S02E08 From A to C: Alana Lenart’s pivot


In this episode Michael and Dino are joined by counsellor Alana Lenart. Alana reveals how she moved from her long career in aviation to counselling as a result of her lived experience with her autistic son.

In this episode Michael and Dino are joined by counsellor Alana Lenart. Alana reveals how she moved from her long career in aviation to counselling as a result of her lived experience with her autistic son. 

Alana discusses her journey and how counselling has allowed her to support families in ways she felt were missing when she was going through a similar experience. Alana has collaborated with Emily Bourke (Assistant Minister for Autism) and has advocated for families of neurodiverse children within Adelaide and rurally. 

Alana’s story gives incredible insight into how life experiences can shape and reshape a person

[00:00:00] Michael: Welcome to the integration station, your go-to Pediatric Occupational Therapy podcast, brought to you by the O T F C group. Today, Dino and I are joined by Alana Leonard. Alana has her own counseling service and is a mother of a young boy on the autism. Alana had been involved in the aviation industry for approximately 13 years, but turned to counseling after her son was diagnosed with autism.

Alana has qualifications in family therapy and child development. Has also been trained in the Holly Bridges reframing autism intensive, and has a certificate for in training and assessment. Today we discuss the number of roles that Alana has as a mother c. Advocate not only with those within South Australia, but having grown up in the country, those within more rural and remote communities.

So Alana, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Got Dino here again with us. Dino, welcome. Hello Michael. Alana. , we are very privileged to have you on this evening. Alana is a mother first and foremost, and also as mentioned in the introduction has her own counseling service, which she started.

How long ago was that now?

[00:01:25] Alana: Yeah, about 18 months ago.

[00:01:26] Michael: Mm-hmm. . And from reading through some of your, your bio information, the, the change from your previous career to counsel, has been quite a remarkable one. Mm-hmm. . And I think throughout Covid people talked about pivoting . This is a classic example of someone who, through experiences in their life, has been able to do that and, and is by the sounds of it, thriving.

I’ve got a lot of reports from families that, that have mentioned your services. And I one of our therapists here has passed on that information as well. And. That in itself is, is exceptional. And for that reason, we’re very privileged that you’ve been able to come and speak to us tonight.

Well, thank you. Can we start with that? So your experience prior to working as, as a counselor, and can you talk a bit about that, your counseling service as well, but your experience prior to that? What got you into counseling? You can obviously share your, your, your story mm-hmm. and, and how you started on that journey.

But for, for, for our listeners out there who may not know mm-hmm. What got you from your previous work to, into your counseling? Mm-hmm. .

[00:02:29] Alana: So I my previous work way back when was in aviation. So I started Working for Qantas when I was 20 and I spent 13 years there. And I, you know, that I could never have imagined doing anything other than aviation.

It was all that I ever wanted to do. And so it was, it was really my experience of going, of having my chi, of having Henry and him being diagnosed as autistic and. You know, it, then it kind of grew. I, I didn’t really set out to be a counselor. It grew quite organically in the fact that I would have friends of friends contact me and say, so-and-so said that I need to talk to you cuz you can help me.

This is what’s going on with my child. What would you do? And then that grew to. And I don’t even know how it happened, but Facebook, you know, me leaving comments, be participating in Facebook groups and, and, and, you know, leaving comments and answering questions. And then it just literally, I’d have people from all over the world messaging me going, can you help me?

And this was, you know, at this point I wasn’t working at all. I, I was in the throes of, of. You know parenting a child who was having a really hard time in the world, and it was my husband who said to me, I think you need to do something with this. And, and initially I was quite reluctant cuz I, I was like, I’m living this every day.

Like, I can’t, you know, I’m not, I’m not getting sleep. I, you know, I, I can’t really think about it. But then, you know, I. , it kept just coming back to me. Like, it just kind of, I kept getting people, like asking me questions and, and yeah, it was something that I thought, well, you know, the universe wants me to do this to a certain degree, and, and so where it kind, where the counseling came into it was.

I had, I’m a big fan of polyvagal theory, so Steven Por j’s work, and when I started learning about that and when we started applying those theories to. Observing what was happening with Henry. Things started to rapidly change for us. It, it changed the way that my husband and I interacted with Henry.

It changed it made things easier for him because we shifted from this behavioral focus to more of a, a nervous system approach of, of, you know, this is the way that he’s expressing what’s going on for him. Keeping in mind that he was non-verbal at this point, so he’s not able to tell us, you know, what’s happening.

And so Steven Paul just works with closely with a family therapist called Deb Dana, and she has taken his clinical work and, and kind of adapted it into you know, how the clinical application in counseling. So I, I wanted to. Work more. I wanted to train with her so I could support parents to understand more about the nervous system so then they could support their kids.

But to train with her, I needed a qualification. And the qualification, I was like, well, I don’t have time to become an occupational therapist. Mm-hmm. , and I don’t have time to do a psychology degree and, and, you know, counseling, I’ll do counseling. And so I did that during Covid and I loved it. And, and then it’s kind of gone full circle that, you know, I’ve got all these wonderful parents that are reaching out to me that want support and, and now I’m able, to provide in in a really supportive and inclusive way.

So that’s kind of how it happened. Can you

[00:05:58] Michael: reflect back on your experience then? So you’re working with a lot of these families who are going through what you’ve gone through, so that lived experience must count for a lot. Mm-hmm. , can you reflect back to your experience of when your son Henry was diagnosed and that process and, and.

how you felt and who you lent on and, and, and who was the pe, who were the people that supported you through that the most and, and, and how that changed your journey.

[00:06:23] Alana: Mm-hmm. . So I, I had been getting some support for my own mental health. I, I had be, had a diagnosis of postnatal, postnatal depression and pretty severe anxiety.

That only came about when Henry was two, so I’d sort of, , you know, I don’t got through those first two years managing all of that. So I had I had the support of a wonderful psychiatrist in Adelaide and she helped me get my head around the fact that Henry was on a different developmental path which I found very difficult initially to, to kind of.

Except, I guess. And so, but really it was, it was my husband. It was my family. But they were all having a really hard time as well. And so that also influenced why I do what I do, because if I can provide that support to families in the way that I wished I’d had it, then, you know, I think. , I would’ve loved that.

I would’ve loved to have had someone who had an understanding of, of what I was going through. Because then there’s just so much that that reduces a lot of barriers. You know, you’re not going into a therapy session justifying why you’re feeling the way you are. Where’s the gap?

[00:07:37] Dino: Why, what are, what are we missing?

Because we’re health professionals. So we sit in the, in the realm of the, the experts who. Children with disabilities, not only kids on the autism spectrum, but your experience is not dissimilar to many parents who you know, come into our service and may experience that as well, that they’re not, they don’t feel like they’ve given, they’ve been given the information to make decisions or feel like they are being informed about what’s happening and, and therefore are, are better able to support their own child.

What? on the broader scheme of things, where’s the, where’s the biggest gap? Where do you see the biggest

[00:08:12] Alana: gap? The biggest gap is simplistically in understanding that the best support for that child is supporting the people that are spending the majority of time with them. Whether that’s, you know, that in a typical kind of nuclear family that’s mom and dad, or it, it might be mom or it might be dad, or it might be grandparents.

I have seen the results in my own, you know, with my own child and also with the clients that I work with, that once mom and dad are supported, then the outcomes for that child are better because mom and dad can, can get the child to therapy, they can support the child through those really difficult dysregulated episodes, you know that the outcomes are a lot, are a lot better, and I think, you know, Before we came on air, we were having a chat about the N D I S, and I would really love to see that there is a compulsory component of parental support in the N D I S that before the child, you know, is, is allocated all this money or in conjunction with the child being allocated or the, or the, you know, we’re not always talking about children, but you know, the, the participant being allocated all of this.

that there is money allocated to mom and dad to get all primary carers to get specialized support in whatever it is that they need. Because once they’re doing better, the child is gonna be doing better cuz we don’t exist in, in silos. Mm-hmm. , you know, if mom and dad are having a hard time regardless of disability, then there is, there’s a byproduct of that and, and that can be really difficult for.

[00:09:57] Dino: So how do we get that happening? Because I, I think your, you know, I, I, I would’ve brought that up mm-hmm. About, you know, having, having that support or that education really for the parents so they then can be able to better support their, you know, their child or, you know, the young person that they’re caring for or, or even the older.

Person that they’re caring for. Mm-hmm. , but it just doesn’t exist. And, and we also spoke before on Air, before we came on air about there are so many wonderful things about nds, but it’s not perfect. Mm-hmm. and potentially it never will be perfect. And where do we draw the line? And then we talk about early intervention and when that stops and mm-hmm.

you know, we, we hear this regular all the time. Mm-hmm. and, and because we’re a service now that cover. You know, from, you know, from birth to adulthood, we see the changes in the levels of funding for therapy services as they get older and as the supports withdraw or they reduce as a young person gets older, that’s sometimes where they need the most support.

Mm-hmm. . again, that’s left on the parents or the carers most of the time. Mm-hmm. . So how does that, you know, it paints a, a fairly, it’s a, it. Paint an optimistic future, but do you think about that as well for Henry? Do you, do you have any thoughts on, you know, how to move forward or what we, what should be happening at a, at a, I guess at a, a higher level you know, policy makers to look at that as well, because there are some wonderful schemes but.

We therapy services. Mm-hmm. And that’s what I’m talking about is the potential for change for young people and improvement. Mm-hmm. From that perspective, not just housing and equipment and things like that for the long term benefits. Do you, I dunno, do you have an opinion about that?

[00:11:41] Alana: So getting back to, do I think about that for Henry?

Yes. . . It occupies a lot of my a lot of my thought process. Especially now, you know, today, first day of school, he’s gone into year four. We’re already, you know, thinking about high school. What high school is he going to go to? How is he going to manage that transition? How was he, you know? And then, and then after that, I’ve got quite a few clients who chil, whose children.

You know, coming to the end of their high school journey. And then what does, what does that career path look like? I think for, you know, speaking personally, my husband and I, well, first of all, we have one child, so we have the time and the resources to be able to dedicate to him. So that puts us in a, in a, you know somewhat privileged position in that regard.

So it, it’s something that we focus on. We’re always kind of, Thinking ahead of, of how we going to support Henry to have the life that he wants to have. That comes with, that comes a lot from us learning about our rights as parents and the choices that we can make and the things that we can use the N D I S for.

So I, you know, getting back to that parental education about, What, what the scope is for funding. And yes, there’s, yes, there is therapy and, and I, and I do agree with you that, you know, we’ve already been told that Henry’s next plan will be cut because now that he’s nine, he magically doesn’t need, you know, as much therapy.

And I’m like, well, you know so that, that’s problematic. That way of thinking is problematic. And I think that that comes from purely a cost cutting perspective, you know? And, and it’s also massively. And sometimes I wonder what framework they make those decisions from. Are they making it from a, an outdated framework that the brain can only you know, in terms of neuroplasticity, you know, there’s, I think there’s some, you know, some I’ve read that, you know, once the child turns eight or nine, that then the capacity, the capacity for, for neuro, you know, we know that that’s now outdated.

Hmm. So where are, you know, in terms of the policy makers within the N D I S, where are they coming up with? Ideas that they need to cut, that therapy needs to be cut off or reduced. So having those conversations, but really looking at it from a perspective, our society has changed and, and, and how the choices that my husband and I made for me to finish my career and be able to stay home with Henry, that’s not, that’s not normal now.

Like that’s not the regular. way that a family operates. So when you have both parents in the workforce, because they’re required to work in a lot of situations and we’ve made intentional sacrifices to make that happen, some parents can’t, some couple, some families can’t. So then you end up with this massive load on mom and dad.

where they’re not able to support their children in the way that may have happened 30 or 40 years ago, where you could have a primary carer at home supporting that, that child throughout their life. That’s just not, that’s not happening. So I, and I also think, you know, you can reduce the therapy, you know, at that, at that age, you know, you know, like we’re talking 8, 9, 10, you know, starting to cut back that therapy.

But then it makes me think, are they just going to be costing themselves more in terms of, you know I’m not sure what the proper term for it is, but you know, like supported living as adults. As adults.

[00:15:20] Michael: Yeah.

[00:15:26] Dino: So what, what is the, you know, one of the, you know, you could name a few but the. Reason or main concerns that parents that engage with you mm-hmm. What comes up more often than not

[00:15:40] Alana: their ability to maintain the support that their child needs and, and their ability to continue to, to support their child.

In what way? What,

[00:15:54] Dino: what level? In an emotional, okay. Yeah. So we are not talking about, so we must be talking also about the level of disability mm-hmm. or the level of impact that their developmental condition may have. Mm-hmm. on them. So we, we could, we could go to the I guess the level where, , somebody needs full support, they’re non-verbal.

May also be, and I’m talking even up to young adult, that continent is an issue. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. That the education system doesn’t support them. Mm-hmm. because they are unable to access curriculum. Their cognitive functioning would be considered to be in the, you know, the low range to the high functioning young person who is able to access a mainstream school but can’t because the level of anxiety that they experience mm-hmm.

prevents them from developing the, I guess the skills that they’ve needed. And that’s been in existence from an early age. Mm-hmm. , and therefore they’ve become homeschooled and isolated. W we would see them as being equally as disabled in the technical term as the really low functioning, non-verbal person.

So, Do you have those extremes? Yes. Of of clients? Yes. And does your approach differ between them? No. Explain how it doesn’t,

[00:17:06] Alana: my approach is to meet that parent and that parent carer where they’re at. Hmm. So, you know, I, what I do is autism parenting support. That’s, you know, I guess that’s the basic description of it, but parents are coming to me with a whole lifetime of emotional baggage, I guess, to not be, to, you know, not No, no.

It’s beat around the boys. Yeah. But it is, it’s stuff. But you carrying it’s trauma, you know, and I have clients who have significant amount of trauma. and for them to be able to show up and do what they need to do to support their child, that trauma gets in the way. You know, a lot of what I work on is, is how and this is stuff that I’ve had to work on.

I have my own therapist. You know, I have a child who I love and adore him. He’s, he’s incredible, but man, that kid can trigger me to no end. Right? That’s not his. that that’s, that’s on me and it’s on, it’s my responsibility to manage that in myself, so then I can, and, and that also sets an example for him.

So for my clients, it is working through a lot of that stuff that makes parenting their autistic child really challenging for them because it’s not so much the autism, it’s all the other stuff that comes with it. It’s the, you know, a lot of what I work on. Helping mothers in particular be actually, actually be able to say, my child is autistic, or My child has autism, you know, depending on, on their personal preference of describing it, you know, it’s about sub empowering those parents to, to be able to go into a meeting with, with a school and say, you know, this is what I need.

This is what my child. and to, to be able to do that in a way that builds a relationship. You know, because, so I help parents with that. I help them build relationships with therapists. I help them address the things that are very emotional for them, that get in the way of their child’s opportunities. ,

[00:19:28] Michael: do you have, have you had experiences with parents who are in different journeys, different paths on that?

Yeah. One that is, you know, maybe in, in those stages of, of, say soon after a diagnosis, or maybe it’s, it’s well down the, well down the path that maybe they’re in different stages of grief or someone’s in that level of acceptance. One still maybe in denial or anger. Have you had that experience as well?

And how, how have you managed

[00:19:50] Alana: that? Yes, I have had that experience. And you know, once again, from personal experience, I have had that myself. Mm-hmm. You know, my husband and I were poles apart. He was, you know, Henry is who he is. He’s awesome. That’s great. Whereas I was in, this is all too much for me. I can’t cope with this.

I have to change this. Right. I didn’t wanna change that. He was autistic. I just wanted to change all the things that, that were hard about his personal presentation of autism. So I, I have my own experience with that. I have clients who, you know, are at odds about actually getting their child diagnosed, right?

So they, one says, yes, we need to do it. One says no, and that, that’s like any relationship counseling. It’s, it’s, , it’s finding common ground. But for me it’s how do we, how do I support these parents to make a decision that aligns with their family values, what it is that they want for their children, right?

Because you can get pushed into a diagnosis from, from a school. You can, you can, you know, you can be encouraged because there’s funding that comes with a diagnosis, right? So, but ultimately, Parents need to be able to make a decision that works best for their family and works best for what they, what they want for their children.

So I work from a perspective of how can I, what does this couple need to be okay with the decision that they want to ultimately make for their. .

[00:21:30] Dino: Do you do you experience any, or have you experienced any resistance or criticism from, I guess the, the more traditional support services, whether they’re, it’s the education system, whether it’s the, your health professionals like ourselves?

Have you experienced that over the last few years at all?

[00:21:47] Alana: In my counseling or, well,

[00:21:49] Dino: in your, you know, you are, you are supporting families, you’re an advocate as well. Mm-hmm. , so. , I, I’m assuming that parents may also say, look, could you come along with us? Or could you help na, you know, navigate Mm you know, an NEP at school or, or talking to a therapist cuz we are really not seeing, you know, the change or we’d like to restructure our goals.

Do you, do you provide that support mm-hmm. and then in that, what has it been like, what’s your experience with,

[00:22:16] Alana: Generally people are fine with it. You know, it’s, it’s. And I guess that’s part of, I guess, who I am. You know, I’ve, I had years working for an airline and dealing with difficult Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Difficult situations. I used to, I used to train that actually. Yeah. So, so that, that’s part of, you know, what I, what I can bring. But no, I haven’t, those situations where I have gone in to help advocate. have always been, I’ve always been received positively with that. How do you do

[00:22:50] Michael: that with Henry then?

Do you find yourself having to advocate? . I mean, is it different cuz it’s your own child or,

[00:22:57] Alana: yeah, I cry a lot. Yeah.

I used to actually. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Henry’s former principal, we’ve talked about Henry’s former, he, he, he. patted me on the back one day and he said, well, Don Alana, you, you didn’t cry. And I was like, I almost cried. He goes, I know, but you didn’t. But that’s a perfect example of, you know, the, what I was bringing into that, that emotion that I was bringing to it, you know, watching my child struggle all the time, it’s hard.

Mm-hmm. and, you know, no parent wants to be going into. , you know, you just, you want your kids to, to be okay and, and when they’re not, it’s, it’s difficult to have those conversations.


[00:23:34] Michael: starting back at school now, obviously. Mm-hmm. , the years restarting. I was thinking about it on the way in today, just so first day back at school, a lot of our clients is, is a day they just do not look forward to mm-hmm.

it’s school holidays is over and I’m back into that. God, I hate this place. We. , I guess, pioneered that concept with, you know, the assistant autism minister mm-hmm. In South Australia. How, how do you think that position, and I know you’ve collaborated a bit with with with Emily Burke or on a mm-hmm.

Emily Burke on, on some things. How do, how do you think that position will change maybe how schools are presented to children or. School systems can be supportive for, for children with a variety of needs. Mm-hmm. ,

[00:24:21] Alana: my hope for Emily’s role and what’s being, you know, what started today being the first day back at school with the autism inclusion teacher.

I think I’ve got that right. Is that, it’s that awareness of, and we talk about awareness and we talk about inclusion. , but the only way that that happens is from people who are living it every day actually sharing their stories and sharing their experience. So with what Emily and the state government are doing, it’s people are talking more about autism and, and I don’t ever think that you can talk too much about it because then that’s how people learn and that’s as a society how we change with.

You know, I think so. You know, just to give context, our son is in a Catholic school, so he’s not, he’s not in the public. The support that he receives at his school is, is amazing. It’s, it’s been phenomenal. We’ve had to work hard for that, but it’s, it’s great. I think what I would like to see is there, there is a lot of kids that fall through the gap because they don’t have someone that’s advocating for them.

Yep. So I would, that’s, that’s my initial hope is that those kids aren’t falling through that gap that they are. That they’re being, that, you know, what they can offer, that school community is being celebrated and it’s being recognized and they’re being supported and they’re not being sent home. They’re not being, you know punished for, for who it is that, that they are.

[00:25:56] Michael: What does supported look like for you then? Like what is, when you say being supported or advocated for, what, what does that look like in a school environment? Say for example, for someone like Henry or any of the, the clients that, that you work with what does supported look. .

[00:26:09] Alana: Well, I think that is, you know, in it’s, that’s quite an individualized process.

Mm-hmm. , but I, you know, with, well, first of all, they, they deserve to have access to this to. education, they deserve to have access to everything else that, that, that every other child in that school has. So making those adjustments and those adjustments just be a given. They’re not a privilege, you know? I heard a terrible story.

I was on a flight. Last and somehow I always sit next to . Someone they

[00:26:44] Michael: can, they can gauge.

[00:26:45] Alana: They profile you. Yeah, they profile me. And this mom, she actually fellow ot, f c family and I got chatting to her and she told me about, A situation at a school which shall remain nameless, where a teacher refused to wear the microphone for the Oh geez.

STEM system stuff. Yeah. The child had a A P D A P D diagnosed. No. Now to me that is just like, I, well, that’s

[00:27:12] Dino: discrimination.

[00:27:12] Alana: Well, it is. Yeah. Right. So it’s those sorts of things that, you know what, this isn’t a privilege. And that’s, that’s what I learned. When I went to, when we started Henry at his school was that the way that they approached Henry and the way that they accepted him and the way that they accepted us was that you have every right to be here.

You deserve to be here. You and we will do what we can. everything that we can, and they do, you know, he’s started year four, you know, five, is that five years? Mm-hmm. Five years there. They, they’ve, they have been incredible. So I would like that, you know, the supports that are given to children. , whether they’re really, whether they’re autistic or not, it, it’s just a given.

It, it doesn’t need to be justified.

[00:28:10] Dino: Let’s talk about appropriate school placement. Mm-hmm. , because we’re advocates for very much for children on the autism spectrum and children or young people with disabilities, and we will support whatever the family. would prefer mm-hmm. as the education stream for their, for the young person. But it’s our role to give parents our, our best clinical and otherwise opinion about what will best support that child in their education journey.

So. Mm-hmm. long way around. I’m saying Henry is navigating mainstream school. Mm-hmm. now in many ways. He, your Henry is in the category that we describe as the most uncertain and at times most difficult child to work or PR work with or predict because. he’s capable of accessing. Mm-hmm. , the mainstream system.

Mm-hmm. . But that requires some levels of support and it changes. It’s pretty significant support. Yeah. And it’ll change as he hits middle school. Mm-hmm. and in high school, right? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. . So you are forever navigating support for him every year at school. Mm-hmm. . And it changes and then his life changes, and then, you know, hormones will kick in and.

you know, he has the ability to learn and process information, so then you start to worry about what’s the co, what’s a career going to look like? Mm-hmm. , or will he go off to tertiary studies? Is that, am I wrong? I’m, I’m, no,

[00:29:34] Alana: you’re spot on. Exactly right. Yes.

[00:29:37] Dino: Young people who come in and very early on, it’s very obvious that they’re in a more severe category.

Mm-hmm. and. Whether they’re verbal or non-verbal, but their intellectual functioning dictates that accessing a mainstream school would be extremely difficult. Mm-hmm. , even with the highest level of support, which is one-on-one mm-hmm. , and even when they are in that system, their progress is very, very slow.

Mm-hmm. , and we may have even prior to that, and we often give parents the, the options and we say, look, we want to apply to special school, mainstream, small. and look at your local area schools and, and get in very early. And then when they’re about four, four and a half and you have to make a choice, then at least you have options.

And if those options are mainstream or special scores, special class, then at least you have them. Mm-hmm. . But if you say day one, my child will be going to mainstream school cuz they have every right to an education. Mm-hmm. , I will, I wanna know what your opinion is as a parent and also as an advocate because I don’t think that.

I don’t, I, I have a personal opinion, but I wanna hear what yours is. Mm-hmm. ,

[00:30:46] Alana: I, you know, in an ideal world, any child should be able to go to any school that they wish, right? That’s not the case. And I have seen students at Henry’s school that have transitioned from a mainstream school to a special school, and those children are.

So I think that there is absolutely the place for special schools. I think there’s a, there’s a place for, you know, special units within mainstream schools. And I think that there’s a place for, you know autism specific schools. And that comes down to what, what it is that the parents want. Mm-hmm. . And, you know, for us, we did there was an educator who mentioned to us about a special.

For Henry and it just didn’t sit, it just didn’t sit right with us. It wasn’t, we just didn’t feel that that’s what, that was gonna be the best place for him. But it is something that we assess all the time. And now looking into, you know, high school, what is, what is gonna be the best option for him? And, and I, I’m still stumped

I don’t, I don’t know. I’m hoping that, you know, in the next couple of years, someone just magically makes the most perfect school. But yeah, I, I, I think everyone deserves to have options and and if that’s a special school or a special unit, Mainstream school. That’s great. It’s, it comes back, from my perspective, it comes back to the parents being able to have the confidence to, to make that decision for their child.

[00:32:24] Dino: Not enough parents understand that it is their, their decision. No, they don’t, because they can’t, you know, the system cannot allocate a child to any stream of schooling without the parent’s consent. Mm-hmm. . And that’s really important because at the end of the day, a lot of parents feel like that was their only option.

and they sign it and then after they realize or somebody tells ’em, you know, it’s your choice where you send your child mm-hmm. through their education. Mm-hmm.

[00:32:49] Alana: and I have those conversations. Mm-hmm. , you know, I’ve, with my clients, I’m like, you know, is this, why are you persisting with this? You know, is this actually what’s best for your child and how much energy is.

Persisting with this certain school taking away from, you know, your family and, and you know, I I, I have had those conversations from

[00:33:16] Dino: both ends, as in your child would be really well suit or could potentially be well suited to a mainstream mm-hmm. Or could be potentially well suited to a special school.

Mm-hmm. , I think at either, either, either end. It can be really

[00:33:29] Alana: difficult. Yeah. Yeah. And there’s stigma. There’s stigma attached to it. You know, and I, one of the, the school that Henry goes to feeds into Cabra. And Cabra has a unit, well they have, I think they have the actual special disability unit and then they have the the other unit for.

Is that right? Yeah. They, they

[00:33:49] Dino: also integrate within the, the mainstream schooling system that they, that they have students that can go across and be supported for different subjects. I think their, their system is, Exceptional. Yeah.

[00:34:00] Alana: So yeah, so it’s, it’s, but I, you know, when that was mentioned to me, I was like, you know, I, I kind of bristled a bit because I was like, oh, hang on.

No, no, no. Because you know, Henry, you know, he’s exceptionally clever. But the reality is, is that, you know, for him to be able to navigate a, a high school situations, he’s going to need a lot of, you know, a lot of support for that. So, So, you know, parents understanding that, that there are many ways to learn and there’s many different options, and that they have the right to make those options and make those different choices.

You know, that that’s really important, but a lot of parents don’t know that.

[00:34:40] Dino: If there was one thing you would change in your journey with Henry so far mm-hmm. , could you think of what that would be?

Or something you would’ve done? Differe.

[00:34:50] Alana: I, I would’ve liked to personally get to a place of, you know what, it’s all gonna be okay. Sooner. That took me a while to get to. But in, in terms of the decisions we’ve made you know, I, I kind of look, well, it’s my way of thinking about things is it’s, it’s led us to where we are now. And, and he’s, you know, he was so excited to go back to school.

Which, you know, blows my mind because it reception was not like that and year one wasn’t like that. And, you know, year two wasn’t you know, last year, his year three was the first year that he was at school full-time every. Before that he had a reduced schedule. So you know, we had, we definitely had some bumps in the road.

We had a, we had a school that we wanted to send him to, and he was there and, and we had a really tough time there. And then we, we moved him. But I wouldn’t take away from that experience because I learned and, and, and he came out of it. Okay. You know, I know. For a lot of people and, and certainly for a lot of my clients is that, you know, their kids don’t come out of those bad those schooling situations as, as positively as what we did.

But no. To answer your question, I’m, I’m, I’m pretty happy with, with how everything’s gone. Yeah.

[00:36:05] Michael: Do you have your own definition of autism or a definition you like or something that you’ve heard that goes Yep. That that’s what I, that’s how I picture. ,

[00:36:17] Alana: I, you know, we, I say to Henry that his brain is incredible because for him it is.

I think, you know what? What he’s, we don’t even, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what, what he’s capable of doing. The, I think the term that really sticks with me is the Maori definition, and I won’t even try and say the Maori word cuz I don’t, I, I, I would butcher it, but it’s along the lines of in one’s own time and space.

Mm. And that’s, that’s what we’ve seen. You know, we, we see that with Henry is that there are things that he does that just blows our mind. I mean, he taught himself the Russian alphabet when he was three and a half. And I’m like, mate, can you just learn the English one first? Like that would be very helpful.

Mommy doesn’t speak Russian, right? But, but this is, he’s anticipating a cold

[00:37:05] Michael: war again, so that’s fine. ,

[00:37:07] Alana: he’s moved onto Spanish now, so. Oh, great. You know, but But it’s those sorts of things that, that I’m like, how, how does, how does this occur? You know? How can you and I guess that’s my expectation of doing things in a very linear way and a, and a very typical kind of flow to things.

But, you know, there are things that he’s brilliant at and then other things that, that you know, are, are still quite hard for him. But definitely, and that plays back to, you know, Own time and space and you know, I say to my clients, and particularly my clients who you have little kids, that your child’s on a different developmental trajectory.

It’s not, it’s not wrong, it’s just that they’re doing things on a different timeline. It’s their own timeline. It is. But in, in our you know, particularly in Australia with the N D I S and the requirement for diagnosis, for school support and all of that sort of stuff, it’s so clinical in this, you know, at this age they should be doing this.

And, and the whole diagnosis process is that, you know, it’s deficit based. It’s not looking at those exceptional, those exceptional skills that they’ve got. And so, you know, that’s something as well that I really try to help my clients is, See the, the exceptional side of their child. And there’s always something there, you know that it’s not all deficit, it’s not all

[00:38:25] Dino: bad.

So you training these autism advisors then? Mm-hmm. , , because my, my fear is A, how do we select them? B, how do they get trained and then, because they would have to have the most exceptional skills.

[00:38:40] Alana: Do you mean the, the advisory panel that they’re putting together

[00:38:43] Dino: or just No, in, in, in school support or we call, I always reference them as they’re, they’re the autism advisors at the school.

Oh, yeah. They’re specialist, autism teacher or whatever it might be. What their role mm-hmm. is, it’s a huge role. It’s an, it’s the most important role. They have to be exceptionally well trained and people that should be chosen for. Exceptional interpersonal skills as well, because I think without that, if that person doesn’t get it right, the system falls apart.

[00:39:11] Michael: Mm-hmm. , the, the other thing on that is I feel that person will not just support those with autism. They’ll end up supporting those with other, you know Yeah. Developmental delays or neurotypical children in a school environment, which, which I think is, is fine. Yeah. Provided they’re supported to do that. I

[00:39:27] Dino: think that, yeah.

How does one person do, or how does one allocated person do that? Yeah. There’s an education. Well, we shall see . Well, that these are the questions me tell the initiative is fantastic. We, we don’t, you know. Absolutely. Yeah. You can’t deny that the initiative is a well-intended. It absolutely is. A hundred percent.

And we, we desperately want it to work. Yeah. From our, from our perspective

[00:39:49] Alana: and having, you know, I’ve had conversations with, you know, Peter Meki. I’ve had many conversations with, with Emily Burke about it. And I can honestly say that their intentions are, The betterment of autistic children, autistic people, you know, the autism community and their families.

That, that, I do not doubt that at all. It, it will be interesting to see how, how it comes out and, and plays out in schools. , but I’m, I’m hoping that, that it goes very well because I think that it’s just so desperately needed. Well, it starts

[00:40:23] Dino: at the top. If the, if the, the principal of the school is flexible and sees that the education system needs to be more flexible mm-hmm.

Then it will work. Mm-hmm.

[00:40:32] Alana: But if, the irony that I see with that right, is that having you, you know, being a parent and. Seeing Henry go through all these sort of different stages leading up to, you know, being nine now, how flexible that he, what’s demanded of him in terms of being flexible? You know, you’ve gotta come into this, well, you know, we’ve chosen to put him into a mainstream environment, so he’s in a mainstream environment or he’s going out into the world.

He’s the one that constantly needs to adapt. You know, there’s some schools where there a lot of schools where the teachers won’t adapt, the leadership won’t adapt, and it’s like, oh, hang on, you’re an adult. How can you be expecting something of a child who, whose brain works differently or ha you know, or a child who has a, a disability.

You are, you are requiring them to be flexible, but you are not being flexible like that. That just stumps me every time and I’ve had those conversations. One principal in particular? Well,

[00:41:32] Dino: the world is flexible now, and the workplaces, yeah, certainly need to be flexible and they have to be flexible to the needs of the, the staff.

Otherwise you don’t have staff anymore. But yeah, that’s, that’s life. Like we we’re, we are a flexible organization and better for it. If we weren’t flexible, we wouldn’t, wouldn’t attract the right people. But secondly, we wouldn’t be able to, to then, Service the range of clients that we see there, there’s, there’s strength in being that, that flexible and malleable at that organizational level.

Mm-hmm. Everybody has to be flexible. You, I, I, I think that argument is there. I, I agree. I see that. And, and it’s not always, it’s not always from the top down. Sometimes it is that the person is not capable of being flexible. . And so that’s hard to work with. Mm-hmm. in a, in an education system mm-hmm. that employs somebody full-time.

You can’t just get rid of someone,

[00:42:25] Alana: can you? Yeah.

[00:42:34] Michael: We might change, tune a little bit if that’s, if that’s okay. Mm-hmm. , but certainly a very thoughtful point to end on because there is, there is a lot, a lot to look forward to. Mm. , there are a lot of things to still come and a lot of challenges that lay ahead. But I guess if I could segue into some other questions that are less clinical or more humorous, but this one here on future, past, present, would you, would you prefer to see the future or, or go back in time?

[00:43:08] Alana: I, no, I. Would like to go back in time. Hmm. Where are you going? Or just general? Just Just general. Yeah. Probably, probably back to, I was gonna say the forties, but I’d wanna, I wouldn’t wanna be living during the war, so maybe post, post World War ii . Okay.

[00:43:26] Michael: I, I, I would certainly go back to the war time just to see what it was like.

I mean, in a safety bubble. Yeah. But you know, someone who loves history, particularly World War II in European. Yeah. Stop off there for, for a little bit.

[00:43:36] Alana: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, just, you know, just that simplistic kind of, you know, I just think now we’ve, sometimes it’s just a bit skewed, you know, we’re so distracted.


[00:43:50] Michael: times.

[00:43:51] Dino: Mm-hmm. , what about favorite TV show as a

[00:43:53] Michael: child?

[00:43:55] Alana: Oh, oh, gosh. See, I was at 90. Born in the eighties, just watching all those 90 sitcom sitcoms. Oh, I loved Full House With the twins. Yeah, with the twins, the old house and twins. That’s it. Yeah. I have watched the the Netflix reincarnation. Oh, grown up.

Oh, yes.

[00:44:14] Michael: Have watched all of that. My kids have watched that. Yeah. Yeah. One of

[00:44:17] Dino: them, not John Stamos. He’s not involved. You went to

[00:44:20] Michael: er and other things didn’t

[00:44:21] Alana: he? He comes back. He makes a, he does, he does. He pops back in every, yeah. Uncle, what’s his name? Uncle. No, that’s not Uncle Joey. Whatever his name is.

Yeah. Yeah. No, I, I loved all those kind of 90 sitcoms. Yeah. There were some good ones. Yeah. I wasn’t allowed to watch neighbors though. That was Oh. . Yeah. Wow. Wasn’t it neighbors? What was, I don’t know. I think

[00:44:39] Michael: scandalous neighbors. Was it to do with the quality of the

[00:44:42] Alana: television? Probably, yeah. Yeah.

[00:44:44] Michael: Not high brow enough.

Mm-hmm. . How about a favorite toy figurine, something, a game. I think you may have mentioned this.

[00:44:51] Alana: I did in the email. You do? So I tell , is it embarrassing? No. No. It’s not embarrassing. No. Yeah, no, I had a, for my sixth birthday, I remember it very vividly. I asked for a cabbage patch, doll , and and all the girls that I went to school with, they had the, they had the cabbage patch dolls with the lovely hair and the, and the pretty little dresses.

And so I asked for a cabbage patch doll and I grew up in the country and so, you know, mom had driven the two hours to Adelaide and to do some shopping and she got me a cabbage patch do. And my birthday morning, I run in and jump on mom and dad’s bed. Unwrap and I’m like, whoa, it’s Cabbage Patch.

And and I, I feel bad Dino cuz the description of the cabbage patch doll. But he, he was a, he was, he was a bald, premature baby. Looked like me. Is

[00:45:37] Michael: that what you’re saying? Kind of. There are no photos. There’s a podcast, so we can’t see. I can describe. I got, I won’t describe

[00:45:44] Dino: Dino. I got called Voldemort once.

Did you? Well, you don’t like Voldemort? Well, I, I didn’t know who Voldemort was and went well. Wasn’t there Ralph

[00:45:51] Michael: fines? That plays oil? He’s a

[00:45:53] Dino: decent looking guy. Not in. Then I saw what Voldemort. I actually laughed. I told my son he was younger and he started crying. . That

[00:46:01] Michael: is a bit frightening.

[00:46:02] Dino: They were

[00:46:02] Alana: mortifying.

So yeah, so I ended up with this. He was very cute though, but he was completely bold. He was a boy and I was like, what happened to my pretty. girl, like, but his name’s Bruce Patrick . I still have him cherished. He’s cherished. And he has many wives cuz he married all the girl cabbage patch dolls. Oh, of course.

Yeah. There you go. Yeah. But I I still kind of ripped my mom about that. I was like, all I wanted was a girl and you got me a, a bald boy named Bruce . And you got a

[00:46:31] Michael: story for it. Now. I do. If

[00:46:33] Alana: it was a female should be, I would’ve, yeah. I just would. I wouldn’t have appreciated. ,

[00:46:37] Dino: do you think you would’ve been a social media techy like kid in this day and age, like in if it was available to you back then?

[00:46:49] Alana: Oh, I’ve never even thought about that. Probably. I do spend a bit of time on social media now. Probably is. Does Henry Love it? No, he, well, he’s, he doesn’t really, so he, he’s on, he has a YouTube channel. Yeah. But that’s something that we, he films train content cuz trains are life for Henry. And uploads them.

But other than that, he’s not, he’s doesn’t have any access to it. Doesn’t understand it. I did hear from a friend,

[00:47:13] Michael: I have to verify the source, but apparently they’re looking at introducing an Instagram for children. Have we heard this? Oh, awesome.

[00:47:19] Alana: No, no. Well, that’s what we know. Yeah. It does, it does worry me.

I I have nieces and nephews that are all a little bit older, but you know, my, my brothers and sisters have done pretty well with, with keeping a lid on that until they’re older. I, it, it’s very concerning. Social media.

[00:47:38] Michael: Sorry, I’m just trying to, favorite food. Oh, there

[00:47:41] Alana: you go. Oh, would have to be dumplings from anywhere in

[00:47:47] Michael: particular.

I love a good dumpling place.

[00:47:49] Alana: The place in the markets, I, I think it’s moved now, but I’m not particular, I’m not overly fussy, as long as they’re pan fried and they’re crispy. Mm-hmm. It’s all fried. Giza, the Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I love sushi. Yeah. I’m pretty excellent. Pretty carb heavy. Pasta’s good.

[00:48:08] Michael: Yep. Is that, is that your, is that that to us that Yeah. I know. Is that your comfort food? What’s your, what’s your, your, your comfort food? You come home, tough day, you know, maybe some challenges with Henry or, you know, you’ve had an argument, something’s happened. What are you, what are you going to, what’s

[00:48:23] Alana: hitting the spot?

I wanna say wine, but then . Yeah. You can

[00:48:27] Dino: say wine’s. Wine’s a comfort food, isn’t

[00:48:29] Michael: it? It can be, but no, that’s not good though.

[00:48:30] Alana: It comes from grapes. It does. No, no, not wine. That’s fair. You didn’t say that. That’s fun. Wine with comfort . I, it would probably be, oh gosh. It would probably be like a nice pasta.

Mm-hmm. ? Yeah. Comforter soup. I love soup. Oh yeah. Nice. High. I’m aup, I’m a big soup. Yeah. Any favorites? Any particular, like a chicken noodle? Yeah. Right. Yeah. I’m not pumpkin. Yeah, I’m not a big fan

[00:48:58] Michael: of pumpkin. I actually, mom messaged me y saying, saying she had some pumpkin soup and then she said, no thanks.

My wife was like, keep it. You’re not big fans of pumpkin soup, so it’s okay. Thank you. And I’m like, oh. I felt, I didn’t wanna say no, but at the same time I was like, she’s right. I don’t . How did your mom take it? She’s pretty good. She’s made more stuff instead. She’s like, that’s okay. I also made this, this, and this,

[00:49:16] Alana: so.

Oh. Just, oh, Felix love.

[00:49:19] Michael: Thank you, Maria. Pumpkin soup, doesn’t he? Felix loves anything that Maria makes. There you go. Oh,

[00:49:23] Dino: there you go. There’s a thing about that, that your children always prefer. The grandparents. Doesn’t matter if you try to replicate it. My kids always say the grandparents, what they cook is mm-hmm.

[00:49:36] Michael: Yeah.

[00:49:36] Alana: I don’t know why I’m gonna tell my mum

[00:49:37] Michael: that .

[00:49:39] Dino: Oh, ask. I’ll ask Henry also. I did, I did mum chicken or grandma’s


[00:49:44] Michael: Yeah, I did hear that. The best way of counteracting that is by coming up with your own recipe, your own way of doing it, rather than trying to make something that your mum or dad or or a parent has made.

Because you can never fully no

[00:49:56] Dino: replicate it. Something always. It doesn’t, you know, so temperature atmosphere,

[00:50:01] Michael: sometimes it’s the pot. I, I, I’m convinced that my, my numbness, I’ve stolen my mum lasagna tray was just years and years of sauce soaked into it. That that’s why it tasted better than mums. Yeah.

[00:50:12] Dino: Sorry mum. We always talk about food at the end of this. Food does come up.

[00:50:16] Michael: Always comes up. It does come up. It’s, it’s a, it’s a leveling. Sorry, we’ve been talking a lot about it too. . But I think that’s not a bad place.

[00:50:24] Dino: Probably not. Thank you for the discussion. Probably was heavier than we thought it would, but do you know what?

I think people will need to hear different perspectives and they need to hear some honesty about not only our opinion, but also your opinion as well. Because I think that was one of the things that when we had you in earlier for, you know, doing some, some other interviewing. Led me to thinking that you’d be perfect to have on because you are very honest and sincere in how you treat your role.

Mm-hmm. . And that is something that’s needed more and more for the families that we see, so, mm-hmm. . you should give end off by giving some kind of plug to your business. Mm-hmm. from that perspective, I know you don’t need any more clients, , but you may also then take on some new staff in the future and train them and they can extend and support.

And so end off giving us where you’re located, how they can find you. Mm-hmm. and. Something else.

[00:51:25] Alana: Sure. So my business is Alana Lenar Counseling and my practice is in Goodwood at the GoodHub. But you can find me on my website is just alana leonard Nice website by the way. Thank you.

I did it myself. Did you? Wow. I did.

[00:51:40] Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry. Yeah.

[00:51:42] Alana: Aesthetically it’s quite nice. Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. I, I surprised myself, I’ll be honest. . Yeah. And so yeah, you can find, go my website. I’m on social media. . And I’m also starting a podcast with another counselor who also is a parent of an autistic child.

So that is called two Mums and Autism. Oh, great. So that’s our perspective of raising autistic children, but also from, you know, a mental health perspective. Mm-hmm. . So yes, you can, you can find me that. Excellent. Awesome. Yeah. Well, but thank you you so much. Thanks for having me. Who’s gonna do the shout out to Fletch?

Are you still doing that?

[00:52:18] Dino: Yeah. Well that that, well, that’s the, the ho Michael’s really the host. I just see Fletch and say hi whenever I see him. But he likes to hear somebody else’s voice.

[00:52:26] Michael: If,

[00:52:26] Alana: if, well, I know

[00:52:27] Michael: Fletch. Yeah. Yeah. Well, if he’s, if he’s listening, he’ll get a, he get a sh I’m sorry, Fletch, that is pre-recorded.

I do shout out to you at the end in a, in a normally pre-recorded out outro. But here’s a personal shout out from, from me, Michael, and d and Dino. Hey, Fletchy, ,

[00:52:42] Alana: Alana, you got something to say? Yeah, Fletch. It’s Henry’s mom, and here’s your shout out and I miss seeing your beautiful face.

[00:52:50] Michael: Beautiful. We might end it there.

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