because he was so bored with everything he ever did. And so I just kept saying, Madison, you just need to go to medical school, because it’s, you’ll never stop learning, there’s always something to learn. Medicine always changes, research always changes everything. And so that kind of steered him in that direction, a lot of that’s due to boredom. But he’s blessed.
Lindsay Recknell 27:24
That very cool. I like what you said about kind of recognition that you as a parent, you as a woman, you as a human, tried to, you know, keep top of mind that you are doing the best that you can and continue to do the best that you can, you know, as you continue to learn, and it’s just good continues to learn and and your other kids continue to learn? And is there some self care kind of tips that work well for you? Or how do you manage your own emotions and, and things like that on the daily?
Valerie Brooks 27:59
Over the past few years, I’ve kind of neglected self. From a standpoint of growing our social media community. I found myself in that sticky spot of I need to work to provide for my household. But I also want to do social media, because it’s important. And where do you reach that point to where you’ve got to, you got to make a choice between one thing or the other, because you can’t do both around the clock. And so I kind of had to shift towards having some kind of income from social media, to allow myself the time to do it, because I was working a full time job and doing social media full time and I left no time for me. And as I made that choice, to move in that direction, then you’re driven to keep pushing, pushing, pushing to you get to a point of comfort, that if you stop and take time for yourself, you’re going to be okay. And so honestly, I have neglected myself for a couple of years. But when I’m not neglecting myself, I’ve always been fairly poor self care until 2017. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness. And at that point, self care became much more of an important thing for me. And so for self care, that means eating clean, which is very difficult to do, especially during the holidays and when you work around the clock, but that’s That’s should be a priority and is when I’m make time for it. And that think that’s the biggie for me is, and that was a big epiphany for me when I did get sick. And I started eating clean. And I saw what a big difference it made for me, and how I felt. I think also there’s a delicate balance with taking time for myself, and not stressing Jessica, which stresses me, Jessica has a lot of separation anxiety. So if I say I’m going to go away for a few days, well, I mean, it’s not that simple. It’s a huge deal. She gets very worried about it, fret, and then it’s very stressful to me and often ends up not being worth it. Because then if I go, she calls me she’s stressed. I still do sometimes. But that’s, that’s kind of this tug of war. So my current self care is, I keep I call it going to our corners. But then at the end of every day, we each go to our corner, because Hannah’s living here, by choice, she wanted to she wanted to be here. And she’s always welcome here. Hannah’s 28. And so we all have a corner of the house. And we all got our corners in the evening. And so I want to down and my way of winding down is turning on some of my favorite shows on repeat. And it helps me wind down because it’s predictable, I don’t have to pay attention to what’s on the TV. Because I know the story. I know what’s happening, I can see it in my brain without looking. But it keeps me occupied enough that I can shut out everything else so I can quit worrying about all the things of the day are all the things I need to do tomorrow. And that really helps me wind down. But I’m also at the same time right there. Jessica’s corners right next to my corner. So if she needs me, I’m nearby but she she’s gotten to where she doesn’t bother me. She just comes and lets me know when she’s ready for bed and I do the final tuck in. And so that’s it. I actually am a poor teacher for self care. People ask me that a lot, a lot about what do I do for self care. And I’m a poor example. But I hope to be better.
Lindsay Recknell 32:48
But you see, I think you’re an awesome example. Because the humility and desire to continue to find things that work and trial and error and all of that. That’s real stuff. That’s reality. And I think you are an excellent example of reality. And there’s a lot of grace inherent in that bill. And I appreciate you sharing that with us. I appreciate that a lot. But believe it or not coming to the end of our time together I can’t even imagine. And I asked the same question at the end of every show. And that is well, what gives you hope.
Valerie Brooks 33:29
What gives me hope there, can there be more than one thing, of course, what gives me hope is the promise of tomorrow. And I mean, the promise of good things. There’s always a possibility of good things for the next day. If you’ve had a good day, tomorrow might be a better day. If you’ve had a better day. If you’ve had a bad day, tomorrow’s probably going to be better. It’s like it’s like starting over every day with a clean slate. And that’s kind of how I got through raising the kids and just surviving. When they were little and I was struggling, it was the hope of tomorrow. And the other thing that gives me hope is watching other people learn about autism, about Jessica about disability about our family life as in it’s not the end of the world. It’s not it’s, it’s okay, we’re okay. We’re doing good. And the fact that me sharing our successes and our struggles and failures. The fact that that gives other people hope is helpful for me and encourages me to keep going
Lindsay Recknell 34:59
I love it. so beautiful, so beautiful, the promise of a future better than today. I love it. Thank you so, so much for sharing your story, the hope that you have for all of your kids, the hope that you have for you and your continued growth and compassion for yourself. It has just been a real pleasure to hang out with you today. Thank you so, so much.
Valerie Brooks 35:22
Thank you so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed our chat, too.
Lindsay Recknell 35:27
I will talk to you again very soon.
Valerie Brooks 35:29
Okay, thank you. Okay.
Lindsay Recknell 35:33
I hope you enjoyed this latest episode of The Hope motivates action podcasts. These episodes are a labor of love inspiring conversations with hopeful people make my heart happy. If you also love this episode, it would be amazing if you could go to Apple podcasts and leave a review five stars if you’re into it. It’s these reviews that encouraged Apple to promote this podcast to their network. And the more people that listen, the more hope we can spread into the world. Don’t forget to check out the show notes of this episode to find all the links to my guests books and other resources referenced in this episode. You’ll also find the link back to my website where you will find additional support and resources for you, your team and your community. I truly believe that the future will be better than today. By taking action over the things we can control and hearing from these guests on these episodes. I know that even more hopeful future is totally possible. I’m always looking for inspirational guests. So if you or anyone you know would like to be a guest on the show, please reach out. You can find me on the contact form of my website at expertinhope.com or by email at Lindsay@expertinhope.com.
Lindsay Recknell 36:37
When I was a teenager, my sisters were leaving the house to go out for the night. I always made it a point to remind them to call me if they need me. It was my way to tell them that I cared and would always be there for them. I’d love you to know the same so all of you listening out there Call me if you need me. Again, thank you for your love and support of this podcast my work in hope and your intentional focus on making your future better than today. After all, hope without action is just a wish
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Listen to this and all episodes of the Hope Motivates Action podcast wherever you listen to your favourite content.