By Jennifer Abbanat
The Message I Share with Others
I was recently preparing for an upcoming presentation for a community event on Trauma and Resilience in my community. The title of the presentation is “Trauma and Its Impact on Neurodivergent Learners (and strategies to support them)”.
This is a topic I get a lot of questions about from stressed parents and educators in my capacity as a parent and IEP coach/ advocate and a neuro-affirming trauma informed, whole child centered Expressive Arts Educator. The adults see particular behaviors in a student (or many students) and are themselves feeling overwhelmed, stressed and hopeless.
Being that parent once upon a time, feeling overwhelmed, not understanding my own son’s “behaviors” and coming to many dead ends as we tried to find professional support for our son and our family, I can honestly say, “I GET IT!”
I can empathize and relate to everything so many are experiencing. But I intentionally share something right up front that was never shared with us, even when we were struggling to just get through day to day, often moment to moment.
It’s a very powerful message that quite honestly, many just dismiss and give me eye rolls when I say it. It can be hard to comprehend.
It is the word HOPE and the message of HOPE when you feel like you are drowning in a sea of confusion, overwhelm and judgment.
I get it! I really do.
That was me and my family right after my son was born. Nothing went “as planned or expected”. He has had medical complexities since he was born and this is a path that we were not prepared for, nor knew how to even find a “map” to help us navigate it.
Fast forward to many years and many tears later, I understand what many families are experiencing when they have a child that is misunderstood and challenging, all while the caregivers are beyond their capacity much of the time, both in school and at home.
Why I Share the Message of HOPE
But I have always shared my personal story and journey because I believe it brings a message of HOPE.
This quote by Thich Nhat Hanh is one that has resonated with me over the years. I’ll share it below:
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
This message helped pull me and my family through some very challenging moments. It is HOPE that always helped me shine my way out of the dark tunnel that I could find myself in after a particularly rough day. It is HOPE that oftentimes is the only thing we have to hold onto; and as this quote says, it is hope that helps us move on to the next moment, the next day.
It was when I would bring my awareness back to myself, my body, my experiences and my feelings that helped me gain a new perspective that I didn’t have previously. It was what I did when my son was struggling for any variety of reasons, and it created my patient presence which helped him find comfort in the space between us.
Our kids who are neurodivergent, experience the world differently. When we begin to understand their perspective, what their experiences may be like, we show up in ways that brings “soft eyes”, soft voice, soft body language.
When we are fully present, we become the solution to any problem that might arise.
What HOPE Can do
It is the connection, our unconditional presence and our compassion that meets the child’s nervous system and says, “I’m here. It’s going to be ok. You are safe.”
This is powerful and is why HOPE can help guide us through the more challenging moments, to find our way back to ourselves so we can be fully present for our child in their most difficult moments.
This HOPE is what gave me the ability to really take to heart Stuart Shanker’s message : “See a child differently and you’ll see a different child.” I use this quote all the time. I have it on my website. It is a quote I use in my presentations. This quote about how we see a child, and believing they are doing their very best in any situation, provides HOPE, and that tomorrow will be a better day.
Children feel when the adults around them believe they are “bad”. Another great quote by Stuart Shanker, “there’s no such thing as a bad kid,” brings me HOPE too.
Again, see a child differently, see a child as struggling and needing our support; see a child as doing their best in any given situation.
This lens and mindshift gives us HOPE to know that we can show up for the child in a way that they need. This is why the HOPE within us helps us to ‘be a part of the solution”. As The MEHRIT Centre’s Susan Hopkins has said, “you are the strategy” the child needs.