Brain Energy Support Team (BEST) Board Director, Heather Wiech-Barnes believes in the value of personal and community empowerment. It is at the heart of everything she does, personally and professionally.

Heather Wiech-Barnes

She has always worked to protect and empower vulnerable populations. As a board director at BEST, Heather provides an ActuallyAutistic perspective to the BEST Team and its programming and services.

“BEST is about empowering the individual, and that is value I can get behind,” she shares. “Autistic adults have been waiting for programming that respects our wants and needs as well as our right to choose our own path. BEST can help our population work toward our goals.

I’m here with BEST because I am passionate about Autistic rights and acceptance, and I want to improve Autistic lives and foster self-determination. The Moving On Program is the best mentoring aid I have seen to help think through goals and how to reach them. I wish I had had this at (age) 20 or 22 to envision a future for myself. This just wasn’t taught in schools.”

One of the key building blocks of empowerment is the connection to self-care, something Heather is also interested in.  

Here is how Heather defines that connection.

“Self-care for me is many things at once,” she says. “It’s everything from keeping a calendar to remind myself to take meds or keeping the bedroom in comfortable lighting for working. Keeping my environment comfortable and my reminders automated, I can focus on whatever is in front of me.

Self-care is doing the needful AND rewarding myself afterward for accomplishing what I needed to.”

A piece of paper, with a pen and an old-fashioned compass on a wooden deskHeather continues, “As an Autistic community, self-care is very much similar although entirely tailored to the needs of the person. We all have sensory issues, but those issues can look very different person to person. I may love to hug people, but many Autistics find touch by strangers like a violation. Others may find tags on clothing tolerable, and I can’t stand them. There are many threads on foods we can/not stand or textures, and so on. Some choose to calm anxiety with mindfulness or yoga, and others choose medication or keeping busy.

As an expanded community, presumably, we would need to determine our common needs and best practices. I think the mindfulness walks in Etopia are a really good idea, for example. This seems to be a practice that fits for many.”

One thing that Heather knows for sure is that empowerment and self-care take time. She has learned a lot about herself over the years and what works best for her.

“I grew up in a household with systems. There was always a better way to do just about everything. This was my father and mother’s means to make the household function. Of course, this was never discussed or spoke of in terms such as these. This is just what we were to do.

When I grew up, it was a tremendous challenge for me to develop my own systems. I knew which ones I wanted to keep, but I was less sure on how to create my own. They were always created for me. It was polling other people for ideas that gave me more options on how to remember tasks and appointments, for example, then it was trial and error.

I’ve found that with the help of tools like Google /calendar, I can keep executive dysfunction under control somewhat. I’m able to prepare for things better mentally. This means less stress overall.”

These kinds of self-discoveries are vital to Heather, and she wants to keep building on that energy not only for herself, but for her community on the journey forward.

What does she look forward to in 2022?

Her work in Second Life is something she is really excited about.

“I’m currently learning the process of symbolic modeling in Second Life, something the Moving On Program can use as a tool for self-discovery. It’s fun for the user to make virtual sculptures which the peer mentors can use to help the user find their own truths. It’s really cool to watch light bulbs turn on for people.

Guidance is an art though. It requires practice, intuition, and the ability to not bring your own ideas and judgments to the process. It also requires picking up on the metaphors that people use and dialing into those symbols through the art. It’s a really awesome way to make use of the Second Life environment for the empowerment of real-life people.”

And of course, 2022 is also a year for Heather’s many life passions.

“I have many passions. I’m passionate about women’s rights and ending misogyny. I’m passionate about equality and respect for other cultures. I’m passionate about peace and tolerance. I’m passionate about LGBT+ acceptance. I’m passionate about mitigating the damage to our environment. I’m passionate about the love and care of my wife. Not necessarily in that order.” 

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