Lori Shayew: We must shift our views about Autism

Ping Lian Yeak "Sunflowers" Courtesy of The Gifts of Autism

by Debra Muzikar

“I remember the time I shifted my own viewpoint about autism,” Lori Shayew says.


“It was in 1994. I was working as a preschool teacher in special education. Each morning one of the students made a structure out of Jenga blocks. He was very precise about how he made the roof. One day I tried to emulate what he created. Each time I tried to create the cabin the roof collapsed. I tried and tried but could not get that roof to stay on the structure. I had an epiphany. He can see things I can’t. He can see the angles and how to place the blocks in a stable format. That is a gift! After that I stopped looking at my Autistic students as dis-abled and started looking for the gifts.”

“That is when my job became more fun. I changed the way I taught. I realized these students were sensory oriented. I sang to them so they could learn. Once I understood, my worrying lifted and they responded. They love to be the teacher and show us the way,” Lori says.

Lori has worked with children on the spectrum for over twenty years as a teacher, a shadow, and even an ABA therapist.

In recent years her focus has shifted from the child to the parent.

“Parents have therapists come in their house and tell them what to do. They give their power away. Parents need to focus on healing and empowering themselves. They must shift their beliefs about autism. Once the parent knows who they are the child will respond,” she states.

Lori thinks Autistic children are not being seen or heard.

Ping Lian Yeak "Sunflowers"  Courtesy of The Gifts of Autism
Ping Lian Yeak “Sunflowers” Courtesy of The Gifts of Autism

“They are present and hear what we say even if they are non-verbal. They can feel our emotions. They reflect their environment,” she says.

“Those who are non-verbal in fact have heightened senses of telepathy and pattern recognition. Only when they start communicating, sometimes via an IPAD or other facilitated communication device, do we see they’ve been present all along. They know what we are saying. Our words are important. We must not talk about our children in negative ways. We must shift our perception about autism as a culture.”

I think of Neal Katz’s words I’ve Listened Enough. Neal is non-verbal and started communicating in recent years via an Ipad.

Lori shares a story about a student named Nicole who she’s excited to have reunited with this past week.

“Nicole was only six when I worked with her in Kindergarten,” Lori says.

Nicole is non-verbal.

“I haven’t seen Nicole or her mom for seven years. Nicole’s mom contacted me this week to tell me Nicole has made major breakthroughs and has been asking for me. I met Nicole’s mom and aunt at a local restaurant. She told me Nicole is now communicating via an IPAD. Her mom looks much different. Her energy has changed. The mom realized it wasn’t about Nicole but herself. She had to heal herself in order to see and hear Nicole. it’s quite remarkable,” Lori says.

“Nicole remembers events and things that were said when she was very young. For example, she remembers a spectacular cloud formation her mom and her saw in the sky when they were driving. The cloud formation had symbols in it. Nine years later, Nicole is able to communicate that the cloud formation contained a symbolic message – We are one. Nicole told her mom the cloud was meant for her to see. Nicole is able to interpret symbols and numbers. She wants to be a Mathematician. Nicole says Math and divine love are the same. Numbers and love are synonymous. I don’t understand all that she is communicating but I trust she is correct,” Lori says.

Nicole has used her new communication skills to inform the principal at her school she needs to be in a more challenging class. The principal, after reading Nicole’s letter asked her what teacher she was thinking of. When Nicole told her, she agreed.

“Nicole felt such a sense of empowerment,” Lori relates.

"Love is all we need is my favorite Beatles song. Love heals all wounds. People may hurt your feelings but if you just focus on loving yourself just like other great teachers have taught in the past, then the pain will disappear." ~Nicole 13 (non-verbal, typed on her iPad)
“Love is all we need is my favorite Beatles song. Love heals all wounds. People may hurt your feelings but if you just focus on loving yourself just like other great teachers have taught in the past, then the pain will disappear.”
~Nicole 13 (non-verbal, typed on her iPad)

Lori believes many Autistic people can see patterns neuro-typical people can’t.

“They are multi-dimensional. They sense everything. It’s a different way of being. Like Temple Grandin says they are different – not less (This is the name of Temple Grandin’s recent book).”

Lori believes Autistic people are non-judging, loving, and accepting.

“They help us to heal if we let them,” she says.

Callum is 9 years old. He loves animals, especially elephants
Callum is 9 years old. He loves animals, especially elephants.

Lori started The Gifts of Autism on Facebook six years ago.

“I showcase the gifts – poetry, art, and other ideas that aren’t mainstream,” Lori says.

She shared this poem from a nine-year old non-verbal child written on a letterboard.

Music and Song
by Jake S.

I see the Words in a pattern

I see pictures from the sentences

The music and songs help me learn to talk

The sound makes me happy and calm.

Music is Life

Lori’s mission is to help people see and understand autism. She has a new podcast “Giving A Voice to the Gift Beyond the Label.”

Her first podcast was with Ivonne Alexander on August 8. The podcasts are on Fridays at 1:00 PM PDT. They are downloadable for listening to at one’s convenience. Future podcasts are scheduled with energy healer James Martinez and Jacob Barnett’s mom. Jacob Barnett is the sixteen-year old who has a Master’s degree in Physics. He’s pursuing a Ph.D.

Lori talks about her new business as a parent empowerment coach.

“The first thing I work on is shifting the way the parent sees the child. The child receives so many mixed messages. Kids are asked to perform. Parents give their power away to therapists.”

“The child is the expert. The child will tell the parents what they need. The parents need to listen. For example, instead of seeing peseverations as something to fix they may be that child’s gift. It’s all about perspective. Our children help us to get out of our box. They help us discard rules that aren’t serving us anymore. They help us become more authentic,” she says.

“What other advice do you have for parents?” I ask.

“Get out of your routine. Do something different. Try not talking for a while. See what it’s like.”

“Any last words?” I ask.

“Don’t look for problems. Look for the gifts.”

Lori’s interview with Nicole’s mom is on a podcast here.

Lori is available via Skype or for personal consultations. Contact her via The Gifts of Autism website.

14 replies on “Lori Shayew: We must shift our views about Autism”
  1. This is an amazing article. Thanks so much, Debra, for sharing. I will share widely. Thanks to the interviewee and her work. I am a parent, as Debra, knows of a 20-year-old artist with autism (Grace Goad |Autism Art on Facebook; website still available but in updating stages is GraceGoad.com). We discovered her art at age four. I learned from this article about vision and seeing differently! And, I’ve mused, hypothesized and puzzled about several of these very issues just this week with different people THANK YOU!

    1. says: Lori Shayew

      Hi Leisa,
      Thanks for your message. Love the synchronicity that you had similar discussions during the week too. We’re in alignment. So glad to hear your daughter found art at an early age. What a gift!! Be well.

  2. I teach preschool in a small community in Arizona. In the past I worked as a nanny and a habilitation therapist for children with autism. I learned how important it was to follow the parents when they talked about the children. I love the words you have written and I hope your parent coaching becomes a wide spread practice. Thanks for your messages. I will begin to look for your work and words.

    1. says: Debbie

      Hi Alan, I love Suzy Miller. I just ordered her book yesterday. Synchronicity! Thank you for reading the article and linking to her website.

  3. Lori,
    Nice message! Your words are so important to share. As the Father of a son on the spectrum and a Director of an agency that serves children with special needs (gifts) I share your curiosity and openness to learning from my son and others on the spectrum. I have learned so much from them and am a better man for doing so!

    1. says: Lori Shayew

      Thanks for your beautiful comment, Brendan. We decide how we perceive autism in every moment. We can look at the issues or we can look at the Gifts! Thanks for making a difference with so many kids and families. Kudos!

  4. says: Bird

    Beautiful, amazing, awesome, Your work is sublime Lori. Much love you for all that you do and much love for these kids who are coming forth in their purest form. <3

  5. says: Bella

    Hi Lori, I like your attitude very much. My 21 year old largely non verbal autistic son is indeed a gift to us. He is constant therapy for the heart with his beautiful and delightful nature. He is an artist and I think he can see energy because he paints the most animated machines, mostly aeroplanes. With just a few unexpected quick marks on the paper speed and sound and power are there, and he is so, so excited to paint. He enjoys simple things, like cake, as wholeheartedly as a 3 year old. I dont think we can know all that goes on in his mind but we are so proud and grateful and happy to have him in our lives.

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