Tuesday, April 1, 2008

We are the Accidental Experts

I did not embark on parenthood with the idea of amassing considerable knowledge about creating picture schedules, identifying sensory triggers to prevent melt downs, writing social skills IEP goals, or ways to encourage language. But now I know all these things plus much more. Fifteen years ago I wasn’t sure what occupational therapy was (something to help stroke victims?) yet today I am an accidental expert.

Recently, I spent a few minutes with the two-year grand son of a friend, and his mother. Both mom and grandma were baffled by his behaviors, but I could tell right away that he has sensory dysfunction issues and is trying gallantly to get the input he needs. When did I learn that a toddler who insists on dipping his fingers into goopy lotions needs that input; needs to finger paint with shaving cream or pudding? Years of reading books, observing Sayer’s sensory therapy, and being around other children with disabilities has given me expertise I hardly realized I have.

I have also become an expert on accessing systems. I have ideas on how to ask for more interventions than those initially offered to this boy. I can suggest that more than one adult attend each evaluation and therapy session to help absorb all the information. I know where the best school based early-intervention programs are, and are not. I am full of advice!!

My friend “P” recently encountered a mother of a child with autism who was having a tantrum in front of a grocery store. Although she didn’t know them, without hesitation she stopped and helped both the mom and child work through the melt down. “P” was able, on the fly, to aide this family by applying what she has learned about “difficult moments” with her own son. “P” felt good about being able to provide information and comfort; she, too, is an accidental expert.

When we moms were "newbies" to the world of special needs, it was our turn to be perplexed by our child’s behavior, stressed by all we needed to do to manage our child's disability or health challenges, and overloaded by information - both that we sought and that was thrown our way. I know that our family is forever grateful for early hand holding of Sayer’s therapists, teachers and other parents; hopefully your family has a similar gratitude list.

Now, as we have absorbed some hard-earned wisdom, we should all acknowledge our own expertise. And perhaps it is our turn to “pay it forward” and help other parents. Have you found yourself helping other parents or wondering if you should? Is our accidental expertise a blessing? A burden? Both? I’d love to know what others think.


babs m said...

Wonderful post. I, too, am a midlife mom with three special needs kids, and I blog to share thoughts and ideas as well as continue to write fiction/non-fiction with autism in mind. "Accidental experts"-- exactly. Thanks for sharing.

Pam said...

Hi Carol, thanks for including my grocery store encounter in your blog. I love your "accidental expert" title too.