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Meet Kate Movius of Autism Interaction Solutions in Highland Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Movius.

Kate, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
If you had told me at twenty that I’d be doing the things I am today, I would have said, “Nope. You’ve got the wrong gal.” I spent my late teens and twenties in a kind of heightened state of adventure-seeking: solo hitchhiking through Morocco, couch-surfing in Paris, fronting a few Boston bands, performing sketches at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard. My life’s trajectory looked like a seismograph during an earthquake: one creative pursuit leading to another, then flatlining for a while, then starting someplace completely different.

Everything changed with the birth of my first son, Aidan.

My longtime love and I were living in Silverlake; we were broke (it was the 90’s and rent was cheap) and we spent our time having potluck jam sessions and living spontaneously. Baby came as a happy surprise. Pregnancy calmed and anchored me. I had to surrender to the process. A friend urged me to take labor classes, so we signed up with a teacher who lived a few blocks away – she’s a dear friend to this day. These classes were a game changer for me – unexpectedly so. We ended up trying for an unmedicated hospital birth, which was another swerve in the road I never could have foreseen. Unmedicated birth?? I’d have thought this was a nutso idea prior to learning about the process of labor, pain management and advocacy.

When we brought our boy home, I had this strange sensation of having been brought to my knees by the process yet coming through on the other side with new muscles. A new skill set I was still trying to define. I guess you could call it the beginnings of resilience.

Most of my friends who’d given birth felt negatively about the experience. There was a “let’s trade war stories” element to hanging out with other new moms to which I couldn’t relate. How could I share my experience (tough, sure, but ultimately empowering) without alienating friends who’d felt terrified and out of control? Could I possibly help other women and their partners gain strength and confidence from the process? After a few months of whacked-out, exhausted new motherhood, I decided to become a certified childbirth instructor. I wasn’t overly dogmatic about natural childbirth – I was pro-hospital and medical intervention, if needed. My goal in teaching couples, teens, and single moms was to replace their fear with knowledge by educating them about their bodies, their self-perceptions and how to advocate for themselves. I taught for close to ten years – first in Hollywood and then in Los Feliz. I loved my work more than anything I’d ever done.

It was such a surprise, this turn in the road: an unexpected pregnancy led to an unexpected type of labor class, which brought me to an entirely unexpected kind of job, which fulfilled me deeply. And because of what birth – and later, my varied and wonderful students – taught me, I was able to cope with unfathomable hardships to come.

In 2003, shortly before his 3rd birthday, Aidan was diagnosed with autism in the moderate-to-severe range. I was catapulted into an entirely different stratosphere, a different identity. No longer the capable, grounded teacher with her perfect baby boy. No longer a person with an idea of what the future held. Everything fell away – the plans, the social circles, the entire trajectory of motherhood.

When he was diagnosed, I said aloud, “I’m not the right person for this. Aidan needs a different mother.” I truly didn’t believe I was capable of providing the kind of care he needed and deserved. Then a very wise friend asked me, “Well, I guess this is your assignment, isn’t it? Are you going to accept this assignment or not?”

So, I did.

Has it been a smooth road?
Progress was slow. Excruciating, at times. Our boy was so sad and fragile. He wept at birthday parties and the playground, on Halloween and Christmas – all the experiences which are supposed to bring joy to kids. There’s nothing more painful than not being able to alleviate the pain of your child. He couldn’t tell us where it hurt. Why it hurt. He rarely slept. For eight years, he would start his day between 1 and 3am. He required constant supervision. In the midst of it all, we had another baby: James. And then my mother – my rock, my number-one cheerleader and only babysitter – died unexpectedly. Again, that voice of doom declared: “I’m the wrong person for this. I can’t do this.” But the muscles were there. Resilience – borne of necessity and the unexpected – carried me through.

I found the best way to combat the exhaustion and despair of those days was to help others. To be of service. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. I formed a parent support group at my son’s school, where other moms and dads of special needs kids could come and share whatever hell or triumph their lives had brought them that week. I continued to teach childbirth classes and found that living with severe autism created much more depth and nuance to my approach. I turned to writing as another avenue of expression and created a special needs column in LA Parenting Magazine. I was flown to New York and interviewed by Katie Couric to talk about my experiences. Again, things were happening that I never could have possibly foreseen. I often felt like an exhausted husk of a person – but the universe seemed to have an idea of what I was supposed to be doing.

There were many days when it was all I could do to get through the day in 5-minute increments. “That’s all you need to do,” I’d say to myself. “Just get through the next 5 minutes.” Sometimes it was one minute or 10 seconds. Step-by-step. Or as I would say to my students, “Focus on your breath. Inhale, exhale. That’s it. Just breathe.”

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Autism Interaction Solutions – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I work primarily with first responders, providing them with training on how to de-escalate and communicate with autistic people. I train sheriff’s deputies, mental evaluation crisis workers and fire fighters. I also work with other LA County departments, like Parks and Recreation employees, to help them have the tools to assist and include those with developmental disabilities.

I created the training by necessity about 10 years ago. By that time, Aidan had gone missing at least three times, resulting in encounters with the LAPD. Many children with autism will wander – or in Aidan’s case, sprint with Olympian speed – away from caregivers. I realized this pattern was kind of a ticking time bomb for Aidan; with each incident, the risk of injury or escalation with a first responder was rising. I collaborated initially with a college friend who had become a police officer. He helped me come up with real-life scenarios in which officers might be called to assist – for example, situations where somebody is behaving erratically or caregivers appear to be assaulting a child, when in fact, they’re trying to de-escalate their loved one. There are so many different scenarios that can present themselves to responding officers: they might know that somebody is autistic or developmentally disabled as they roll up, or they might have no idea that autism is a factor. They might receive a phone call from a member of the public, saying that there is a mentally ill person threatening them in a Target store when actually it’s an autistic person who has lost their way; or an autistic person who is accompanied by loving parents but is behaving in a way that is alarming to people who aren’t familiar with autistic characteristics.

I began introducing my training several years ago as a free pilot program for the Glendale PD. I needed to figure out the best way to engage a room full of cops and try to get across as much information as I could in a condensed period of time. I honed my curriculum over a period of a few years until I was able to distill some key points primarily through interactive exercises (much as I did in my labor classes). I found that I tended to lose the room during the lecture portion – no matter how dynamic I was – but was able to capture the officers’ attention when I asked them to stand up and participate. My ultimate goal is to give officers a few simple and effective tools they can use in a wide range of situations with people who are having a communication and/or behavioral breakdown.

The most important piece of my training – and the most effective, by far – is the inclusion of autistic co-trainers. I work with anywhere from 3 to 5 families at a time who have autistic family members, ranging from highly verbal and comfortable in front of a room full of people, to completely nonverbal. We don’t often know how the autistic person will be feeling at the time of the training and so there might be behaviors that arise which perfectly illustrate for these officers the material we’ve been covering.

What I see in that room week after week is a kind of evolution: students start out with little-to-no knowledge of developmental disabilities and two hours later, their perspective has shifted in a fundamental way. They are not only better equipped to manage a variety of situations, but they make a real and lasting connection with their autistic teachers. The bottom line: first responders want things to end well. They want to be equipped to de-escalate these situations. Meeting autistic people deepens that commitment.

One of the most rewarding parts of my work is hearing about the “saves.” These are incidents in which officers didn’t use force with a suspect because of the skills acquired in my autism training. There have been a few dozen of these incidents that I know of, including one in which an autistic teenager became agitated with his parents, ran down the street, jumped into the back of a police car and began hitting the officer in the car. The officer remembered my training and realized this young man was exhibiting behavioral signs of autism. All ended well. I got a heart-rending letter from the teen’s father a few days later, thanking me. While I can’t take credit for saving a life, I feel inspired to know that the officer had learned some crucial skills, which enabled everyone to walk away safe and sound.

Another part of my work is helping families prepare for wandering incidents and educating the wider community about people who wander. Two years ago, I joined the Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force. It was initially created by L.A. Supervisor Janice Hahn, along with Kirk Moody, whose wife Nancy – who suffered from Alzheimer’s – went missing from the LA County Art Museum. I was asked to represent the autism community. The task force worked for a period of nine months and the process was extraordinary. All of these disparate agencies united to work towards the same goal: how to prevent and address wandering for those with Alzheimer’s, autism and dementia.

The task force established LA Found (https://lafound.lacounty.gov/), a program which distributes tracking bracelets created by the Project Lifesaver organization. I had previously helped introduce Project Lifesaver to the Glendale PD and the initiative was a success. The program is now available countywide and has resulted in a 100% recovery rate. Aidan wears his bracelet every day and we all rest much easier knowing that should he sprint away into the night (something he hasn’t done in a few years/fingers crossed), his whereabouts can be tracked.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What I like least: Do I need to even say it? Traffic! Also – housing prices. When our little family started out back in 2001, we didn’t have much money, but we were still able to afford a house in Highland Park. Young people, families and long-time residents have been priced out of most LA neighborhoods and this has to change. The pendulum’s got to swing back.

For the most part, I love all things LA: the people, the climate, the crazy, the bougainvillea and coyotes, the talent and adversity all balled up into one vibrant, complicated, gorgeous sprawl.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Prem Dhanjal , portraits 1 and 2

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