Why *This* Makes Us Better

I say all the time that being a special needs mom makes me a better parent for my other kids. It also makes me a better person. Here is why I think that--no actually, here is why I KNOW that.

I am less judgmental. I used to think I knew it all about parenting—you know—how I “would do it” if it was my kid. How I wouldn’t let my kid ever do that: How in Fred Meyer, I would never let my kid demand candy or how I would NEVER let my kid have a pacifier at age 3 (god forbid older!). Now, when I see parents, doing things that I don’t necessary *understand*, instead of being judgmental, I can realize that maybe, just maybe, those other parents do know what they are doing, and it is me who doesn’t get it. You know, maybe that kid has SPD and without the pacifier to keep himself calm and organized there a giant fit--and the parents haven't gotten a diagnosis yet. Who knows, right?

I am a better problem solver
. It is amazing how after five years of “teaching” problem solving skills, how KEENLY aware I am of how to solve problems. With my other kids, with my friends, with my husband. I am not always great at it—meaning I am still human and can totally miss someone else’s view, but after a few years of Collaborative Problem Solving practice I am for the first time, truly able to understand how it is possible to have a win-win solution. That can do wonders for your marriage, and I am really counting on it being helpful for the teenager years, especially with Nick.

I am a better friend. I have learned the true meaning of listening. After so many years of talking to people who flat out didn’t understand my life (at a time that I really didn't either), I have learned that what I wanted from them was to be heard. I now am able to give that in return. So when I say, “My kid had a meltdown today and thrashed his room, threatened to kill me and then spent fifteen minutes crying so hard he couldn’t breathe” and my friend says, “Oh, my daughter has her first sleep over on Saturday!” I now know that she too wants the same thing as me—just simply to be heard. And I am actually able to do that for her.

I know what the real victories are in life. I think everyone says that you should really focus on the small victories every day. The reality is that is all I get, so that is exactly what I have learned to love. A perfectly written word is enough for real celebration--no joke man--pull out the party hats and bake a cake! lol A day without threatening any one is a true testament to my son’s ability to stay calm and organized and something that gives me great pride. Reading a book at grade level, having the sun out for us to get some Vitamin D, the fleeting moments where we are all sitting quietly at the table—those are what mean the most to me. I would never have been able to see this had it not been for this journey.

I am able to understand what it means to want your kids to be “happy”. Remember when you wanted your kid to be popular? Or play football? Or be a champion debater? Maybe you dreamed that he would attend your Alma Matter or have a great signing voice? What I know now, is that all I really want is for him to have *a* friend, for him to be able to *play* with other kids, that he be able to *get his point across* in a conversation without frustration. Now I dream that he will go to college—any college. I dream that he will find his *voice* wherever and whatever it may be. I truly know that I just want him to find happiness. True happiness in a place he belongs, with people who love him and a future that is only limited by his imagination.

I have learned not to rush my kids’ development. In retrospect I think it is so funny to know that I really wanted my kids to talk! Now, I just want them to stop. LOL. I think though that I do realize that all kids learn the skills they need in their own time. There is no more rushing speaking than there is rushing potty training. I actually *got* that by my third kiddo. I also know that skills have to actually be taught—for most of us—not just those on the spectrum. How many people do you know that inadvertently make social mistakes still as an adult? I think my husband’s most famous is, “Try the salsa Adrienne brought—it tastes better than it looks!” Ouch. We all do have to learn each thing—step by step—mistake by mistake.

I have learned not to compare my life to others. This is a lesson that is hard to learn--and I have to relearn it regularly. Life is strange--you begin by comapring everything you have or do to your peers—from an early age it was who had the best lunchbox, who had the coolest clothes, who had the best hair, who was the most athletic, who had the coolest car, who went to the best college, who got the best job, who made the most money, who had the best house, and so on and so on. The reality is that no matter what I can compare to others in my life—comparing my family, my kids, their accomplishments, my day to day life, my stress level, my ability to do most things—just simply doesn’t compare to the average family. It has been a process to attain this understanding, and I still have moments where I am simply pissed that I can't hop a plane to Italy--but Holland does grow on you. :)

I have learned that I would rather have my problems, than yours. As strange as it is to say, it is totally true. The reality is that no matter how much my problems suck, they are mine, and I do have a much better chance of solving them than I do of solving yours. LOL As my husband says, “The grass is not greener on the other side, it is just a different shade of brown.” So true. That means that no matter how much I am struggling, no matter how hard my decisions are, or my day to day life, I am still happy that I am *me* and have my problems and my kids.

I am more compassionate. I have always been empathetic, and compassionate my whole life, but now, I can truly say I feel others' pain when I see them struggling on this journey. I think because for most people, the problems they solve or the things they overcome are truly "over". For me, those feelings of crisis, both old and new, are right on the surface every day. The feelings of watching your child struggling at school, of failing at friendship, of each little thing never go far away--they are always here. And one comment from a woman new to this journey and I am immediately there again emotionally. I see that as a gift: A way my journey can mean more.

I am able to teach my children empathy. Most people think that empathy is something you have--or don't have--but don't get that it is taught. Parents are often doing that "how would you feel if....?" thing with their kids, but I honestly don't think most of them could tell you why. LOL I am clear on why we teach empthy, how to teach empathy, and because of my special needs kiddo, my other boys are forced to practice empathy daily--more often than they'd like. I think that is a blessing. A true added value to this whole thing--my boys are going to be good people--capable of seeing other's pain and perspective. They too will be better for this journey.

I have deeper connections with people. This is a strange one to explain, but when your children's health is first and foremost on your mind, every day, every hour, and every minute, you end up having to give more of yourself to each interaction because, well, you can't help it. We all start doing the opposite--we are afraid, we get closed off, we feel like no one understands, we become isolated and more. But at some point, you learn that your special needs kiddo is a defining trait of you. And as hard as it is to deal with, that too becomes who you are--a person who wears their heart on their sleeve everyday because to hold it in is just too painful. Then the beauty of all of that emotion comes out--you connect with people on a level that is amazing. Maybe at first, it is just those who also have special needs kiddos, but eventually it is everyone--your "pain" is seen as you being open and honest and people respond to that. They feel like they can immediately trust you with their "pain". And a deeper connection is born as they are able to be open for the first time.

I feel like I could go on and on about how this journey has shaped me for the better. How this journey has changed how I parent my NT (Neruo-Typical) kids and how it has made me a better wife, friend and person--not to mention mother--

I will conclude by asking you to spend this weekend focused on what the "journey" has *given* to you--I think you will be amazed that some of the greatest gifts come from what can seem like the worst situation.


Interview with Liz Chapdelaine, SLP

Interview with Liz Chapdelaine; an amazing Speech Therapist with great insight into SPD kiddos!

Hartley: Welcome Liz! Thank you so much for joining me here on my blog! My readers are really looking forward to learning more about how SPD affects their kids’ language—Are you ready?

Liz: I hope so!

Hartley: Just to catch my readers up to speed, Liz worked with Gabriel for about a year during Kindergarten. She was an amazing help for Gabriel and our family (Do you know how many visual aids we have? lol). Liz, can you tell my readers a little bit about your background? How did you get on this path to helping kids with Speech Language issues?

Liz: In college, I started my degree in elementary education. I took the course Introduction to Communication Disorders as an elective, and instantly knew that this was the field for me! To become a Speech Language Pathologist, I majored in Communication Disorders in undergraduate school and then achieved my Masters of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. I have been practicing now for 16 years (and still loving it!).

Hartley: No way--16 years?!? I would never have guessed. :) I know you have worked in the public school system; what are the benefits and/or drawbacks to private speech therapy vs. school based in your experience?

Liz: I really enjoyed the public school setting and miss some aspects very much. I valued being part of a team and was able to directly help the kids with their educational goals. Unfortunately, I had so many kids on my caseload that my time with each one was very limited. Also, school districts have specific criteria that the students have to meet in order to qualify for services. Many of the kids who I tested and knew would benefit from speech therapy did not qualify for services. In private practice, I have the freedom to work on skills that impact the children’s lives in broader ways. Sometimes, a minor skill deficit can be addressed at an early age allowing the child to catch up rather than waiting until it becomes a bigger deficit and therefore much more difficult to overcome. In addition, in private practice, I get to know the children and their families much better. This is always very helpful in supporting them.

Hartley: I have actually experienced that myself; Gabriel definitely benefited from private Speech a great deal: even when he didn't qualify at school. As moms to special needs kids, we often feel like we over react to every little thing; can you give some ideas to my readers with young kids (think around the age of 2) of what to watch out for? Are there early indicators that it is time to get an evaluation?

Liz: Here is a general guideline:

By the end of 7 months, many children are able to:
· turn head when name is called
· smile back to another person
· respond to sound with sounds
· enjoy social play (such as peek-a-boo)
By the end of 1 year (12 months), many children are able to:
· use simple gestures (waving “bye bye”)
· make sounds such as “ma” and “da”
· imitate actions in their play (clap when you clap)
· respond when told “no”
By the end of 1-1/2 years (18 months), many children are able to:
· do simple pretend play (“talk “on a toy phone)
· point to interesting objects
· look at object when you point at it and tell them to “look”
· use several single words unprompted
By the end of 2 years (24 months), many children are able to:
· use 2 to 4 word phrases
· follow simple instructions
· become more interested in other children
· point to object or picture when named
By the end of 3 years (36 months), many children are able to:
· show affection for playmates
· use 4 to 5 word sentences
· imitate adults and playmates (run when other children run)
· play make-believe with dolls, animals and people (“feed” a teddy bear)

Hartley: Great information! I also have many readers who currently have their kids in Speech Therapy, and many more think they should go back. Generally speaking, what kind of issues do you see in your practice on a day to day basis?

Liz: I see kids with Apraxia, Auditory Processing Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Articulation Disorders, Social Pragmatic Disorders and Language Disorders.

Hartley: Some families I talk to, seem to not understand exactly how SPD affects their child’s speech, and more importantly, how they process verbal (heard) information. Can you tell me a little bit about how that works?

Liz: Poor auditory processing can manifest in a variety of ways including impairments in academic performance, communication and self-esteem. The following behaviors are often seen in children with Auditory Processing Disorders:
· deficient listening skills
· discrimination problems (hearing the wrong words)
· problems following verbal directions
· distraction by background noises (air conditioning, fan, people talking)
· poor organization of verbal messages (including word-retrieval issues)
· oral and written expression difficulties
· difficulty remembering what they hear
· difficulty learning to read
Auditory processing involves the auditory system, the cognitive system, the language system and the sensory system. All of these need to be working and integrated to process auditory information well.

Hartley: What if my kid has great articulation—meaning he is easily understood: Does that mean that he doesn’t have Auditory Processing issues?

Liz: Many children with auditory processing disorders develop articulation skills that are intact. Good articulation (or clear speech without sound errors) is not enough information to rule out auditory processing issues.

Hartley: Like you already know, all of our kids like to know what to expect, and more and more, us parents need the same! When you are bringing in a new client, tell us how the process works. What kind of testing do you do?

Liz: Generally, when I first meet the child, the parents fill out an intake packet with child’s developmental history and background. I often administer standardized tests that address the area(s) of concern. The amount of testing really depends on how much has been done previously as well as parent and insurance requests.

Hartley: In your experience, do SPD kiddos tend to have the same trouble areas? What types of concerns are most common for kids with SPD?

Liz: Many children with SPD are either hypersensitive (over-sensitive) or hyposensitive (under-sensitive) to sound. Both of these can lead to auditory processing issues. Both can impact regulation and arousal which can impair processing and attention to auditory input. This is one of the reasons that so many children with SPD benefit from therapies like The Listening Program. Children with SPD often have difficulty following verbal directions (and processing verbal information in general), have difficulty developing reading skills and are distracted by background noises (or even appear to shut down when there is too much auditory stimulation).

Hartley: I joked about the Visual Aids earlier, but I am sure my house wouldn’t run without them (I have 5 major ones we use every day for routine)! Why are visual aids so important for SPD kiddos?

Liz: Often, children with auditory processing deficits are very visual learners. Their learning styles are more visual and that is a strength that can be built upon. The visual support helps the children to process the message. In addition, the visual supports are concrete and can be referenced repeatedly so that the children can prompt themselves rather than having a verbal message repeated over and over (which can be frustrating for the parents and the child). It should be noted that some children with SPD have difficulty integrating auditory and visual information. In these cases, it is important to offer the visual and verbal input separately (i.e. “look, then listen”).

Hartley: That makes sense--the visual support sure does work at our house. I noticed when you were working with Gabriel, that you used a computer. I am amazed that technology has moved along so far—is everything computerized?
Liz: No, there are many fantastic, effective computer programs that are helpful in building the foundational skills for auditory processing (auditory memory, auditory segmentation, auditory discrimination, auditory syntheses and rhyming). That is only part of an effective speech-language treatment session. It is also important to put these skills into use in other types of activities to help with generalization.

Hartley: I have heard, from friends that their Speech Therapist is able to give them a definitive timeline for when things will improve; like your child “will be able to say “r” in three months”. This hasn’t been my experience, and I am wondering if the kinds of issues that SPD kiddos struggle with are things that ever truly resolve, or if they just get better/easier? How do you know when your kid is finished with Speech Therapy?

Liz: That is a great question. I hesitate to give families timelines, every child is different and has their own timeline for development and progress in therapy. In my experience, kids with SPD (and many other issues) improve and learn techniques to compensate for their deficit areas. It is important for the parents to play a role in the decision of when therapy is finished. The decision is usually based on a combination of one or more of the following:
standardized test result
reported performance at school
observation of the child in a variety of settings
parent concerns

Hartley: Liz, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us! For my readers that live in the Seattle area, and need some help with their child, what is the best way to reach you?

Liz: I am easily reached by phone at (425) 314-1716, e-mail at lizchapdelaine@gmail.com and your readers are welcome to look at my website for more information http://www.bloomingspeech.com/ .

Hartley: Thanks again Liz, you are such a wonderful resource for all of us parents out there. Gabriel is better for having you as a part of his “team”!

Liz: Thank you!