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Path to Joy

Professor Applies Lessons Learned from Autistic Sons to All Life


Lasswell FamilyDate published: June 11, 2019

Former Affiliate Assistant Professor of Spanish Nicole (Hammerschmidt) Lasswell, BA ’03, and her husband, Martin, have two sons, Will and Stevie, both of whom have autism. For World Autism Awareness Day, the family was interviewed on Telemundo; because the boys are thriving, it seemed particularly important to the Lasswells to share their story and their hope with others.

Nicole Lasswell, in fact, is writing a book, in addition to setting up a private practice to help others using the techniques she’s learned. Her first thought was to support other parents of autistic children, but it seems to go beyond even that; truly, she seeks to help anybody who needs guidance, to whom she might be able to offer some solace and encouragement along the path to joy.

“My book is about helping other parents of children on the spectrum parent their children joyfully. The working title is ‘How I Found Peace Through Autism.’ The theme of the book is that by letting my children become my teachers, I was humbled enough to find within me those things that needed forgiveness and healing,” said Lasswell. “The more I did this, the more peaceful I was, and the better able I was to be there, fully present, for my boys. I learned how to apologize to them when I lost my temper and make true amends, but I also knew how to create healthy boundaries for them. All of this came from a clearer and higher understanding of unconditional love for them. It is miraculous what these boys have done for me. I only hope to do the same for them and others who need the guidance that I received.”

At UD, her students came to her for assistance with Spanish, but almost always their anxieties went much deeper than their Spanish homework; as they sat with her in her zen-like office, she taught them how to get at the root of what was bothering them; once that root was identified, it could be addressed.

For example, if a student was worried about not doing well on an assignment, Lasswell might ask, “What’s the worst thing about not doing well?” From this, it would typically transpire that the student’s real fear was of what others would think of them — in this case, thinking that they weren’t smart.

Lasswell might then ask, “What’s the worst thing about someone thinking you’re not smart?” — which would lead to the realization that the fear behind not being thought smart was that of not being loved. Then Lasswell would ask, “And what’s the worst thing about not being loved?”

The student could then identify that the worst thing about not being loved was that God didn’t love them and that they would die alone — and finally, the anxiety at the root of all the others, the worst thing about dying alone, was that of ceasing to exist after death. This fear was manifesting in the fear of being thought inadequate in some way by other people, but the root of that fear was nonexistence. Once this root fear was understood, it could be tackled (and suddenly Spanish homework felt like a breeze).

“We come from unity,” said Lasswell. “We come here, to Earth, to experience separation, and to learn to welcome life in all of its feelings and emotions.”

How does all of this apply to her sons? Well, for one thing, they have big emotions (somewhat contrary to common belief about autism). In learning to help them deal with their emotions, Lasswell and her husband had to learn to deal with theirs.

“So much of how we responded to them was rooted in our own childhood memories and traumas,” explained Lasswell. Trauma in this sense does not necessarily mean huge, catastrophic events, but often smaller incidents that may have been magnified or misperceived in the eyes of a child. In any case, these incidents become ingrained in us and tend to dictate what triggers us, even if that trigger is completely subconscious. For the Lasswells, learning to recognize and address these triggers in themselves, and heal their own wounds, was crucial in helping their children. Maintaining the strength of their marriage and ensuring that they were working together as a team was similarly crucial.

“What does it take to raise an autistic child (or any child for that matter)?” asks Lasswell in the “About Me” section of her website. “Openness, humility, willingness to work on yourself so as to avoid projecting your own fears and issues on the child, space to allow the children to be themselves, space for yourself, space for your spouse, and a village.”

Lasswell holds certifications in Access Bars, ThetaHealing, yoga (including prenatal yoga), and reiki.

“A lot of what I do seems very New-Agey, but you find similar things in many saints,” she said. “St. Teresa of Avila, for example, spoke of entering the ‘interior castle,’ where the true connection with the Divine exists, the peace that lies in the innermost part of your interior castle … It’s about connecting to a higher power and finding solace, and loving yourself — soul, mind and body.”

She also especially appreciates the rosary because of the physical aspect of it, holding the beads in your fingers; it helps to ground you and to connect you with your higher power.

She has taught Spanish for 16 years and loved it, but she feels a calling, a need, to leave teaching and create something new. However, much of what she has learned in her teaching career will be applicable in this new space, as she is still in a sense seeking to teach others.

“I am honored to be here and share whatever expert knowledge I have to help others, as a mother and intuitive guide,” she says. “The ultimate theme of my approach is to help others by guiding them to help themselves.”

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