It's Monday, and it's time to introduce our very first featured interview! Elizabeth Hunter is a parent to a special needs child, and graciously answered a few questions.
Fun and Function: Who are you and your kids?
Elizabeth Hunter: Sarah Elizabeth Hunter. The kids are Savannah, 8, and Joseph, 4.FF: What is the nature of their special needs?
EH: Savannah - Severe Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified. Joseph - typical.
FF: What would you say is your biggest challenge in raising a child with special needs?
EH: It's hard to choose just one challenge that stands out above another. Some days the largest challenge is dealing with the prejudices of strangers when having a special needs child that doesn't look special needs, while other days it's dealing with the well-meaning family members that always have answers that don't apply. Some days it's struggling with having a non-verbal child trapped in her silence, and yet other days it's the curiosity of not knowing those thoughts she has locked inside. At times the hardest part is trying to explain why she can't do something typical with her friends, and other times it's wondering if she'll ever be able to. And sometimes, the hardest part of having a child with special needs, is having a typical child as well, who just wants a typical life.
FF: What would you say is your greatest joy in raising your kids?
EH: Watching Joseph triumph from a misdiagnosis of MR with an Expressive Language Delay to a highly intelligent 4 year old that never stops talking... every word from his mouth, every book he reads, every song he sings and each prayer he races through before bedtime brings me the greatest joy.
With Savannah, being 8, non-verbal, dominated by her proprioceptive & vestibular impairment, my greatest joys with her are the silent and still moments. The moments when she pulls me to lay down with her, close enough that I can taste her breath. She often places her warm hand on my face, the pressure a bit too hard, but i know it's just so that she can feel it. Her eyes twinkle back and forth between mine and then she'll flash her big smile. These moments where she tells me she loves me.
FF: What would you say has been the biggest help you in raising your kids?
EH: We moved from Dallas, TX to Johnson City, TN a little over three years ago to place Savannah in a phenomenal speech clinic at ETSU. We moved here knowing no one and leaving our families in TX. The biggest help I've found in raising my children are the amazing friends and therapists in Johnson City who have become our family. The support found in the special needs community in this small town in the East TN mountains has provided amazing care professionally and socially for my children and for me as a parent.
FF: Give us one tool you would hate to live without.
EH: The one tool I would hate to live without would be a computer. I use the computer to make PECS for Savannah, to keep up on current medical research and political changes for special needs. The computer provides ways for Savannah to learn things that would be too hard to learn otherwise due to limited fine motor skills or other sensory impairments. Being non-verbal, Savannah can't talk on the phone, but with a computer Savannah can Skype to see her grandparents and they can use pictures or sign language to communicate with her. Currently Savannah is learning to type on a computer so that she will eventually be able to use a text to speech AAC device. The computer educates me to help Savannah but helps Savannah to perform typical tasks, like learning, visiting with relatives and hopefully one day to communicate.
FF: If you could give one piece of advice to another parent who's child has just been diagnosed, what would it be?
EH: The greatest advice I could offer another parent would be to read as much as you can, and then research it all. There is a lot changing and a great deal of research progressing what is known about many disabilities. It's important to know what's true and what's presented as truth but is a myth. Then find the best doctors and therapists and peers you can find. If you aren't comfortable with a doctor or therapist, find another. You have to be comfortable with them if you're going to trust your child to them. And as much as your extended family loves your child, you will gain better support from your peers, other parents of a special needs child. There are some things that can only be understood by experience. Those peers will keep your sanity. Having a child with special needs can result in making you feel very isolated and alone, but there are a large number of us. Having a few who are close to you will remind you that you never have to face it alone.
Elizabeth, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and all the readers here at Fun and Function.
If you would like to be a featured parent or professional, just let us know!