David Hirsch’s guest this week on The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast is Gary Martinez of Colorado Springs, CO, a personal fitness trainer, author and single father of two, including Monica, who is on the Autism Spectrum.
We’ll hear how Gary has used his fitness training principles to help train Monica to live a happier and better life as well as how he navigates being an involved single father of two from different mothers.
We’ll also hear about his book, “Living Life Through Their Eyes – Our Journey Together On The Autism Spectrum.”
That’s all on this SFN Dad to Dad Podcast.
Living Life Through Their Eyes: Our Journey Together On The Autism Spectrum – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07P6JJVHG/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
Visit Gary on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000621924877
Gary’s You Tube Page: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=gary+martinez+junior
Visit Gary on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gary_martinez_jr/?hl=en
Email Gary – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring today’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Working tirelessly to research, develop and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Gary Martinez: You know that started to turn a corner, where now I knew some things that would help Monica. And that’s how we started to create our bond together, because I dived in deep, because I wanted to be an athlete for my daughter’s life. You know, I played sports as an athlete, but when I found out what our first two steps were going to be for these therapies, I was like, all right, it’s time to be an athlete for your daughter.
So I flipped on that switch and I’ve never turned it off. I just wanted to do as much as I can, every second that I have Monica with me.
Tom Couch: That’s David Hirsch’s guest this week, Gary Martinez. Gary’s a fitness trainer, an author, and a father of two children, including Monica, who has autism. We’ll hear how Gary has used his training principles to help Monica live a happier and a better life.
We’ll also hear about his book, Living Life Through Their Eyes: Our Journey Together on the Autism Spectrum. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search Dad to Dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s hear this conversation between Gary Martinez and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Gary Martinez of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who’s the father of two, a personal fitness trainer and author. Gary, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Gary Martinez: Thank you so much, David, for having me on.
David Hirsch: You’re the proud father of two children with different mothers: Christian, who’s eight, and Monica, who’s 13 and who also has autism. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Gary Martinez: My dad was in the military, and we kind of bounced around. I was actually born in Athens, Greece, and we left when I was two years old. After that, we were stationed in California at a couple of locations. And then I started to remember as I was becoming a kindergartner, when we were actually stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
From there we went to Australia for a couple years, and then we came back to the States, and my dad retired here in Colorado Springs. So I’ve mainly lived here in Colorado Springs. I have ventured out on my own one time, and I lived in Phoenix for almost two years, but I came back to Colorado because I just love Colorado. I love the seasons, and it’s where I want to call home. I just love everything about it.
David Hirsch: Do you have a Greece passport then, if you were born in Greece?
Gary Martinez: I’m not quite sure. I know I had the citizen abroad birth certificate. But you know, I’ve heard so many things about Greece. I just don’t know anything about it, because I was just a baby. So that’s definitely on my bucket list. I would love to go back and visit.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So you mentioned that your dad was in the military. From what I recall, he was in the Air Force. Was he career Air Force or not?
Gary Martinez: Yeah, he was in the Air Force for, I want to say about 21 years. So he put in his 20 plus years.
David Hirsch: Okay. And did he do any work after he retired from the Air Force?
Gary Martinez: He did work civil service for some of the military installations here in town. We actually have five. He finished up at NORAD, which is Cheyanne Mountain Air Force Base, where you’re inside the mountain.
David Hirsch: Okay. And how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Gary Martinez: It’s gotten better. You know, a lot of times when he was early on in his career, he wasn’t with us because of where he was stationed. He had a couple assignments where he was solo, so that was the time back then where I missed some time to spend with my dad. And now we’re playing catch up more, because he’s retired and we get to see him a little bit more.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Were there some important takeaways, lessons learned from your dad that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering?
Gary Martinez: For me, I just wanted to have work that was more flexible in my schedule, so I can actually spend more time with my kids. So for me, that was the lesson that I wanted to take from all that. And now I have work where I can actually be a little more flexible and spend time with both my children, because every day is precious and tomorrow’s not guaranteed.
David Hirsch: Oh yeah. There’s no question about that. So my recollection was that you went to school at Everest College, you took a degree in massage therapy, and then you went to IMI College, and you have an associate’s degree in personal fitness training. And I’m wondering, where is your career taking you?
Gary Martinez: Right now, I still do some of the personal fitness training. And for me, when I started, I did that in 2012. I graduated and I had a job right away because I did the externship, or whatever they call it, where you do your practice hours at a location.
I did it at the YMCA, and I felt comfortable there, because that was my first gym I ever worked out at. So I worked out there, did my training hours, and they basically told me, “Hey, if you want to get your hours, we’ve got a class schedule right there of all these classes you can take. Go for it.”
So I took all these classes, and a lot of us personal trainers—I want to say the majority, not everyone—we want to work with athletes. And that was me. But when I took all these different classes, they had things like yoga and hardcore kinds of exercise, and then I discovered Silver Sneakers, which is a class for older adults, and I actually became more fascinated with that.
The majority of these people are older, but there are also people who are younger, who come in there because they’re recovering from some type of injury, for rehabbing. And when I saw how hard they worked, and how the instructor was just so positive with their spirits, and how they could modify exercises so that everyone can exercise, it just shows you right there that there’s no obstacle too big for you to overcome.
So that inspired me, and I changed my mind from wanting to work with athletes, to wanting to help out older adults or people who just needed modifications. They can still do the exercises, and then later on we can actually progress to doing something more, but at their pace.
David Hirsch: Excellent. I love it. Thank you. I know you’re a single dad and you have two children from different mothers. I’m wondering if there’s any insight you can share, so our listeners have a better understanding about the journey you’ve been on.
Gary Martinez: So, my daughter’s mother and I share parenting time, so we have 50/50 time with her. So it’s a really unique schedule. For me, I take the opportunity to make sure before I start the day that I win the day. And that means getting up early before my daughter’s up. I do a series of activities in self-development and self-care for myself. So when I have her, I give her my very best energy, every single drop of energy I can dedicate to her and give her the extra time that she has. In a nutshell, that’s the parenting time with my daughter. We worked that out really good. We’re good about our parenting time.
With my son, he actually lives in a suburb out of North Denver, so he is almost a two hour drive away. And you know when you leave Colorado Springs and you jump on the highway, that it is under construction right now going to Denver, because the state is growing, it takes a lot of patience.
But for me, I really don’t care how long it takes me to get there. It’s just that I’m one second closer to getting my son. So his mom is very flexible, because of the distance, and she lets me see my son as much as I want, according to how my schedule allows me to visit him.
So I actually enjoy the trip. We make it a routine where we have the usual pit stops. You know, we go to parks to play at, we have pit stops where we like to go to eat. So we make it a fun trip. And when my daughter comes with me on every other weekend where she gets to see my son, you know, it’s just the more the merrier.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, it sounds like you have a balanced relationship, with each of the birth mothers. And you’re spending as much time as you can practically, based on those arrangements with both of your children. That’s fabulous. Thank you.
Gary Martinez: Yeah, it is.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about special needs, first on a personal basis and then beyond. And I’m wondering before Monica’s diagnosis, if you had any experience with the special needs community.
Gary Martinez: Oh, I sure did not. I had absolutely zero experience. I didn’t know what that was when we were diagnosed. I was a scared parent, and there’s no worse feeling than being a parent who’s helpless and can’t help your child while they are suffering.
David Hirsch: So how old was Monica when the diagnosis took place, and what was your first reaction?
Gary Martinez: You know, I keep going back to see when exactly that was. At first it looked like it was around six, but it could have been around four. So we’ll just say in between there. And one reason why it was difficult was, first of all, you know, there’s just not one particular test pinpoint or target, “Okay, you got autism.”
And it’s a little different for girls. So we got diagnosed a little later with our age because a lot of times what happens is they say, “Well, she’s just a girl. You know, she’s just kind of acting like a girl, a little ditzy or something, and she’ll kind of grow out of it. So just wait and see.”
Well, wait and see didn’t happen. At first I kind of felt okay about it. At that time, my stepdaughter at the time—which is Monica’s sister, she’s two years older than her—started out a little late as far as coming around with all her abilities. So I had a little hope at the beginning.
But then we saw that there was no hope, where basically Monica was not responding to anything. She wouldn’t look in your direction. She wouldn’t pay attention if you tried to call her name. And she wasn’t doing the basic play movements, or wanting to play, or anything. She was basically in isolation mode.
And then she started to have these meltdowns, these ferocious sensory meltdowns, where she would self-harm herself and would scream at the top of her lungs. She would turn red, she would cry. And because she was non-verbal at that time, that made it even worse.
David Hirsch: Wow. It sounds like it was a pretty chaotic start there. And I’m wondering, what were some of the fears once the diagnosis was made, that you had, or that your wife had, at that time?
Gary Martinez: The fear was: what is this word, “autism”? What is this word, “sensory processing disorder”? Which is something else Monica has, and I don’t know anything about this. Where do we go from here?
So it was a very scary feeling to know that my daughter needs help. She can’t even express herself to get the help so we can communicate. So it was fear right there. And then what started to turn the corner for us was when a doctor actually said, “Okay, your first step is to go to these two therapies” that he recommended for us.
David Hirsch: And what were they?
Gary Martinez: It was occupational therapy and speech therapy.
David Hirsch: Okay. Was there any other meaningful advice that you got early on in addition to the occupational and speech therapy?
Gary Martinez: Being at those therapies, you had a choice. So this is where we started to take those little baby steps to progression. You had a choice. And the good thing was both of these therapies were in the same building. And then you had three choices. You can drop your kid off like some parents did, and come back in an hour. Or you can sit in the waiting room, read a magazine. But the third choice you had was to go inside that room with your kid and the therapist and actually see what happened.
So I chose the third choice. I went inside there, and I watched what was going on. At the beginning in occupational therapy, we had times where we had to go in the hallway because Monica was crying. She was overwhelmed. She was scared. She was a toe walker. She was scared to walk on the earth because of the uneven surfaces. She couldn’t do a simple task. She couldn’t button up a shirt. Her muscle tone was very low. She couldn’t hold a utensil. She couldn’t hold a toothbrush. She couldn’t do a lot of those basic things that we take for granted every day.
So I started to watch everything. I took a notebook. I had several notebooks, and I took pens, pencils, and I wrote down everything that was going on. I wrote down what was working, and then I started to ask the therapist questions. And then I would ask, “Who do you mentor? What other resources can I do to help out?” I gave myself homework.
So I brought all that information home to kind of continue that process. And then it was the same thing with speech therapy. We had two amazing therapists. Our occupational therapist was only one that we had. Speech therapy was a little different, where we went through a rotation of different therapists. But they were all very good.
The first one was actually our most fun one, because she was a comedian, she was funny. The energy, the vibe—my daughter can feel that. She can read people. A lot of our kids can read people, and if it’s a connection, that’s a good thing. So in speech it was a little bit of the same thing.
Because she had a little muscle tone in her mouth, we were trying to learn how to talk, so we had to do some exercises for the mouth, for the jaw. And then we had to work on the speech lessons that we had to learn. And it was the same deal. I asked questions and wrote things down, and it started to give me some self-esteem, some confidence that I could bring this all home and start doing that with my daughter.
And then in time Monica started to make progress. Her very first thing she liked to do in occupational therapy was swinging. And to this day, we swing almost every single day. Well, right now that it’s summer, twice a day we go to parks. We have a list of parks that we like to go to, because Monica is very blunt about what parks does she like.
So I’m like, “All right, Monica, what park you want to go to? This one, this one or this one?” “This one. And then in the evening we’ll go to this one.” So I’m like, “All right.” So that started to turn the corner where now I knew some things that would help Monica. And that’s how we started to create our bond together, because I dived in deep, because I wanted to be an athlete for my daughter’s life.
You know, I played sports as an athlete, but when I found out what our first two steps were, going to these therapies, I was like, all right, it’s time to be an athlete for your daughter. So I flipped on that switch, and I’ve never turned it off. I just wanted to do as much as I can every second that I have Monica with me.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. I think your background as a trainer probably gives you the right mindset to be working with people who have challenges, who might not be able to do something. And you didn’t mention this, but you must have a lot of patience.
Gary Martinez: Oh yeah. Monica has taught me patience. She created a new version of me, and it taught me to look at life through her lens, through her eyes, and understand the very simple things that are really important to her every single day. You know, like, what are her anchors? And what kind of exercises or play activities do we want to do? And we get really creative because she likes a lot of different things, like certain Disney movies with princesses.
So we make these sensory activities, these exercises that kind of brought my world into it. Also here’s where we separate ourself as far as how we do things in our world. So for Monica, like we just said, she likes a lot of Disney movies, and sometimes she’ll bring back movies from the past that she really liked then, and we’ll bring it back into the now.
So right now, Monica really likes Alice in Wonderland. So for us, if we want to put some activity with Alice…I learned this a long time ago, and we still do it now, because it’s what works for us. Monica’s really into specific scenes, and to Monica and to myself, these characters in Alice in Wonderland, they’re real in our world.
They may be invisible, but we make a voice for them. We speak for them, and they play with us. So how it goes is there’s always a villain in the movie, right? So there’s the Queen of Hearts. So squats, for example, is an exercise that I made Monica do, because it’s fun for her. She doesn’t want Alice to get her head chopped off by Queen of Hearts, because that’s what Queen of Hearts says in a movie, “Off with her head!”
She’s like, “Off with your head!” That’s what she says the entire time, “Off with your head!” And she’s so loud, and because she’s so loud, that makes Monica laugh, even though she’s evil. It’s just the way villains are in movies that really catches her attention. And I’ve learned that through reading articles about our kids. For some of them, when that villain’s being loud and evil and wants to chase our princess, or Alice. Even though Alice isn’t a princess to us, she’s everything.
But because Monica has such a love for Alice, and she can relate to her so much, one exercise I do is I making a squat, but I won’t call it a squat. I’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, Monica, the Queen of Hearts is trying to chop your head off. Duck!” I’ll tell her like, “Sit down and duck.” So she’s actually doing a squat. “Off with your head.” And then she’ll duck. Boom.
So we would use that a lot. Like sometimes before we go to school, we would get there about 20 minutes early, because we need these play activities to help us prepare our brain and body and have it organized as best as it can be, before we go into that school building that has so many transitions.
You know, so many lights, so many noises, so many sounds, so many smells, all the crowds that are distractions, and that can overwhelm her. So for us to get ready and game plan and quarterback what we’re gonna do, so she can go in there and be more fluid and ready, we’ll play outside, or if the weather was bad, we’ll play inside in the hallway.
So one thing we’ll do is I’ll be like, “Monica, off with your head,” and she’ll squat. “Off with your head,” and she’ll squat. And there are other times where I would say, some other character wanted to grab her and she would pull her arms back. So basically right there, she’s squeezing her shoulders. So she’s doing another exercise.
And then of course we would swing at the playground, because swinging is her favorite thing. Because swinging is her favorite thing to do, she’s starting to light up like a Christmas tree. Because she’s getting all this input that she’s craving in her body, her brain, it’s lighting up like a Christmas tree in her brain.
So that’s when I would start throwing some conversation at her. So I was throwing like speech therapy, where this very basic speech therapy tip is to dig more. Like I ask her one question or talk about a movie. “Oh my God, I can’t believe that Hans tried to throw Elsa in a dungeon and lock her up. But Elsa didn’t do nothing,” and I’ll leave her right there.
And Monica will respond, like, “Yeah, Dad. She didn’t do nothing, and then she escaped. She just couldn’t control her power.” So she’s starting a conversation right there. “And then she ran away, and she went up into the mountain, and then her sister Anna had to go after her, because she knew she wasn’t trying to hurt her. She just couldn’t control her powers.”
So then after that we’ll start talking about school or something. So we’ll kind of change the subject, and we’ll kind of use our mighty power to help us with actual real life skills. We’ll start spelling words for example. We’ll start doing math problems, and that’s just kind of how we roll to get ready for things.
David Hirsch: Excellent. You made reference to school a couple times, and I’m wondering if Monica is mainstreamed, or if she has special ed classes, or a combination?
Gary Martinez: She’s in the special ed room, but she mainstreams a lot, so she does go into a lot of the regular classrooms. She started out with an assistant going with her, and then as she progressed, she’s able to go into some classes by herself. She likes that independence where she can walk to this class because she knows where it’s at. So it gives her that independence right there. She does good with a lot of the teachers. It took a while for us to actually make friends, so it’s good to see that she’s starting to make a few more friends.
Now that she’s talking and everything, she talks her head off, especially when you connect with her and give her that love and patience and understanding. If she can feel that you’re being honest and genuine with her, thn she’s probably gonna start asking you questions—and she has a series of questions, so you know it is very good.
It actually started in sixth grade when she started to be more social with kids, and she even wanted to help out the kids that needed a little extra help, like kids that are in wheelchairs or have a feeding tube. She was basically kind of being like a teacher’s assistant. So it was really good to see her go from not talking to talking and to having a loving heart and wanting to care for others.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thanks for sharing. And not to focus on the negative, but I’m wondering what some of the bigger challenges have been.
Gary Martinez: For us in the beginning it was, it was meltdowns. We had a lot of meltdowns because we couldn’t speak at first. And a lot of times what happened was in the early school years, in our second elementary. We had to repeat kindergarten because at a previous school it just did not work well. You can feel the energy. What basically happened was I volunteered.
So I volunteered a lot at most of the schools Monica went to. When I went into this elementary, at this kindergarten, the first one she went to, they had all the kids from the special ed room in the back of the room at one table. And it had one elderly lady, and basically they said, “Here’s some coloring pages and a box of crayons. Just let them at it.”
And this poor lady had to try to deal with all the kids, and there was nothing wrong with the kids. There’s just only one person to help them. She was trying to pick up things for them and just try to work with them as best as she could. And she was an honest and awesome person, but I saw she needed help.
So on that day, I helped out, did what I could as far as making sure kids were able to do something they wanted to do, so they can at least have a good time there, even though they were basically pushed away towards the back of the room. So Monica didn’t really get any support there.
Now, fast forward to this other school, to kindergarten, and we were having those meltdowns. What happened at this school was, number one, the principal had open arms. He said, “Hey, you know what? You can do whatever you want to help out your daughter.”
So the teachers followed that information. So at this school I was able to come in at certain parts of the day and give her a sensory break, because I would get phone calls like, “Hey, Monica’s having a meltdown. She’s screaming. This happened and this happened. Can you come help?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
I have a lot of pride, but I have no ego. The ego badge is off. You know, I’m proud to walk up nice and tall in those hallways and carry an Elsa doll, an Anna dolls, and Alice doll, and take them to her.
And what we would do is we would go outside to the playground for 15 minutes at least, and we would swing, and we would role play some of our movie scenes and whatever made Monica happy. We would sing favorite songs together. And then it would kind of give her like a reboost, and she would go back into the classroom. And the teacher would say, “You know what? She had a better last half of her day.” So it was meltdowns in school back then.
Right now, I’m gonna say it’s just needing a lot of extra cues and reminders. Because I can tell Monica something face-to-face, and in five seconds she won’t remember that. So she needs a lot of cues and reminders, and I have to make sure that I tell places that we go to that they have to be patient with her. They’re gonna have to repeat things a little more than what they are accustomed to. And just to have patience, and understand that’s just how she works. She needs little extra reminders. And once she gets it, she’ll do it. So it’s like one step at a time, as far as doing things that we have to do in school or therapies.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for emphasizing the point. I think a common theme or thread seems to be that kids with special needs, not just autism, but other type of diagnoses, you know, it just takes longer. And if you’ve got the patience, or if your expectations are more in line with what their ability is, it’s not as if they can’t do something. It’s just going to take them longer to get to do something. So, I really appreciate you emphasizing that.
Gary Martinez: Yeah, I think have to really quickly just understand that everybody’s different. We have to embrace people’s differences, and we have to respect their boundaries—the things they can, things they can’t do. And you know, when we come together more as people to do that with others, that’s how we’re going to make more impact in the world.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. So, speaking of impact, I’m wondering what impact Monica’s situations had on her younger brother Christian, or your extended family for that matter.
Gary Martinez: Oh, okay. I love this question. So, at the very beginning, you know, when our parent schedules aligned, and I asked both mothers, “Could we work this out so they can see each other?” And they’re like, “Yes. Absolutely.” So that happened—I don’t know, maybe it’s three years ago or something like that.
Anyhow, I can’t say enough about Christian. This young man is a loving, caring, big heart, loves animals type of person, and he really wanted to play with Monica. But at first he didn’t know how to communicate with her, because his sister’s a little different. But he wanted to know how, so I told Christian, “All right, Christian, you want to know how to play with Monica?” And he was like, “Yeah, Dad.” I was like, “All right, here’s what you have to do. Just watch me, watch how me and Monica play, and when you’re ready to jump in or you have questions, let me know and jump in.”
So Christian finally jumped in, and to this day he is Monica’s best peer play partner. And how we know that is because Monica talks about everything she learns every day. Either she does a lot of self-talk quietly to herself, or she’ll repeat it. That’s just how she is, and that’s how she learns. So she’d be like, “Oh, I miss Christian, Dad. I love Christian. I can’t wait till we see Christian the kid.” That’s one of our nicknames, because we all have nicknames. I go, “Are you ready to see Christian?” And then she finishes my sentence, “The kid.”
They get along really well. Christian is a good student as far as watching how I play and what things Monica likes. And how you have to be careful about what things not to say. You know, you have to make sure you support her world, her special interests of characters that she likes. And you want to playfully make the villains attempt to do something to one of our characters, but in a way where we can rescue and stop them.
So for example, we’re at the park, and Monica likes to push swings. Not only does she like to swing on the swing, but she likes to push swings. There are a couple of reasons. Number one, she’s getting some activity for her upper body. Number two, the biggest one, is she likes to look up top at that moving piece. The moving part is a focus object for her, and the playful part is she’s always pushing a villain on there.
So she’s like, “I’m gonna push Lady Tremaine. Bye, Lady Tremaine.” Because Lady Tremaine is an evil stepmother in Cinderella. She took the glass slipper and broke it, because she wanted the prince and didn’t want Cinderella to do that. And there’s so many more evil things about her, but I’ll just leave her right there.
So Monica will push the swing. I’m like, “Who are you pushing, Monica?” “Lady Tremaine.” So Christian will jump in there now and he’ll ask Monica, “Who do you want me to push?” And she’ll tell him, “Gaston from Beauty and the Beast,” another evil guy. Hans from Frozen. He’ll push her, and then she’ll start laughing.
So she respects him because he likes what she likes. And because of that he made a play character called Brother Kong. So now that Monica likes Christian for him liking her world, she started to like his world. They take turns. One thing Monica would not do in her early years was take turns with anything or anybody. And now she takes turns with all of us.
Now she’ll not only watch her music videos, but Christian will watch his Fortnite type of stuff or whatever he likes to watch. I can’t think of that other guy right now. But anyhow, there’s a phrase where Christian goes “ah-wa-oo-ah.” Monica could be having the worst day, and if Christian starts saying “ah-wa-oo-ah,” Monica will just burst out laughing.
And I’ve used his tool too, and I would tell him, “Hey Christian, you know what? That worked when you’re gone. Monica wasn’t doing the best. And I started saying, ‘ah-wa-oo-ah,’ and she just started laughing.” So Christian’s had a big impact on Monica’s life.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. It seems like they have a lot in common, and they enjoy one another’s company, and they’ve both benefited from that relationship. It’s not just a one-way street.
Gary Martinez: Exactly.
David Hirsch: I’m thinking about supporting organizations, and I’m wondering if there are any other organizations, in addition to the school system that you made reference to, that have been good for Monica.
Gary Martinez: We’ve gone to some of the support groups here in Colorado Springs. Like way back I would jump on some support groups when I found out that that’s a way to meet other parents and do things in the communities for the autism and Asperger’s groups we have here.
So from there we were able to start making some friends, people who go through the same things we do. And there’s no judgment. Just things like we go to the park and we have a good time. Or they have a trunk and treat, things like that. A lot of good things. And they also have a lot of educational things for the parents to go to.
So Monica is able to make some new friends. And at one time I rented out one of my friend’s Taekwondo studios, and for a short period of time, I had a sensory gym. Basically I had a friend up in Denver donate some equipment. And I started out free, and I then did just a very small charge.
But it was where kids can come and just play and do what they want, just naturally guide themselves to whatever they want to do. They’re bouncing on a trampoline or swinging on a saucer swing or running into heavy bags—the wavelength bags that are kind of portable ones. A good thing we did back then was we were able to go out in the community and meet some people in the autism and Asperger’s world.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So I’d like to switch gears and talk about your book, Living Life Through Their Eyes: Our Journey Together on the Autism Spectrum, which came out in March of 2019.
One of the things I enjoyed about the book was at the beginning it gave a brief history of the evolution of autism, which I’ve never seen before. It was really fascinating. So thank you for including that at the beginning. And I’m sort of curious to know, what was your motivation for writing the book, and who would benefit from reading the book?
Gary Martinez: Parents of a child that is recently diagnosed with autism. The purpose of the book was that I didn’t want other parents to feel helpless like I did when their child is diagnosed. You know, “Where the heck do I go? What is this word? What are these other titles they’re giving us? What do I do?”
So I wanted to write this book so other parents wouldn’t be in panic mode. And I wanted to compress and put in as much information as I could. I never thought I’d be a book author, and at the time I didn’t even have a computer. I literally was so dedicated to writing this book, I felt guilty if I didn’t. I had to library hop. You know, you get 45 minute sessions at each branch. Sometimes you get an extension. So, man, I put in a lot of miles. I got to learn where every single branch was in Colorado Springs and also the surrounding area.
So I was there, man. I was making my trips. It took longer to write the book, but I had a no quit mentality, that I wanted to put it out there. And basically what it’s about is to just give parents a lot of information at once so they can get some confidence in themselves, get some self-education and feel a lot more positive about this.
And what I did was, like you said, I put a piece in there about what autism is. I just wanted to give as much value as I can. I wanted to really overdeliver. There are some of the therapies that we have to go to. And then I share the star of the show, which is Monica.
So I let people into our world and I share stories. I feel stories are just so huge for people to experience. And also a lot of us go through a lot of similar things. You get to root for somebody. You get to root for this underdog, and you see this little rollercoaster ride of things we go through, sometimes things that are hard, and then here’s things we did well. And, you know, every day of life is different. So sharing stories is in there.
And I also have some contributors in there, people who specialize in their own field to help out people with autism. That’s anyone from a massage therapist, a nutritionist, I did the fitness piece, a particular type of brain therapy that helps our kids out. So I just put as much as I could, and made it simple and easy to follow.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love the book. I’m wondering, did you have a favorite chapter, or is there something that comes to mind, when you look back on it after a couple, three years now, that is something you’re really proud of?
Gary Martinez: Yeah, I mean, I just reread it. I just finished it last week, and I was like, “Wow, I wrote that?” I’m happy with every chapter, because I think every chapter brings a lot of value. And I really like the stories a lot, because they help you understand what a child goes through and what things are really important to them, so people can learn.
Like, “If I see somebody on the street, and they’re doing something—maybe hand flapping, or they’re rocking back and forth, or they’re walking around in a circle or something like that—people can start to understand, oh, they’re doing that because they’re naturally trying to help themselves out, but they’re also asking for help.
So, wow, I just learned that swinging could be something that can help somebody. Or I just learned that jumping on a trampoline is something that helps. So for me it’s the stories in there, because it gives people the real life experience.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering, beyond what we’ve discussed, are there some important takeaways you can share with another dad who’s maybe closer to the beginning of his journey raising a child with autism, or another special need for that matter?
Gary Martinez: There’s a couple of different things I would say that are very easy to go to right away. Number one is if you’re on social media, you can go to Facebook. If you’re on there, search autism support groups in your local area. That could be number one. Number two, you can check out books on Amazon, and go through more than one. See what book kind of resonates with you more that you are attracted to. You can go that route and you can get a book.
Oh, I just had another tip. Oh my gosh. Right here on a podcast. Listen to some real life experience. You know, there’s so much you can get from a podcast that could be another route. So there’s three right there.
David Hirsch: Excellent. I’m wondering, what motivated you to get involved with the Special Fathers Network?
Gary Martinez: Well, I was referred by one of my friends, and we were part of the Health and Wellness Network. I just wanted to do more than just be a fitness trainer. I wanted to get into different areas. I wanted to learn how I can help people in different areas of life. So, looking at your podcast and seeing what it’s all about, and seeing all these amazing stories. I’ve watched a couple episodes, and just seeing how dedicated you are and how many people you can reach with the podcast—it’s amazing. So I’ve now stepped into this world, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen on the Dad to Dad Podcast here. I’m looking forward to learning more.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you. We’re thrilled to have you as part of the network. Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual acquaintance, Brianna Bragg, for helping connect us.
Gary Martinez: Yes, Brianna.
David Hirsch: So, is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Gary Martinez: Just that you have to have an open mind with autism and just be willing to learn something new and embrace the differences. If you’re an autism parent, one tip I would give you is that we have to be…I choose to be at my highest level. We have to win the morning before our kid wakes up. We have to take care of ourselves as number one. That way we can give our all to our child.
And just understand that they’re going to evolve. They’re going to have some changes. One day they may like this. The next day it’s something new. So we have to be ready for that. We have to learn how to adjust and pivot and enjoy this ride with them.
David Hirsch: Excellent. If somebody wants to learn more about your work or your book, Living Life Through Their Eyes: Our Journey Together on the Autism Spectrum, or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Gary Martinez: You can catch that book on Amazon, because I self-published it there. And if you want to see me or, you know, shoot me a message or email or anything like that, I’m on Facebook, Gary Martinez, Jr. As simple as that. I’m on all the other channels, Instagram, YouTube. Those are the big players right there. TikTok, if you want to see some really…
Oh, TikTok. Now check it out. Monica’s in there where we sometimes wear wigs, and we put on makeup one time. I wear a dress in some of my videos, and it’s all about songs that she likes. And she’ll tell me, “Pinky promise, dad, you’re gonna do that song. So I’ll see you on Friday the next time you pick me up.” And boom, it’s right there. So if you want a good laugh, you can check me out on TikTok. That’s @garymartinezjunior.
David Hirsch: Okay. We’ll be sure to include all that in the show notes so it’ll be as easy as possible for our listeners to follow up.
Gary, thank you for the time and many insights. As a reminder, Gary is just one of the dads who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Gary, thanks again.
Gary Martinez: Thank you so much for having me on.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Also, please be sure to register for the Special Fathers Network biweekly Zoom calls held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.
Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: The Dad to Dad podcast was produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.