Friday, May 17, 2013

Gratefulness Improves Therapy Results

When parents come to me for a speech evaluation, they fill out an intake form with their information and concerns.

As we do the intake they tell me all the things their child can't do.  

I write them down, and sometimes the list is extensive.  

Often, the moms get all choked up as they describe how difficult their life is.  

We talk about the goals we want to reach as a team. 

We talk about the child's strengths and how those strengths will help us get there.  

We decide on a frequency and, once therapy is authorized, we begin our work together. 

My first goal for every child is to make it so fun that they want to return over and over again.  That's my way of making everyone's lives a little easier.

Some moms come to me and have been hardened by their experiences.

They inspire me to keep on keepin' on.

Some moms are in continual emotional pain.

My first goal for every suffering mom is to help to give her perspective.  

I remind her of other moms out there. 

If her child only has 10 words, I remind her of the children who are 15 years old and have never uttered a sound besides crying in pain or howling in despair, frustration or anger.

If her child is hyperactive, I remind her of the mother who is sitting at the bedside of a child in a hospital who will never walk, and how that mom would give her right arm to have her child run about the room as her own little boy is doing right now.

There are mothers who have listed 15 different things their children DO EAT, including BROCCOLI, and then call the child a "picky" eater.  

Then I explain that my own child had an eating delay and continues to have a limited diet, and that I would throw a huge celebratory party (including champagne), if my son finally ate all those things.
As a mother of a son with various "issues," I was very lucky that his dad always saw the bright side.  As my clinical brain was focused on atypical behaviors, delayed speech and poor coordination, his dad would reply, "but he's such a cool kid!"

His dad helped me to gain perspective, as I took care of all the "therapy."

I had him in the middle of my graduate studies in Speech Language Pathology, and my supervisor once commented that I had my own clinic at home.

I bathed my son 3 times a day (because he verbalized more when he was in the warm water), fed him in the bathtub until he was 3 years old (because he ate more calmly in the warm water), and signed him up for Tae Kwon Do when he was 4 years old, because I was hoping it would help with both his tantrums "YES, SIR!" and coordination (which it did).

I was happy not having an official diagnosis, because it wouldn't tell me anything I didn't already know.

The school system's denial of my son's difficulties forced me to go to the neuro-developmental specialist for a diagnosis, because my requests for someone to help him with his fine motor issues, since he first started Kindergarten, were being denied.  

My years of experience as a special educator and my knowledge as a speech language pathologist were ignored by the school staff.  It seemed that I was being perceived as an overly-concerned parent who was making mountains out of mole hills.

I tried to explain that my son was in as good of a shape as he was because of all the hours of therapy I had given him at home, myself, since he was a toddler.  They didn't seem to care. 

During that time, as I was still learning to focus on the positive (his strengths), I was forced to list the deficits, in order to get him help.

His second grade teacher was the one who saw his need for help in the academic environment, and we finally got an IEP.  But, as if having a child with "issues" isn't hard enough, it didn't happen until we went through the nightmare of him being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. 

Let's add to the perspective pile:

If you think going through therapy with your child is difficult, try having to sticking him up to 10 times a day for either a blood test or an injection of a syringe filled with insulin.  

I dare you.  

Have him cringe from your touch, and look at you with fear and mistrust.  

Try that on for size for a year, and then tell me you don't feel luckier than a lottery winner that your child gets to go through his or her days eating whenever and whatever he or she wants without a thought of his or her pancreas and beta cells.

I am SO grateful that my son now has calloused fingertips and an insulin pump, so the sticking is minimal and routine.

I am grateful that he doesn't have an even more serious or terminal disease.  

I am grateful that he is such a cool kid that is now flourishing in his acting, voice, musical theatre and hip-hop dance classes.  

I am grateful that I decided to become a special educator, learning disabilities teacher-consultant and speech language pathologist, so that I could eventually help my own child, and so many others.

I am also grateful that my own experiences help me to kind-of step into the shoes of the moms and dads I meet, so that I can try to see their perspective in some things, and identify with the ongoing pain and disappointment.  

Then I work with them and watch that pain being slowly replaced by relief, as skills improve.

I am Noelle Michaels, a speech and learning specialist. 

I am grateful to be able to help parents (and even children) change their perspectives and reach for higher goals than they ever thought possible.  This is one reason that I truly love my job.


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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist
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  1. You posted this to my blog, so I'm going to go ahead and comment.

    While I appreciate that you are trying to give parents "perspective" it bothers me very much that you would belittle their struggles by comparing them to parents who have it "worse." In my experience, this is not helpful at all. What moms need, especially those in pain, trying to navigate a new system of therapy, medicine, and education, is someone to listen and to empathize with them. Yes, there is always someone that has it worse. But that doesn't mean that what a mother is going through isn't very hard.

    Just because your child isn't in the hospital doesn't mean that having a diabetes is hard. Just because my daughter doesn't have diabetes doesn't mean that having a life filled with therapy isn't hard. No one has one the lottery here. We're all just trying to make it through.

    As a mother of two children who have had extensive speech therapy, I beg of you to not tell mothers whose children you help how to feel. Your job isn't to give perspective. It's to get our children to communicate.

  2. My response is here:

  3. Brenda Boyle McDonnell [wrote on my Facebook page]: Loved your gratefullness blog, Noelle, you are a sage! It is so true that perspective and grateful ness with a "glass half-full" mentality makes such a difference in therapy results and just life in general. While it's important to acknowledge sorrow and disappointment during those"trigger" times when you are reminded of your grief, I know that I can not remain in this place for too long and need to move forward. Ultimately, there ends up being unexpected blessings along the way- despite the challenges. I have met some amazing families and professionals because of my son's multiple disabilities and even during my own journey while going through cancer treatment. It is good to know that we do not walk alone!