Listening to Autistic Adults (feat. Dennis Procopio) pt1 S5E7 -

Listening to Autistic Adults (feat. Dennis Procopio) pt1 S5E7

My guest today is Dennis Procopio. Dennis is a life couch for men and an autism Dad. He’s been on the show a few times and he’s here today to talk about Dad stuff and share some autism parenting stories. This is a great conversation and ends up going to a place I hadn’t seen coming. Dennis opens up about his personal journey raising his son and learning more about himself. ☺

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Transcription Below

Listening to Autistic Adults (feat. Dennis Procopio) pt1 S5E7

Rob: Welcome to the autism dad podcast. I’m Rob Gorski. And I got a really interesting show for you guys today. My good friend, Dennis Procopio, who is a male life coach and an autism dad is here to talk to us about more of his experience as a dad raising an autistic son. And, uh, he’s able to kind of blend in some of his life coach and experience to kind of help us, you know, manage situations a little bit better or gain some interesting perspective.

So thanks Dennis for coming back. And talking to us about your life and being a dad and, uh, some of the challenges that you’re navigating and helping us to learn to navigate them in socially appropriate ways. So it’s been a little while since we talked, I think it was before the holidays. Just before

Dennis: the holidays.

Yes, it was back in 2021. Yes.

Rob: Oh my gosh, 2021. It was like three decades ago. So what kind of dads stuff have you had.

Dennis: Well, so, you know, um, you’ve historically had me on here as a, um, featured guest who works in a professional space, coaching men under the brand man up life coaching. And I’ve mentioned that, um, I coach guys and behind the curtain, I’m a, an, an autism dad, myself.

Bennett who is, uh, 11 years old will be 12 in July, um, is autistic and also, uh, has a conduit pleasure to our FISM. Um, Those are a couple of identifiers. He’s also cute little red head, um, with bright red hair and freckles. Anyway, um, his mother and I, she works as a lawyer in, uh, ed law. Um, so she regularly sits in on IEP piece, which everyone knows who is a special needs.

Parent is. You know, individualized education plan. And so it’s great to have her along when we sit in on IEP meetings. For Bennett because she’s, uh, she knows what she’s doing. So recently we sat in on a triennial meeting for Bennett and since it was a triennial, they did a huge sort of overarching evaluation, a whole bunch of tests, and they dropped a bomb on us that we.

Uh, expect. They said that they suspected that he is eligible for ID, which is a intellectual disability. And so as a dad, I immediately. Um, are you suggesting that my kid has low intelligence and they tap danced around it, but you know, I was persistent and they said they didn’t use this language, but they basically said we’re guesstimating.

His IQ is 78 based on his scores. And I said, no way, not on. I call foul on this and his mother agreed. So the first part of what I was hoping to share with you today was my experience as a dad, walking into an IEP meeting and finding out that in addition to an eye, uh, an autism diagnosis, the school district is now floating.

The idea that. Uh, my son has intellectual disabilities. So did, do you have any experience with that yourself or is that an

Rob: yeah, my, my oldest would have been, this would have been back when he was in grade school. Um, he’s 22 now. I’m that old. And he, we had a similar experience and I don’t remember, I don’t remember what they said his IQ was.

Um, and it triggered. The psychiatric testing of the Cleveland clinic that I can’t remember what it’s called, but they, they gauge like everything, you know, memory testing and cognitive ability and all neuro psych testing. That’s what it’s called neuro psych testing. And, uh, you know, we learned a lot about what his ability was and what his ability were, where his deficits were in and a large part of it was like, he could remember everything.

He, he re he stored everything in memory, but he had a hard time retrieving. When it came to testing at the school, it was, it was more related to how they were giving the tests than what his actual building was. Like, the tests were not accurately gauging what his ability was. If that makes sense.

Dennis: It makes perfect sense.

You know, so I spoke with. And said, you know, I know that because you work in this professional space, you are probably a little bit jaded and might be suspicious of the school district trying to pull a fast one here. So what are your thoughts? And she said, yeah, she said, you know, I think the teacher’s great.

It is what it is. She’s a. Special education teacher in a school, in a district. And you know, she’s not now she’s garden variety, and then it’s not garden variety. And so we don’t expect her to operate at the level of a special. You know, I’ve been in education, I’ve been a tutor teacher. You’ve got a class full of a bunch of kids and it’s coming in there hot man.

You know, so he’s, he’s, he’s given her a, a rough time on any given day. So she’s doing what she can. So we don’t, we don’t think anything about the teacher, the principal, uh, you know, the principal is beholden to his handlers and. Their bottom line is they’re trying to save money. And so he’s real nice guy.

He’s super diplomatic. I really genuinely think he’s a good dude, but I also think he serves the realm. You know what I mean? At the end of the day. So she suggested that while there may be an element of. To the diagnosis in that there’s obviously some delay going on that might be outside of an autistic diagnosis to just slap this 78 IQ on him because some random school psychologist ran a test that Bennett might or might not.

Said, oh yeah. He was really compliant. I’ve really gotten to know him. Uh, he really, the guy really sold the idea that he got the best version of Bennett. He could, but it sounded like a sale. It, frankly, I just have to say, it just sounded like a sale. And I S I sell my own product. I know what it’s like to walk someone through a freaking funnel.

And I felt like I was getting walked through a funnel. And at the end I was supposed to say, okay, I have now downloaded this information into my head. And it’s, this is my own thought. He was, incepting the idea that my kid has ID and we just weren’t buying it. So bottom line is we went into a little group huddle.

She and I, and decided we’re willing to accept that at, you know, he’s in fifth grade. Uh, he. Is showing some really challenging behaviors. We’re obviously going to need to take some sort of specialist route, but we’re going to opt for an independent, uh, evaluation from outside of the school system, just to make sure they’re not trying to, you know, because she, she suggested she’s like, you know, it’s possible that if they’re trying to get us to accept this diagnosis, So that in doing so it says we’re not responsible for getting him to do certain things.

It’s sorry. It’s not our fault. He’s just not smart enough. He doesn’t have the cognitive capabilities and we’re throwing him.

Rob: Yeah, I called

Dennis: vs. I just, sorry. Now I’m not feeling it to our credit. We were diplomatic as always, you know, we, we did everything we could not to undermine the spirit of team Bennet and his support staff, but behind the scenes were like, yeah, I got a hairy eyeball on the principal on this one.

So. We’re going to get an independent evaluation. Now here’s where in our narrative arc. The story gets interesting. When you hear some interesting stuff.

Rob: Rob, do you want to hear, I do want to hear some interesting stuff. Okay.

Dennis: Well, so I’m

Rob: intrigued you, you shouldn’t be bring it, bring it, Dennis.

Dennis: I’m going to preface this by saying.

Over nearly a decade. Now I have worked as a life coach for 40 to 60 men a week. That is a heck of a lot of life coaching. I sit on a kneeling chair in front of a computer with a green screen behind me, and I am absolutely a product over the course of a working with God. Um, they all have in common that they’re dudes between 20 something and 60 something who are stuck in their lives in some way.

And they’re having a really hard time. Coping with adulting being out there in the normal world. And I’m talking about 40, 50, 60 up to 70 years old, still having these same challenges. They know about me that I’m this person who comes from a colorful background without wearing my heart on my sleeve, so to speak.

Um, my background includes a grandmother. And then a mother whose psych rap sheet was a laundry list of, you know, uh, diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, multiple personality, uh, disorder, et cetera. Um, abusive relationships with both mom and dad, poverty, yucky, yucky stuff, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

So they know that, uh, I grew up as somebody who was kind of different. And that, that I always attributed my differences to having been to 25 different schools. Having had the screwed up parents having been through physical, uh, sexual trauma, having dealt with addictions, et cetera. Yes. I’m weird. Yes. I’m different.

Yes. I’m a little crazy. And this is my reason why period. So that’s been the new. Okay. Pause for a beat, Dennis, that father decides to join a Facebook group called autism inclusivity to bring the IEP meeting material to a group of autistic adults and say, Hey, put this to the smell test. What do you think about this?

So famously autistic. Our direct in communication and do not sugar coat. So if you say anything that hits the ear wrong, you’re going to get a very blunt freaking, you know, face check. And so I came in and using terms and terminology, which I have since either changed or removed from my lexicon. So I was using the term ASD, which is autism spectrum disorder.

As a result of my interaction with the group, I will now not use ASD. I will not identify autism as a disorder, but rather I will say autistic. So that was one interesting check. Um, another one was the idea of a linear spectrum, um, with the idea that you’re on the high functioning end of the spectrum or the little.

Functioning and of the spectrum. I’ve since adapted my model model to something more like a spherical spectrum. Um, I’ve also removed functioning labels. So whereas I once would have referred to my son as moderate to severe autism. I now no longer use the functioning label. This was another. From interacting with this group.

Um, a couple of more that I think are worth mentioning. I learned that the term special needs, which I always thought was great has abelist connotations and that the preferred term is disabled or disability. Not a bad word. Don’t be afraid to use. Okay. I made that up to adaptation. I also also learned that identity first language over person.

First language is very important because autism is about how your brain is wired. Results in your identity. So you don’t say I’m a person with autism. You don’t say, yeah, you say I’m an autistic person, or I’m an author. I’m autistic having a Jewish mother. I decided to kind of run this. I said, well, let me try another semantic descriptor and see if it works.

What I say, I am a person who suffers from Judea. Maybe on a bad day, would I say I am on the, on the Judaism spectrum? Uh, probably not what I say. I am a person with Judaism. No, I would say I am a Jewish person. So similarly autistic. Okay. Right. Couple of other things that they mentioned, they said they’re not a fan of puzzle pieces or autism speaks.

That’s just their, their position. Uh, the new

Rob: infinity. Yeah. Yeah.

Dennis: Right. So not to be political, but just sharing my experience. That’s what I learned, um, was that, uh, the group autistics feel that autism speaks is a sinister, uh, exploitative cash grab. And I learned that and. That, that was interesting. They also told me that they’re not pro lighted up blue.

They also told me that they’re not pro ABA because their opinion is that autism is not something to be corrected. It’s a way of being, and it’s something for people who are neuro-typical to learn to understand and how to share the world with autistics. According to. What is the autistic range of normal, so to speak?

Rob: Yeah, there, there is. We get into some really sticky things with that because like, uh, I’ve been having that debate with people for years and you will, you will honestly find that you can go to one group and they will tell you person first language, then you’ll go to another group and they’ll tell you that they want to hear the other way around.

It’s it’s sorta like everybody has their own opinion. And they’re all valid and it, and it comes down to navigating it as best you can. And there are some things that, like, I think, uh, I mean the autism speaks thing. I’ve talked about that I have a whole episode on that. I totally agree with them on that.

I totally agree. It’s a cash grab. They do a lot of like big picture stuff, but they don’t really help the everyday person. Right. Like you’re not going to go to autism speaks for help navigating. The stuff with your IEP or, or helping a child transition to adulthood or things like that. That’s they, they don’t, they don’t help with those kinds of things.

Um, and when it comes to, um, I forgot what the last thing you said was, uh, the light it up blue. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, I totally agree to let it a blue, that’s a marketing thing. I, the puzzle piece. I get, I mean, like, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, I get why they’re saying it. And it’s, I think it’s tied to autism speaks because they’ve trademarked the puzzle piece, the blue puzzle piece or whatever.

Um, as far as like ABA is concerned, it’s tough because as parents, a lot of the people that we we’ve talked like I’ve talked to that have very strong opinions on things like ABA, they tend to not be parents. And when you have a kid who is struggling with. Whether it’s sensory related and they’re miserable and there’s therapy that can help them improve their quality of life and give them the tools that they need to better navigate the world.

It’s not about, it’s not about, um, changing them or making them any less autistic. It’s just about helping them build the skills they need. To survive, right? Because we live in an unforgiving world and I’ve been, I’ve been fighting that battle for a long time. And if I could change the world for my kids, I would do that in a heartbeat.

But what I’ve found is that you can’t change the world for your kids. You can try, you can make, you can make little marks here and there, but, but as parents, like, we have to prepare our kids for real life. And, and I think that there are some instances where AB well, there’s a lot of instances where ABA is applied in a way that is, you know, they refer to it as B2B.

And, um, there is a lot of science behind it. There’s a lot of, uh, people who are not applying it properly. And in a lot of the stuff, I think stems from more in the past, like, like older ways of doing it. Cause I’ve had a lot of people that have, uh, that I’ve spoken to. Uh, some at the Cleveland clinic, other specialists and ABA is very controversial.

It just is. It is. And I think it’s a personal choice. If you’re in a place where you feel your child would benefit from it, you go for it, you know, until they can tell you otherwise, or, or whatever. It’s, it’s just a, it’s a tough thing because like, you’ll be ping pong ball back and forth. You’ll have somebody telling me I’ve had, I’ve had.

’cause I called Mike, I would say like, my kids have autism and I would get people coming at me from one side telling me that, uh, you know, I’m, I’m a hateful parent because I’m labeling my kids is whatever. And I’m like, well, not, not. I thought it was like a descriptive thing is putting things into context or whatever.

And so I change what I’m saying. Then I have someone come from the other side and attack me for saying it the other way. And there’s no way to appease everybody. And so I’ve taken the approach of, I will always be respectful if you were sensitive to that and you prefer to be called, I default to autistic now, as my kids have gotten older, because I think that’s that, that makes sense to me, you know, and the way you put it makes perfect sense.

It’s very well said. You’re not always going to, no matter what you do, you’re going to offend someone.

Dennis: Yeah. And that’s actually, that’s been my experience. So, yeah. So I came into this group and I learned terms like. Um, neuro-typical neurodiverse neurodivergent I learned, uh, that we don’t recognize Asperger’s as a thing.

Um, one of the reasons being that, you know, the doctor Asperger, who is the namesake of the diagnosis, experimented on disabled kids during Nazi times and that’s bad. Yeah. So we definitely don’t want to do. That person lip service. Anyway, I learned some stuff. And one of the things I did is I identified with the idea that neurodiversity means exactly what it sounds like.

And under the umbrella of neurodiversity, there is a type of person who is identified as neuro-typical. And what neuro-typical people have in common is they are similar, whereas, uh, under the umbrella, Neurodiversity. If you’re not neuro typical than you are considered neurodivergent and under the umbrella of neurodivergence, uh, you ha might have a diagnosis such as, uh, autism or ADHD.

No two snowflakes are the same exactly in that world. Hence the spectrum language. So my big shocker was coming into the autism inclusivity group, hearing autistic voices that weren’t your classic rain man, or frankly, my son Bennett, um, who. I have challenges with self care or, you know, basic functionality, but these highly intelligent people, you know, in some cases mentum Mensa material for their IQs.

Um, incredibly well-versed brilliantly skilled at camouflaging and masks. And I started to ask myself a question I’ve never asked myself before at 51 years old was, which is, is it possible that you are autistic?

Rob: Oh, I did not see it going there, but go ahead. And

Dennis: in the autism group, self-diagnosis is a hundred percent valid because you don’t have a whole bunch of people super interested in jumping on this bandwagon.

Right. It’s not fashionable. And so while it’s possible to be confused, it’s kind of one of those, Hey, I’m autistic and I’m looking at you and although I’m not qualified to diagnose, I know it when I see it welcome to the club, you know, sort of like if it, I guess the equivalent to like, you know, if you’re gay, you’ve got gaydar, you know, um, somebody made the joke that they have suspect from.

And I thought it was really good too. And, uh, so that led me to go to, uh, embrace hyphen founded by one Dr. Engel Brecht, uh, who herself is an autistic in, uh, somewhere in Canada. And I started taking tests like the AICCU. The rads are the cat Q. And I answered as conservatively as possible. And I tested not only just well above threshold, but I tested well above average for autistics.

And that led to a journey of self-discovery, which finds me. Um, I explain it as when you’re on your computer and you accidentally initiate a. Full system, virus scan. And the next thing, you know, 80% of your CPU is being dedicated to going through every single file you have. Well, I’m now finding that the entire 51.

Years that I’ve lived, which I thought I’d sort of put in a time capsule and buried so that I don’t have to review it again. We’re now there’s some part of my brain going through every single moment that I’ve ever lived in going, oh my God, autism, autism, autism, autism,

Rob: autism. This is crazy. Uh it’s yeah, I wasn’t.

I had no idea that this is where this was going to go. I go on Tuesday for an ADHD evaluation because. I discovered since we last spoke, I started recognizing that I’m struggling more in life than what I. Be struggling when I have so many positive things going for me and I’m tired all the time and all this stuff.

I have terrible time focusing. I have a hard time focusing on things. I have three kids who were diagnosed with autism and ADHD, and I have siblings who were diagnosed with ADHD is his kids. They all presented with hyperactivity, impulsiveness, stuff like that. I don’t present that way. I present with, uh, I forgot what they call attentive.

I was an antenna version where like I have a hard time. Focusing on things. And so like, I’m focusing on this conversation right now, but it takes, it takes a really, it takes a good bit of effort for me to stay on task. And so there’s a lot of chaos in my life disorganization. And not because I’m lazy or because I just don’t want to do it.

It’s because I get so overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start. And there are. All these competing thoughts, trying to catch my attention. And so I go down that same journey. I go on on Tuesday for my, to begin my evaluation to hopefully hopefully get on meds that will help me to, uh, better, you know, function like an adult, the focus.


Dennis: Yeah. And you know, it’s funny as you, as you’ll recall, we famously had a flag. Podcast in which it accidentally turned into a coaching session. And I think a big part of the reason for that is most of the guys that I’ve dealt with over the years could in some way be considered closeted neurodivergence I’m not suggesting, Hey, this is the place.

If you join men uplift coaching, it means you’re autistic or have ADHD. I am saying a lot of my guys have openly said, I’m dying. As ADHD. Um, none of them have said I’m diagnosed as autistic, however, Many many, many of them exhibit a lot of the traits that I’m learning by taking test after test, after test, after test are associated with an autism diagnosis.

And I think a big part of the reason that they’re struggling is because they’re masking and they’re trying to fit into a normal quote, unquote, neuro-typical a world. And when you and I met, you had this sort of, ah, Dennis, this is a guy I can like actually talk to. And my coaching methods or coaching methods that represent techniques, I’ve used to get through life.

And now at 51 years old realizing holy shit, I’m autistic. It kind of all makes sense.

Rob: Doesn’t it? Yeah. And that’s when you were talking about, you’re going back through your life and you’re remembering all these things and it’s like, bam, bam, bam. I’ve been doing the same thing. I look back and I’m like, oh my, like, it makes so much more sense now, like the pieces fit.

And, and so then it’s a, it’s a profound experience when you can identify something that’s going on, because then I’ve started working with my brain instead of again, And that has had a positive impact on my life thus far. And, uh, that’s so crazy. What we should do a part two.

Dennis: We should absolutely do a part two.

Yeah, no,

Rob: stay tuned for part two. We’ll be back with part two. That’s crazy. That’s crazy because I had no idea that we were, we were both going through that at the same time.

Dennis: Yeah. Yeah. So interesting universe we live in. It’s good to see you again. It’s good to talk to you again. Uh, this is Dennis of man up life coaching.

My website is man up life, I am the author of the registered trademark row coach and the bro coach approach. So if you’re a dude between 20 something and 60 something, or even. Up. If that’s interesting for you and you’re stuck in your safe life in some way, whether you’re neuro-typical neurodivergent neurodiverse or unsure, chances are a conversation with me, might be a regulatory for you.

So there’s my there’s my outro.

Rob: Cool parts will be coming up shortly. All right. Take care of me and my best, your family. All right, dude. Bye-bye okay. So before I close things out, I just want to take a minute and say, thank you to Dennis for taking the time to come back on the show and, and having this conversation.

Uh, I had no idea that’s where the conversation was going, and it’s really interesting that he was kind of going through that same experience, uh, at the same time that I was going through this whole exploring ADHD thing that I’m going through. So, um, thank you for sharing your story, Dennis, and talking to us about being a dad.

And, uh, and all that stuff. Um, definitely we’re going to do a part two. Uh, we’ll get that scheduled in and get that out there for you guys. Uh, you can find Dennis at man up life, A link will be in the show notes below. You can find All my social things are at the top of the page.

You can like and subscribe and rate this podcast. And any one of your favorite podcasts in the app just hit that subscribe button. I really appreciate it and have a fantastic. I actually have a fantastic week cause he’s run Mondays now. I always forget. So have a great week and uh, I’ll talk to you later.

All right. See you. Bye.

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