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Walking in Her Students' Shoes
When Stacey Buck began working with children as a Speech Language Therapist nearly thirty years ago, she never imagined that one day she would be sitting on the other side of the table, facing the same challenges as them.
But on April 9th, 2022, fate intervened and Stacey’s life changed in an instant.
“My husband and I were dog sitting for our nephew and while I was out walking him, we both momentarily got distracted and I went head-first over him onto the sidewalk.”
Stacey’s immediate memories following the fall are blurry.
A failed attempt at recalling the number of digits on her phone’s passcode, a bag of ice for her head from an upstanding citizen and ultimately an emergency room visit and a myriad of scans and tests.
After Stacey was released from the hospital, she was convinced that she would be back to normal in a couple of days, so she decided to resume her life and go back to work. Unfortunately, Stacey would soon find that normalcy was a long way away.
“After one day of work, it’s hard to describe how exhausted I felt and how much my brain hurt. It felt like I had a hat on that was way too tight.”
Stacey leaned on her husband to help her navigate making appointments with concussion specialists and scheduling a neuropsychological evaluation; all areas of expertise that were so familiar to her in her professional life.
“The doctors assured me that my brain was fine and that I was in the average range, which was encouraging. But I remember when I had the neuropsych done, I knew exactly what she (the psychologist) was trying to get me to do and I couldn’t pull up the strategies that I knew I needed to use.”
Stacey was exhausted and barely able to speak by the end of the neuropsychological evaluation. Her husband was alarmed and knew she had a long road ahead of her.
Soon, she began regular physical therapy and language therapy to begin the journey back to herself.
“In language therapy, I worked on problem solving, sequencing and executive functioning, which changed my life in terms of how I plan my days now.”
She also worked tirelessly in physical therapy to regulate her body temperature and heart rate. Eventually, she began walking and talking at the same time and driving short distances alone.
“When I first started physical therapy in June, I had to walk for ten minutes. I would be in tears by the end, because my body was so dysregulated. The smallest thing that taxed me, threw me into tears.”
Stacey realized that she was feeling the same dysregulation that she had observed in her students for so many years. She finally knew what it felt like and it was harder than she ever imagined.
She experienced similar revelations when she grappled with processing information and retrieving words, the latter she still believes is not entirely back to normal.
All that said, she persevered and listened to her therapists.
“Because I’m in the rehab field, I know the importance of doing what you’re told by your therapists. I am a very compliant patient.”
Stacey’s determination and tenacity paid off and although it felt like an incredibly long and tenuous journey for her, she feels proud to say that in less than a year, she is about 98 percent back to her pre-accident self.
Now that she’s back to working with kids, Stacey remarked that her professional “lens” looks a lot different post-trauma. She feels their feelings more deeply, because she has been there herself.
“I used to give my students strategies and have them practice them repeatedly. I thought that once they had a handle on them, they could be done working with me. Now, I understand that even if you have your strategies and even if they’re right in front of you, you can’t always access them.”
She also recognizes the significance of slowing her rate of speech down with her students. Though it was something she always knew was important, she now personally understands how overwhelming it feels when someone speaks too fast.
Ironically, the theme of slowing down and taking mandatory breaks to rest was a part of Stacey’s recovery plan early-on.
Over time, she’s learned to not only require rest as a part of her daily life, but to relish in it.
“It is truly a gift to rest and learn that overscheduling yourself isn’t the only way. I don’t wish for anyone to learn this lesson by way of a traumatic brain injury, but I have learned it and it is lovely.”
An inspiring lesson to us all.
Meet Dr. Haley Sims
This month we tried out a new format for our MotivatED Mentor series. Check out our video interview with Dr. Haley Sims, a neuropsychologist and the co-director of Black Bear Academy.
Dr. Sims had some great insight on common themes among children post-pandemic and how schools are coping with the new normal.
Dr. Sova recently made a major shift in his personal and professional life and we were thrilled to meet with him via Zoom and hear some new insight from one of our favorite trusted colleagues.
MM: Tell us about your current profession and how you first got started in the field of psychology.
AS: I grew up in a home where my mom was (and still is) a psychiatrist. It was definitely the language of the house. I'm one of those classic children of a mental health professional, so you can make your own judgements accordingly (laughing).
The field was always something that interested me and was in the back of my mind as a career path. Eventually, I decided that the PhD side was right for me. I practiced in New York and New Jersey and eventually opened my own practice in Chicago.
I currently work with patients virtually in CBT, DBT and family system therapy. I work with children as young as two-years-old and go all the the way up to young adults.
I used to do diagnostic testing as well, but my family and I made a big change about 18 months ago and decided to spend much of our time living abroad. This was something my wife and I had been thinking about doing for a while and it has been a really wonderful new experience for us. In terms of my practice though, I had to pare down to virtual therapy only.
MM: What is your favorite part about working in your industry?
AS: It's work which is inherently very meaningful. You can truly see the positive impacts that you're making. I always feel like an important recipe for success for families to understand is that if I'm helping their child, it's because I truly, genuinely care about them. The progress that this one child makes will ultimately positively impact their entire family structure. It's an amazingly powerful line of work.
MM: What is your biggest piece of advice for parents who are apprehensive about getting outside services for their child?
AS: I always tell parents that it's way better to be proactive than reactive. If you're proactive and you start early, you can much more easily teach skills and prevent more things from happening down the line. The older kids are, the more entrenched things are; and the struggles happen across more domains.
Additionally, if you can start early and work with someone you trust, you'll have someone who can guide you throughout your child's entire process.
MM: What is one good piece of advice you've heard in the last month?
AS: Just because you start a book doesn't mean you have to finish it.
MM: On that note, what is the most recent book you've read?
AS: It's called Faith in the Future. It's a book by a well known rabbi in England, Jonathan Sacks. It's about creating a paradigm cultural shift of meaning and values within society.
MM: What does your perfect weekend look like?
AS: A perfect weekend definitely entails getting a little bit more sleep, especially now that all of my clients are on a different time zone than me.
Having some good quality time with my three kids, being able to have at least a little bit of alone time with my wife and being able to go for at least one good one run by myself. Simple, easy.
Meet Erin Anderson
Erin is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Erin Anderson and Associates, a phenomenal practice that brings a personal approach to enriching a child's physical and cognitive development.
MM: Walk us through your career in Occupational Therapy.
EA: I received my degree in Occupational Therapy from St. Louis University and moved to Chicago after graduation. My first job was in a CO-OP in the Western suburbs, which was amazing for mentoring and getting my lay of the land in the field.
From there, I worked at two different schools that serviced students with different types of Learning Disabilities to help set up their OT programs. During this time, I also focused on seeing individual children in their homes, attending school meetings with their parents and eventually I opened my current practice twelve years ago!
MM: What is your favorite part about working in your industry?
EA: I would say the collaboration with other therapists and professionals in my field. I love to learn and I have learned so much about how other skills are interconnected to OT. I feel really fortunate because there are so many people in my industry that work together to take the time to treat the whole child. It's not linear and the dedication among my colleagues is remarkable.
MM: What is your biggest piece of advice for parents who are apprehensive about outside services for their child?
EA: Communication is key. Any skilled professional should prioritize making the parent feel comfortable and confident. Parents are the first experts on their child and they want to go to an expert to find out how to strengthen whatever their child is struggling with. Parents should have a really good feeling when the professional interacts with them and with their child. It should feel like a partnership.
MM: What is one good piece of advice that you've heard in the last month?
EA: Consistency of scheduling is really important. Knowing your daily schedule and giving that to your children really helps to make everyone feel more calm and helps the day go more smoothly. Knowing that it might not always go as planned is of course a lesson within this idea too, but I really try to adhere to this model within my own family.
MM: What is the best TV series you watched in 2022?
EA: I loved Yellowstone! Highly recommend.
MM: What is the best place you've ever visited?
EA: I really love Portland, Oregon. I love hiking and it's two hours from the mountains, two hours from the wine valley, just perfect!
MM: What is something you can't live without?
EA: Good chocolate and books. I guess that's two. :)
Meet Dr. Ashley Ehrhardt
We are so honored to call Dr. Ashley Ehrhardt a trusted and valuable colleague at MotivatED Minds and we were so thrilled that she took time out of her crazy schedule to let us sit down with her and pick her brain.
MM: We know you are a very busy woman and we would love to hear about all of the important work that you do! Tell us about your current professional role(s) and give us a peek at some of your day-to-day responsibilities.
AH: I am lucky enough to work in two part-time roles. In the months of September through March, I sit on the Admissions Committee at The Latin School of Chicago. I meet with all of the candidates applying for Junior Kindergarten, as well as their parent(s).
I am also in private practice, where I conduct Psychoeducational Diagnostic Testing that ranges from Preschool all the way up through Adulthood. My areas of speciality include diagnosing and treating Selective Mutism, ADHD and the identification of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Learning Disabilities and Giftedness.
MM: Who is your biggest mentor and why?
AH: That’s an easy one. Dr. Peter Rastrelli, (esteemed Educational Psychologist). I was his intern in the Wilmette School District. We continue to work together to this day and I am forever grateful to him as a resource and a mentor.
MM: What is your favorite part about working in your industry?
AH: When I begin to work with a new child and their family, I’m now part of that child’s team. The relationship I have with that family continues for as long as they need me. I think that is important, particularly with the way healthcare has become so fragmented. This is can be an overwhelming process for parents and there is a great benefit for all of the professionals working with a child to come together to communicate. I enjoy facilitating that communication for families so that the school, parents and all private providers are all sharing the information each has gathered.
MM: What is the best book you have read for fun recently?
AH: I have ten-year-old twins and we recently started reading The Phantom Tollbooth together. I am enjoying it even more as an adult than I did as a child!
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