What I know for sure is that kids can be our greatest teachers if we allow it. I am also pretty sure that the word, teacher is part of their job description. I know throughout my life and my career that these beautiful souls are the ones that taught me more than any textbook, theory, or degree, ever could. In fact, when I look back over the span of my career and follow the haphazard journey that got me where I am today, I am reminded just how these tiny teachers were sent to me at the right time, in the right place, to learn lessons that I would later use to transform many lives, starting with the following three.
Lesson 1. How you enter this world does matter but doesn’t define your potential.
This lesson was taught to me by Cheyanne. A 33 week old baby in the Neonatal intensive care unit, born with a heart condition. I was called upon to evaluate her swallowing and try and reduce the stress on her heart and lungs that the simple act of feeding was causing. As I stared at her through the tiny incubator and watched her little body struggle with every breath, a question popped into my mind and I played her movie forward. I had faith in the team of doctors and nurses that I was working with and had watched other babies just like her be discharged into the arms of their loving family. However, what I had questions about and could not shake from my curious mind, was on a different level. I did not know how these early months spent in the neonatal intensive care unit would affect her learning and the impact that it would have on her education. While Kindergarten seemed like an eternity from where she was now, and the focus was on the basics of surviving, I could not help but think about her future. At that moment, I had no idea that I would find the answers to my questions later in my career.
Lesson 2.One of the biggest communication problems we have today is that we often don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.
For me treating patients who are unable to speak for themselves is like watching someone who is trapped in a burning car and can’t get out. While that statement seems a bit dramatic, it is honestly how desperate I am to give voice to the voiceless. Over the years, who I treat and how they speak has changed, but my desire to help has not. I saw Danny while I was working at a pediatric rehabilitation facility. He had cerebral palsy and a smile that could light up a room. He understood everything that I said and by standardized testing measures, was not far behind in his receptive language either. BUT he was non-verbal. His mom sat in every session with me waiting for the day her son could say the word she longed to hear,” mama”. I worked fervently trying to make her wish come true. Danny was trapped inside his body and I really wanted to get him out. One day I asked him if he knew something that I could do to help him speak. He pointed to his chest. I wasn’t sure what that meant and I told him so. He did it again and then touched his legs and wiggled. Looking back, I am not sure how I made the connection and figured out what he was telling me, but when I asked him if he was asking me to move him, He nodded yes. So I asked his mom to go get his pediatric occupational therapists (O.T.). Once the O.T. came in and I told her what our goal was, she helped me reposition him using a neurodevelopmental treatment (NDT) approach. Within 5 minutes of repositioning and resuming my treatment, Danny said the word his mom had been longing to hear, “Mama!” There were so many lessons learned that day. The biggest was the power of communication between two people who trusted one another and were willing to listen, not merely reply. Danny also taught me the importance of collaboration and how the components of the movement, handling, postural stability/balance, and alignment impact our treatment of children. Today, I value the network of professionals that I have. It is so vital that a child who is struggling has a connected and supportive team all working towards the same goal. Included in the services that I offer are making connections with professionals currently working with the child, referrals to necessary specialists, and communicating as a team.
Lesson 3.Curiosity makes you question, and questions lead to answers.
Cassidy was ten years old when her mom brought her to see me because she was struggling in school. The intake that her mom filled out did not mention any diagnosis, traumatic events, or medical issues. Her intelligence was within normal range and the only thing that her parents had been told was that she had learning challenges. Cassidy’s parents were seeking answers for ways to help make learning easier. At the end of my evaluation, I had questions. Watching Cassidy work, I could see that there was a disconnect in the way that she was processing information. I looked at Cassidy’s mom and asked, “By any chance did she have difficulty with feeding as a baby?” What happened next left a mark in my mind. Her mom, who prior to this was not emotional, burst into tears. I was taken aback. Once composed she explained her emotions. She told me that yes, her daughter had struggled a lot with feeding. She then looked at me and said, “Do you know how many experts I have told about her feeding issues knowing in my gut that it was somehow related to her learning struggles?” Everyone dismissed it. You are the first person to ever ask me about this. How did you even know to ask?” I explained to her my previous Speech Pathology work in feeding and swallowing and the insights that I gained from that work. She told me that regardless of what happens next, she was eternally grateful for the visit she had today and the answers she was given.
How It Impacts Your Child.
I don’t believe that a label defines a child’s outcomes. If I had accepted Cassidy’s label of learning disabilities as an indicator of her potential I would have told her mom that tutoring was the answer and recommended the best curriculums for her to seek out. Instead, I was able to look at Cassidy as a WHOLE child, including her past, connect the dots, and offer her mom a solution that stopped the struggle and gave her the answers that she had been looking for. I was able to do this thanks to the many many tiny teachers along with my career that taught me lessons that theory and textbooks could not. I have seen a lot of changes throughout my career in pediatrics and I believe now more than ever nothing can take the place of a good evaluation from a specialist who looks beyond standardized testing. In a world where the medical and educational system is intertwined, it is vital that the medical experts and educators connect. I am fortunate that my experience has exposed me to both sides and allows me the knowledge and confidence to put the pieces of the puzzle together for the smart but struggling student.
Take The Next Step!
If you have a complex child, have been searching for answers, and need someone to connect the dots and teach you how to better understand your child. I invite you to schedule a free 10-minute phone conversation and let me help by clicking this link: https://thecognitiveemporium.com/10-minute-evaluation/