Our Philosophy and Mission

    The Whole Self Center’s philosophy suggests that every human being is more than a body with a brain. When caring for a child – a whole person - we are experiencing the creative spirit present in that child & in ourselves.

    • As we remain interested in exploring creative possibilities for the individual in the moment, we are more open to experiencing something new, such as developing a valuable skill we never knew or thought was possible.
    • In this way, we are less likely to stay stuck in repeating our old, inhibiting habits & behaviors.
    • By living this understanding with individuals with autism, we continue to become better able to respect & support children for who they already are, deserving of love & attention simply for being.

How We Got Started

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it. Helen Keller.

I’m writing these words on April 5, 2006, 5 days before the launching of our website. My name is Stephen C. Hartman, and among other things, I am a social worker. I’d like to begin by saying that The Whole Self Center started after many years of self searching. We all have a story. There’s nothing particularly special about mine. Some of us just have more twists and turns and details and colors in the content of the plot. My story led me to choose to get a masters degree in social work. I wanted to understand myself so I could better understand and interact with others.

It took me decades to understand that what I thought were my greatest weaknesses were really two of my strongest and most valuable assets. No longer fearing these "conditions" as vulnerabilities or viewing them as part of a shadow of my "self" that I begged would disappear, I started listening more carefully to the messages they were trying to tell me about myself and how I was living life.

Try as hard as you'd like … you can't kill the messenger. However, you can begin to look at what's presented to you with curiosity. Call it a trial by fire. Call it a disease (dis-ease). Call it evil (which is really only "live" spelled backwards); you still have to deal with it … whatever the "it" is for you. And here's the rub: if you stay stuck in despair or even anger about "it", you have at least three problems. (1) You get to feel the debilitating effects of despair. (2) You get to suffer the effects of making hasty and often self righteous decisions as a result of swirling in anger. And (3) you still have to deal with the original problem: the "it" you’re trying desperately to get rid of. Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with experiencing despair or anger or any other emotions. They can be great teachers if you need them. The issue is: how long do you want to live your life at this level of functioning? I only know to ask this question because I've been stuck living this way myself: challenged by Asperger’s as well as Bipolar Disorders.

I understand how my clients feel. Those of us with conditions that affect the brain’s "wiring" have a greater responsibility to be mindful of our thoughts and actions and, consequently, have an exaggerated requirement to take good care of ourselves. Living with these requirements and fulfilling them is not such a bad way to operate in this world. If more people did it, we’d be living in a completely different world. But not everyone gets past the pain. All of us know how difficult it is to breakthrough the resistance to change. It’s also not easy dealing with the difficult personalities of other people in our lives. All of us secretly desire that what happens in every moment stays within our control; no one likes having to deal with the unexpected. Personally, I also secretly desired to be able to remain emotionally and mentally stable regardless of what happened outside of me. Something inside of me told me this was possible. When I finally stopped looking for external answers to internal questions, I discovered what works. I also discovered there really is something much more to us than what we "think" is happening outside of or even to us.

I’m not at all afraid of being completely open about myself and my history anymore. I am truly a whole person – a whole package; and every aspect of my life has brought me to the point of writing these words. I actually never believed I could write a coherent sentence. Sometimes I still struggle to retrieve simple words. Thank you June Thearle, my college English professor, for believing in me. She continued to give me A’s on my compositions even though I had problems with idioms and diction here and there. I kept those papers - they're still in an old file cabinet. I've gone back to them during those dark-night-of-the-soul days, months, and years I've revisited again and again when I swore I was worthless, stupid, incapable, and unlovable.

Along the way, I learned to gravitate to people who supported me. I was always the teacher's pet. My 6th grade teacher even made me the editor of our school newspaper, yet I never felt fully confident enough to thoroughly believe in myself - and that's the point. Somebody, somewhere, somehow has to be willing to see something about you - something more about you than you believe about yourself – in order for you to step out of your comfort zone. The problem is that most folks are too busy worrying about themselves to truly think about you. This self-centered habit can take many forms. In fact, it may seem as though folks are trying to help you; but what they’re really doing is trying to mold you into something other than who you truly are so that they don't have to fully deal with or accept what they think you need to change about yourself. Did you get that?

Whew! No wonder most of us behave as though we’re codependent! The inner mantrum for people is: "I'll be more concerned about you, so I can be happy. I’ll even try to "fix" you in the way I think you need to be fixed … that way I can secretly avoid dealing with and distracting myself from all the things I don't like about me." And we wonder why there are so many killings and so much drama and turmoil to read about every morning or hear about on the daily news.

So here's the deal. Years ago I see this movie called "The Miracle Worker" … I’ve probably seen it 10 times by now; and every time I witness Helen Keller say "wah" for water as she finally realizes the concept of language, I get chills. My heart fills; my eyes water. I want to be Helen's teacher, Annie Sullivan. Thankfully, my days of feeling I had to rescue people from their suffering are over. Now I know I'm only here to be supportive. It hasn't been easy to switch gears from being a "helper" to a "supporter". It has taken me years to fully understand that there is a definite difference between the two roles.

So the shortened version is that I became a social worker. As a social work student I worked in a psychiatric ward, child protective services and foster care. After that, I worked as a family therapist dealing primarily with adolescents. I later became certified as a personal trainer. The man who built the gym I used as my studio asked me to help his daughter, Rockie. Her real name is Bobby, but she considers herself to be a fighter. In addition to having Prader-Willie’s syndrome and being in a wheelchair, Rockie also has Pervasive Developmental Disorder. She hadn't been able to stand since she was four years old. I supported her to understand how she could get through her melt downs (which she called "fits") and pointed out how she could entertain new ideas. As we worked together, within a year, Rockie realized that she could stand. This simple act that many of us take for granted opened many doors for her. She now trusted more than only a few people to help her to the toilet, and this allowed her to become more accessible to the community. Together, she and I discovered that she could swim laps, which is now one of her favorite sources of exercise. I, along with her friends and family, were amazed at her progress and continue to be amazed at her spunk. Rockie is easy to love; she’s a very sweet soul.

Because of my comfort with Rockie, I started seeing kids with PDD and Asperger’s, and I met Matthew - another absolutely amazing kid - who finally had the meltdown at school that his mother and I knew all along he would have. Matt looked and acted like a typical kid at school, and then he'd come home and run and bang into walls or curl up in the fetal position on the floor. Continuing with the shortened version, Mom asked me to help because there was no appropriate school placement available for Matt. I had just moved into my home which I had organized into a family therapy and play therapy office. I had also moved my bipolar mother into my home because I could no longer watch her die in an assisted-living home.

Anyway, I consented to caring for Matt (who was in full crisis mode) in my home during the day while I saw my private practice clients late afternoon and evening. I also was present with Matt in my dining room as he received home tutoring from the school system. I had to make sure he wouldn’t punch his teacher. I was familiar with handling psychotic episodes; my mother had been in and out of psychiatric wards at least a dozen times since I was three months old.

I'm trying to speed this up so I can get to the part about how The Whole Self Center got started. Of course to me, you need to understand the back story. I had to come to understand what being a whole self really meant for my "self" in order to create a center where I could support other people to understand that they are also whole selves.

Matt’s amazing and resourceful mother registered Matt on the Maryland Medical Assistance Autism Waiver. I was supposed to take care of Matt for one month until he could be placed in a school. One month turned into seven. Matt’s service coordinator suggests I do what I’m doing for Matt with other kids with autism on the waiver because there weren’t many providers in Maryland to help them. I didn’t even realize the Autism Waiver existed up until that point. I said yes, thinking I'd be working with a few kids in my home or going to their homes to help them and their families understand how to deal with autism.

Instead, within a few short months after my name was placed on the Maryland Medical Assistance Autism Waiver provider list; mothers started calling me for help. I kept saying yes. Realizing I had to start hiring people to help me, I became a mental health clinician who had to learn how to be an administrator and a business person in short order - all this from a person who swore he was worthless, stupid, incapable, and unlovable. I just kept going further, somehow trusting in creative possibilities.

As of March 2010, I now employ 200 professionals and paraprofessionals; and I have a terrific team of administrative assistants and consultants who support me and the WSC to serve 100 children with autism and their families. We continue to expand across Maryland and evolve our quality of service.

I’ve observed how many of us have spent so much time and energy either fearing people with autism out of ignorance or fixing them out of a desperate urge to help and teach them, that we've missed the point altogether. They have something to teach us.