What We Learned in Therapy
My youngest daughter, Adalee, suffered a stroke at the age of two. Adalee lost her ability to speak and to use the right side of her body. At first, we were not sure what her future would look like, but she made tremendous progress and we are beyond thankful for her incredible recovery. Adalee is now 8 years old, and if you did not know of her history you would never know she had to re-learn how to walk, talk, run and use the right side of her body.
Once Adalee was released from the hospital, her road to recovery consisted of 5 weeks of inpatient therapy at a children’s rehabilitation center (which is considered a very short time in this type of recovery), and two and a half years of outpatient therapy. Adalee received Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy for her right arm and hand, and Physical Therapy for her right leg and foot several times a week. Therapy became a part of our daily and weekly routine.
Helping my daughter through therapy taught me a myriad of lessons, as well as gave me a new perspective on what it is like to have a child dealing with special circumstances.
I learned so much from the incredible professionals Adalee worked with on a daily basis. As I watched and followed their lead, I learned some practical tools that were helpful as we navigated the process of handling emotions while staying focused on progress. I learned how to handle healthy communication regarding Adalee’s progress, and I picked up on ways to motivate Adalee to work hard on tasks and skills in and out of sessions. At each stage their training, knowledge, and expertise helped us learn as we walked through the process of recovery.
There are many reasons for therapy, as well as many outcomes. The following tips come from what we learned based on our unique experience. Needs for therapy have a wide spectrum of difficulty and our responses and recoveries to circumstances can vary. Every family, child, and challenge is unique, but these tips can be applied universally.
Speak Positively about Therapy to and around your child. If you look at Therapy positively your child will be encouraged to do the same.
Keep the subject of Therapy light & upbeat. Children pick up on our emotions and will follow our lead.
As a parent, we can experience deep emotions when our child has had a crisis, needs additional help, has long term health issues, or has special needs. It is taxing emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. It can be exhausting to incorporate therapy into an already busy life and schedule.
Seek your own counseling or therapy if necessary and give yourself a healthy outlet. It is really important to be able to find a healthy way to process those feelings away from your child in order to approach therapy with an upbeat attitude in his or her presence.
Speak in a matter-of-fact way when discussing your child’s goals, challenges, and needs. Of course, we need to be sensitive to our child’s emotions. At the same time, speaking pragmatically helps opens up communication about facing challenges.
In other words: Having a challenging is o.k.!
After each Therapy session the therapist would tell me what Adalee worked on that day, what she did well, and would communicate what she needed to work on moving forward. The therapists would openly discuss any challenges or difficulties and would outline Adalee’s goals in her presence.
At first, I thought it would be healthier to discuss these points where Adalee could not hear us. I initially thought it might be upsetting or negatively affect her self-esteem if we discussed her challenges in front of her. I quickly understood that positively discussing what she did well was encouraging her and praising her for her hard work and cooperation. Discussing challenges and goals in a matter-of-fact and positive way also allowed her to have a healthy expectation of what she would be working on in the next session.
Open Communication cultivated a healthy self-awareness. Speaking pragmatically taught Adalee how to communicate if she was frustrated or having an issue with her right hand or foot. One day she told me her right foot, which we lovingly referred to as “righty”, was not listening. It was the best way for a preschooler to communicate that her mind was telling her foot to do something, but her body part was struggling to follow the brain’s instructions. She had complete awareness of the situation and was able to communicate so I could understand and help her find a solution.
As Adalee got older, it was evident a pragmatic approach helped her to feel comfortable with her challenges and she viewed therapy and her physical goals in a positive way.
Approach Therapy one goal at a time. It is a process and takes time.
Adalee was two when she began her therapy. She liked physical therapy because it included cool swings and a play room that looked like a playground. However, her speech therapy did not start off so well. Her two-year-old spirit would not cooperate with the therapist. As things progressed, we found the right therapist who could work with her on her speech. She finally came around……….she was two. Enough said.
Tell your child how well they are doing when using the skills learned from therapy in everyday life.
Encourage your Child During Everyday Activities.
We would notice how Adalee applied the technique she was learning in therapy while on the playground or when coloring a picture. We would then use Therapy terms so she could connect and apply what she learned during regular activities. There were many days where we cheered for “righty” in the third person. Even Adalee began to say things like “righty is doing a better job of listening”, or “look at what righty can do”.
Celebrate every win. Your encouragement is necessary regardless how slow or quick the progress. We all need a cheerleader, and what a gift it is to encourage our child.
Therapists will usually use age appropriate rewards such as stickers, lollipops, or small toys to motivate the child.
Some days the reward received from therapist is certainly enough to motivate a child for his or her hard work. Other days using your own reward method can offer an extra boost of motivation when needed. Especially when in long-term or on-going therapy.
Find your own reward method at home that works for your family and child. Adalee liked to have lunch at Chick-File on Mondays after she worked hard in her sessions. It was a once a week treat that worked for my budget and our schedule.
The day Adalee’ “graduated” from Therapy she got to pick a place where the family could celebrate together. That evening our family went to Peter Piper Pizza. It was her choice and also made her brother and sister very happy!
It is the best way to learn how to help your child. Therapists are very willing to give you tools and exercises to practice at home. Never be afraid to ask a question or address a concern. If you are worried about something bring it to the Therapist’s attention.
The more you know and understand the better you can help your child reach his or her goals.
My Favorite Questions:
- “Are there any other questions I should be asking”?
- How does this exercise help?
- “If she were your child what would you do”?
- “Is there anything we can do at home to practice what she is learning during therapy?”
- “What is the best way to make therapy fun?”
If you have concerns, or a strong feeling that your child is not paired with the right therapist discuss it with the owner or lead therapist.
Do not be afraid to respectfully address concerns. You are your child’s greatest advocate.
Feel Comfortable with Therapy
Therapy is a positive way to help your child. There are many children who utilize therapy for many reasons. Do not ever let yourself feel embarrassed that your child is getting the help he or she needs. It is your personal choice as to whether or not you discuss it with others. However, if you choose to openly discuss it do not let someone’s reaction dictate your emotions. If you feel comfortable with it then others will also.
If others are not sure how to react if you mention the word “Therapy” give them grace. Most likely, they do not know how to react because they have never been in your shoes, and that is o.k.
Taking care of your child’s needs can be wearing and utterly exhausting. Make sure to find ways to decompress and take care of yourself mentally and emotionally. You need it, and your good health is important to your family and child.
Find your favorite ways to give yourself time to re-cooperate and rest. It can be difficult with a busy schedule but carving out that time is important and must be a priority for your state of mind.
It is a beautiful self-less act to serve your child. You are so special, and your child is blessed by your commitment and love.
This was and is vital for me. My faith and prayer give me hope and peace. To this day, Adalee is overcoming challenges from her past even though she is fortunate to live a normal life.
My constant prayer for her is that she never loses her joy, self-esteem, and confidence when she faces challenges.
From the beginning of this journey, Adalee was always determined to work hard and willing to overcome obstacles. I have prayed she will never lose those qualities.
I am very thankful for the Therapists who became like family to us during those years. Day in…day out…..their job is to help children overcome many types of challenges. I learned so much from them, and to this day I consider them Heroes. They do not always get recognized for the impact they make on lives, but every time they help a child, they impact a family, and maybe a generation.
Therapists are True Heroes that Make a Difference.
*Please note the best advice for your child is given by his or her pediatrician, therapist, and/or medical professional.