…The other day Silvia called me because she felt, “I would understand, and she didn’t know quite what to do…” Her son’s teacher was brushing over the needs of Phoenix. Though Silvia had laid the ground work, met with administrators, and the teacher prior to Phoenix entering school, it was clear the path still needed to be built for optimum understanding and attention to his needs. Silvia shared with his teacher, Ms. Michelle, that he didn’t want to come to school, that his anxiety was very high, that he is unable to express his discomfort, that yelling caused an SPD response that left him feeling isolated, silenced, and at times frozen (I wonder how many students experience these very same feelings?). Ms. Michelle went on the defensive, explaining that she sees a happy boy during the day, that there were absolutely no issues (that she noticed)… This caused distress for Silvia. As a mother, knowing her son, walking the journey from birth, to diagnosis, to interventions, her own learning, trials, and success as a mom of a child with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), she knew more had to be done for her son in his class and needed more from the teacher. Here are three things Silvia did as an advocate for her son:
Silvia called a trusted friend (who happened to be me):
This is critical, to have a person to truly lean on and get it out, without judgment (explain to your trusted friend you need to let it all out before any advice or let her know you don’t want any advice at all). We spent a long time on the phone, she shared her perspective, anger, dismay, hurt, details of what was happening, that she wanted to take him out of school, that she didn’t know what to do, what would I do, how is it for a teacher who has twenty plus students in her care, what to do now, how to have Phoenix feel comfortable at school…Silvia dumped it all, that in itself was a relief, to be heard.
Silvia contacted a trusted person in the life of Phoenix:
Phoenix has worked with his Occupational Therapist, Edi, for a couple of years now. She knows SPD and Phoenix, very well. Edi has provided strategies and options in the past, a great resource on this journey of stops and starts. She is an integral player in advising Silvia on ways to inform the people in Phoenix’s life about supporting him. She told Silvia, that Phoenix would not be able to verbally express that he needs help, or that he is anxious, or feeling uncomfortable. Edi told Silvia to let the teacher know that Phoenix won’t be able to verbally communicate his needs. To tell the teacher she could empower Phoenix by suggesting ways to soothe himself; by compressing his arm, or getting a drink of water because it will disrupt the parasympathetic system which will lower his anxiety, the system is forced to focus on a biological action such as swallowing water, this breaks the pattern of anxiety, stress, and overload.
Silvia aligned herself with her son’s teacher:
Silvia approached the teacher again. Letting her know those few things Edi suggested to help Phoenix. She empowered Ms. Michelle with valuable information that resulted in a win-win for everyone. In a short turn, around, Ms. Michelle let Silvia know she had lost sight of the children being her focus. Allowing Silvia to recognize Ms.Michelle as a human being with room for learning, just like her students.
I consider an element of my friendship with Silvia to be part of my on-going professional development. It is through conversation, compassion, and a willingness to learn and accept my own limitations of what I know and don’t know, then to add and apply to my knowledge base which propels me further in my profession.