Undo Racism Every Day: Exclusive Interview with Children’s Author Anastasia Higginbotham

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ANASTASIA HIGGINBOTHAM has written a courageous children’s book that seeks to dismantle institutionalized racism and white supremacy, one conversation and action at a time. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness  challenges adults to face their own discomfort and biases in order to validate the truths that children intuit. In this exclusive interview, Anastasia discusses her process of expanding her world view and becoming a disruptor of the very best kind.

Deb: “What prompted you to write this important book?”

My answer is a who and a what. Who inspired me were Black women: Noleca Anderson Radway, Brooklyn Free School Executive Director; Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Zen priest and co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation; and Anyanwu Uwa, The Human Root Co-Founder and Executive Director. Noleca made me see white power in action and in myself; Rev. Angel dared me to connect with my deepest conditioning into whiteness and grow from a place of heartbreak; Anyanwu insisted I view myself as worthy. What inspired me is everything that the Black Lives Matter movement shows us about state-sanctioned murders of Black women, men, trans people and kids by police, plus no accountability for those crimes and new ones committed against the BLM activists themselves.

Deb: “What have you learned about yourself in the process?”

Making this book has removed veil after veil (it’s still happening) of illusions I had about my own uselessness in the fight for racial justice. I am beginning to develop a healthy racial identity for the first time ever. Rather than feel disgusted by my whiteness – and suspicious of everyone else’s – I can expand my worldview, correct the smearing and distortion caused by a whiteness mindset (the one that lies to us all about white superiority), and see, love, embrace, and engage with people from a more healed place. Also, it’s like wearing x-ray-night-vision spy goggles—I see white supremacy now in all its hiding places. I’m not scared to shine a light on it and root it out of everywhere, including out of me.

Deb: “What are the most challenging aspects (for you personally) of engaging in conversations about white supremacy with white people?”

When the white person I am talking with needs proof that white supremacy is real and something they should care about. I don’t understand the hurdle I’m trying to help them see or get over, and I get confused. I wonder if they need me to convince them that this is an issue worth caring about? Is their instinct toward caring that broken and buried inside of them? When that seems to be the case, I despair.

It’s also hard when I want to help someone understand that white supremacy is a system embedded into everything—government policies, banking, housing, courts, schools, elections, healthcare, where the city dump is located, etc. And they want to defend their personal stake in being a good person, a.k.a. not a racist. This is not the point or the goal. There are evil systems at work here. Let’s break them. To me it’s as simple as: “Hulk smash!”

 Deb: “How about with people of color?”

I sometimes dissociate when I am talking about race and whiteness with people who are seen as Black—people who are experiencing anti-Blackness from a white dominant culture all day long. I feel myself floating beside myself criticizing every word I say, telling me how ignorant I sound, predicting that I will say something hurtful and outrageous. But I have learned to coach myself back into my body and just be humbly there, reading the person’s facial expressions and body language, letting there be lots of room and as much safety as I can help to create so we can both be fully present, honest, and open.

Deb: “And on the other side of the coin, what have been some of the unexpected joys of these conversations?”

Love. So much love and connection. With everybody. The chasms created by racism and fear and alienation disappear, then and there, and common ground appears on that very spot where we stand. Feels like something starts to grow between us and beneath us instantly.

Deb: “In her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo says, “The body of research demonstrates that white children develop a sense of white superiority as early as preschool.” How can we start the conversation with young children before they initiate it?”

I don’t have any studies to back this up but I make a point to associate the colors black and brown with immense power, beauty, and radiance, for starters. Point out the beauty of a brown tree trunk, rich black dirt for growing all the things that keep us alive. Black mountains, vast brown deserts, all the colors of chocolate, and other delicious black and brown foods. And of course, the beautiful people who enjoy an abundance of melanin in their skin. I give blackness all the credit for the gorgeous serenity and mystery and thrill of nighttime. When reading children’s books where evil is represented by the colors black, I skip it. I don’t use the word black to describe something or someone scary, evil, or ugly (even if it’s only describing the bad guy’s clothing or where they live). I never associate the words white or light with innocence or goodness. Anti-blackness is everywhere in our language and so is this idea that we should go to the light and avoid the dark. The entire Star Wars franchise is based on this, so good luck navigating that mess. I don’t talk about having a dark sense of humor or a black mood. I find other words. They exist.

Deb: “What else do you want readers to know about you and your process of writing the book and dismantling white supremacy?”

White people can be each other’s allies in this work of disrupting white supremacy—that’s where our ally-ship is most needed and effective. You don’t have to be an author or a leader in a movement. Be present to the other white children and adults in your life, in your family. Read and study about whiteness so you can see where it tricked you and distanced you from your own instincts to connect and relate to whole groups of people who are targeted by white supremacy. Learn to see the systems of whiteness at work and tackle that system (instead of other people or yourself) in meaningful ways every day, every day, every day. Remember: “Hulk smash!”

 

Photo Credits: Erin Bogle, Webber Park Library, Minneapolis, MN

 

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Available now at: https://www.dottirpress.com/not-my-idea/

Kenya Child Life Program Spotlight Continues: Liz Kabuthi

 

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Liz Kabuthi prepares children for surgery using a book of photos

Last week, I spotlighted the work of Child Life Specialist Jayne Kamau at the Sallie Test Pediatric Centre at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya. This sustainable Child Life program is one of a kind in East Africa. The Child Life staff and founder Morgan Livingstone are especially proud  this year to be working with Courtney Moreland of  Child Life United to offer child life practicums in Kenya.

This week, we hear from Liz Kabuthi, who I had the pleasure of meeting when she represented her country as a delegate at the Child Life Council International Summit on Pediatric Psychosocial Care in 2014. Her reflections on her child life journey and work are deeply moving, and give us a glimpse at how this profession influences and betters our lives even outside of the actual hospital work.

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Liz prepares a parent for her child’s surgery

LIZ KABUTHI

What inspired you to become a CLS?

Mine was by default. I had never heard of Child Life prior to 2010. I was looking for something new to do after working with mothers for a long duration. I came across the advert and had  a training in psychosocial care of pediatric patients. I applied and never thought much about it. In fact I did not know I would manage to work with children. This is the best decision I have ever made.

 

What was the biggest challenge to attaining your goal?

The Child Life Certification exam was a great challenge for me. Preparation required intense  revision which made me feel inadequate to take the exam.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My job has made me a better mother to my children. I am able to exercise more patience and I allow expression and verbalization of feelings. I play more with my children and provide daily opportunities for outdoor play. My nieces and nephews have severally crowned me as Best Aunty since I play and get silly with them and always seize every opportunity to play. Child life has equipped me knowledge on child development and favorite play resources for different ages.

 

What do you want people worldwide to know about your program?

Kenya Child Life program caters to the psychosocial needs of the mainly poor majority in Kenya. In resource poor settings, we use our skills to work with children and their families different from  the use of technology and toys. The use of outdoor play time is an integral part of Kenya Child Life. In my culture a playing child is deemed less serious and with no potential for future success. Child life has taught me about play being a medium through which children learn about life and explore their environment and that  a playing child is a normal child. This has made me create awareness amongst families and in schools on the importance of play for children.

 

Can you share a brief story about a child who taught you something?

I met Peter almost 8 years ago. He had been rescued from an abusive home environment. He was mentally challenged, could not walk, was mute and ate like a dog.  His grandmother used to chain him all day in a dark room as she went to fend for her family. Peter could not eat from a plate, he would spill the food on the ground and munch away on all fours like a dog. He was a terrible sight!

My work rota provided that I work with Peter 3 days a week. I needed to make sure that Peter was cleaned and fed. This was a very difficult task for me and I would detest the days when I had to work with him. It made me feel awfully frustrated. We had to diaper him because many times he would eat his own poop! It reached a point where I made a decision to get a changeover to another unit or resign in order to stay away from Peter. Despite my frustration I kept at it, forming bonds of friendship little by little.

One day as I contemplated this decision, on my usual day at work, I walked in to the Sally Test Paediatric Centre to the sound of Peter calling my name. He was joyfully crawling towards me. I could not believe my eyes or ears!…..it tore into the deepest  part of my heart… the heart of a mother! At that point my heart changed and I started seeing Peter differently.

Peter taught me that truly love conquers all. We managed to take care of Peter till he found a special school that would teach him basic skills. On the day that Peter left, I cried because I had lost a friend that had taught me a most simple lesson on love that has huge benefits in life.

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Liz with a patient who acts as a prefect, assisting other patients

Sustainable Child Life Services in Kenya

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The Sally Test Pediatric Centre in Kenya is proud to have the first sustainable child life program in East Africa. By sustainable, I mean that rather than mission-based services that come and go, it is staffed by citizens of Kenya who have obtained child life certification through the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP). Morgan Livingstone of Toronto, Canada, saw the need of such services and has worked tirelessly over the years to train and support the staff at Sally Test.

Over the next several blogs I am spotlighting the work of the child life specialists in Kenya. The team has faced many challenges in becoming child life specialists, and they are doing extraordinary work to humanize medical treatment for children and families in their care. A special thank you to Morgan Livingstone and the Sally Test Child Life team for taking the time to answer my interview questions and send along great photos.

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Jayne Kamau

 WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE A CHILD LIFE SPECIALIST?

I had worked in pediatrics unit as a social worker and was so comfortable and passionate with the children and their families. I had not heard about the Child Life profession until when Morgan Livingstone (CCLS Canada) came to Kenya for a one day workshop and introduced the concept of Child Life. An interest was triggered there and then and my mind and heart were in agreement that this profession though new to me was what I wanted to do. I started doing my own research about the profession and what qualification was needed to become a certified child life specialist.  So when the program was set up in our hospital and people were called for interview, I was among the very first to apply and now here I am.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO ATTAINING YOUR GOAL?

Integrating  Child Life as an integral part of  medical team in the management and care plan for the patients and families was not easy and till today it is challenging . Due to the fact that Child Life is little known in our set up being a valued team player of the larger health care management was not easy. Convincing the staff that pre procedure preparation, play, psychosocial support, among other activities had health benefits was tough. Recognition by the clinical staff for easier referral and collaboration was and still is hard.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

Being able to bring a smile to my patients and hope to their families is a feeling I really treasure. The journey from admission to the day of discharge is one which is filled with beautiful memories, courage, learning and mastering of daily routine of a totally new environment which calls for a lot of adjustments. Even at the most difficult situations, just being there for the child and family, to listen, empathize and advocate for their needs makes me happy.

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE WORLD WIDE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR PROGRAM?

Kenya Child Life program empowers children and family to cope with a diverse challenging experience related to hospitalization. Being the only Child Life program in East Africa, the Kenya Child Life program is working to ensure that these very valuable skills also go to other hospitals. International and local internship programs are what we are working on now. Despite all the challenges we meet in the line of duty, we have a strong commitment to support children and family during hospitalization and reduce negativities and trauma that many children experience during their hospital stay.

 

PLEASE SHARE A BRIEF STORY ABOUT A CHILD WHO TAUGHT YOU SOMETHING.

A six year old patient taught me how to treat everyone as equal and how to build rapport. Our first encounter was not a great one because he was having his cannula (IV) fixed and I tried many tricks of distraction to no avail. After the procedure was over, I followed up with play to bring everything to normalcy. In his room there were other patients and he called all of them to come and play. The first thing he did before we all engaged in play was to ask all of the children to introduce themselves and me too,….As we continued with the game we were all like old friends and we could call each other by our names, laugh and high five each other. This was a big lesson for me because I realized when I came to distract him I was not so connected to him like I was here in play. The first thing I do now is to always introduce myself and get to know a little bit of the patient and family and this has always made my entry point more easy thanks to my six year old patient.

Thank you so much, Jayne, for all that you do for children and families at Sally Test. You are part of something so important, and your role modeling is inspiring for us all.

 

Cooperative Play in Nature at Camp Klicek, Czech Republic

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Photo credit: Jiří Královec

(Thanks to Jiří Královec for many of the photos! The best ones are his and noted beneath each photo. The rest are my amateur work.)

At Camp Klicek in the Czech Republic, a place where children and adults affected by illness and loss gather, activities run the gamut from a tiddlywinks tournament to bussing campers to a Shakespearean play.  The Accace Corporation provides tax advice to the foundation during the year, but they look forward to visiting the camp in person to have fun with the children and families each summer. This July, a fabulous group of volunteers  arrived with a day full of activities to engage us all. Their choices promoted creativity and cooperation amongst the campers, and nature threaded its way through the day’s activities. The volunteers brought their A game to the endeavor – with wonderful materials and activities – but more than anything, they brought their hearts. Continue reading

Making Hospitals More Hospitable with The Tongue Depressor Challenge

 

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My colleague, child life specialist Jon Luongo, is one of the most playful professionals that I have the pleasure of knowing. He taught me all about the “tongue depressor challenge”, which is described in detail in our co-authored chapter in the Handbook of Medical Play Therapy and Child Life.  Below is a brief introduction to the activity by Jon:

I encourage the doctors to tap into their imaginative playfulness to complete what I call the ‘tongue depressor challenge.’ The task is to co-construct a teaching tool alongside a patient to explain a part of the body, a particular medical condition, or piece of medical hardware. The challenge for doctor and patient is to use at least one tongue depressor in their design; like a single LEGO brick in a set of construction toys, the tongue depressor represents a humble piece of medical paraphernalia with limitless creative building potential.

 

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As with many great ideas, I borrowed Jon’s and tweaked it a bit. This past July, I brought the activity with me to the Klicek Foundation Summer Camp in Malejovice, Czech Republic. Camp directors Jiri and Marketa Královcovi graciously allowed me to lead the campers in a slight variation on Jon’s theme. Continue reading

Children Ponder Good & Evil at Camp Klicek

 

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We are all capable of good and evil.  People do bad things – sometimes they make mistakes that cause harm unwittingly. Sometimes they hurt others purposefully. Sometimes, doing nothing causes more pain for others than we can possibly imagine. At Camp Klicek in Malejovice, Czech Republic, founders Jiri and Marketa Královcovi make room for children to discuss and think about tough issues. They want kids in their care to be more than followers and simplistic thinkers, to see the humanity in everyone and the possibility that although conflict might be inevitable when a large group of people gather, people can make mistakes and still not be bad people.

And so, on one bright summer morning, following a hearty breakfast of porridge, bread, tomatoes, peppers, tea and hot carob with milk, the adults at camp led the children in an activity that reverberated throughout the week. The children gathered in small groups by age bracket. Some sat in the meadow, some under the mess tent, others in the courtyard. With adult guidance, they contemplated these questions:

  • What are bad or evils things?
  • Why do people do them?
  • What can be done about it?

The children took the assignment seriously, taking notes and including the voices of all. I moved amongst the groups, catching a snippet here and there from a kind translator. The children mentioned everything from the past and present atrocities of the world to the more mundane, including genocide, torture, terrorism and bullying on their lists. The youngest camper, when asked why people do bad things, answered, “Because they don’t love each other.”

At the end of the small group conversations, each group reported out to the whole camp, as we sat in the shade of the mess tent and processed together. The discussions were the scaffolding for the real fun. The next step of this activity involved each group choosing one of their examples, writing a play script to demonstrate the concept, and videotaping the enactment. The kids were deeply involved in this process throughout the day, and that night, they set up an outdoor theater in the courtyard, complete with a movie screen, the moon shining down upon us, and homemade apple strudel made from the summer apples, the Klicek version of popcorn. We smacked our lips and licked our fingers as we watched the completed movies, along with some movies created in past years.

My favorite play depicted two different families heading off to summer camp.  One family had no luggage or sleeping bags, just the clothes on their backs. The mother handed her children 10 crowns apiece and kissed them goodbye. The other family stood in front of a Mercedes Benz with their fancy clothes, belongings, cell phones, and the mother dolling out hundreds of crowns to each child. The scenario played out with the rich kids arriving at camp, immediately making fun of the poor kids, an act of kindness when one of them falls down and the other helps them up, and all of the kids ending up playing a game of football (soccer in the US) together.

A simple message, but one not lost on any of us. The campers did indeed come from a variety of backgrounds, and would probably not be interacting at school or in social circles outside of this camp environment. When I think of acts of evil, I think about how we create separation by dehumanizing people who we label as “other.” It is harder to keep these stereotypes and misconceptions in place when we wake, sing, break bread, play, and rest our heads together in the same teepee. I saw many acts of kindness each day between campers, whether it was an older child helping another child navigate steep steps, the hard work of the volunteers in our kitchen, or folks pitching in to help a teen search for her lost eyeglasses.

The thoughtful planning applied to activities that built community astounded me. Along with a mess kit and clothes, the camp packing list asked each child and adult to bring a glass jar with a lid to camp. The campers decorated these jars with their names and artwork, and hung them by ribbons on the branch of a low tree in the meadow behind the house. They left messages of appreciation in each jar, to adults and kids alike throughout the weeks. At the end of camp, they each took their jar with them, with strict instructions to hold off on opening it until they had arrived home. Marketa said that this is a concrete way to further the bonds created at camp. “Some of these children are isolated because of their illnesses. These jars and their notes are a lifeline for them throughout the year.”

My jar sits on my desk at home and reminds me of the generosity of spirit that children share so willingly. I can see why these campers return year after year to the meadow, the tree and the love.

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Camp Klicek: A Dose of Nature and the Universal Language of Play

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I remember the endless swath of time that summer brought when I was a young child. Unstructured free time in nature, with neighborhood kids, and my family. I also played alone, exploring the back roads on my bike and the woods on foot. At the age of seven, I would be gone for hours, playing in brooks, creating forts under the shelter of giant boulders, climbing trees, making up stories in my head, and writing poetry.

These days, we are hard put to find children at play in this kind of open-ended, unsupervised milieu. Their play is planned, highly structured by adults, and often close-ended. When left to their own devices, kids often choose tablets, smart phones and video games as their go to. Child life specialists and hospital play specialists know the value of deep, open-ended play that encourages self-expression, exploration, self-regulation, social development, and problem solving. My friends at the Klicek Foundation in the Czech Republic provide these play opportunities at their summer camp for children and families affected by illness and loss. This year, they invited me to partake in a unique camp experience, and I immersed myself in the healing environment of Camp Klicek, which has been in operation since 1992.

 

Children after a long-term therapy (and sometimes even patients under treatment, if their health allows it) take part in the camp, as well as their friends, siblings, parents and pets. Several bereaved families come too.

Our camp activities began as an attempt to offer a two-week stay in beautiful natural surrounding also to those children who couldn’t participate in a “normal” summer camp. We have always tried to create a friendly, open-hearted and open-minded atmosphere in our camps, and we hope that the camp program gives its participants enough opportunities to have fun, to do some useful work, to talk about things that are important to them, to simply be with friends.

The camp games and plays (mostly non-competitive) follow the make-believe story of a man who decided to spend some time with nature and is thus confronted with new situations and thoughts and starts to meditate on his own life and on the civilization he lives in.

Children live in big Indian “tee-pee” tents which are able to accommodate up to six inhabitants and have a fireplace inside.

Since 2000, we organize our camps on a meadow just behind the respite hospice building at Malejovice – thanks to this, children whose condition requires special attention can also participate in the camp program, backed by the safe environment of our house.

 

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Indeed, I found myself amidst a remarkable mix of campers and staff, a combination of people and circumstances that is hard to imagine anywhere else. The youngest camper was seven years of age, the oldest, twenty. The children’s diagnoses differed significantly, as did their abilities, disabilities, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. There were children undergoing treatment, survivors of serious illness, siblings, friends, parents, and bereaved parents who had lost a child. The camp leaders, Jiri and Marketa, are purposeful in their choice to bring children and adults together where they might not otherwise interact in larger society. Watching connections form between the campers and staff of varied backgrounds was a blessing on so many levels.

The focus of our days involved living in nature, eating good, healthy food, exploring tough topics such as “What is evil?” and “How can we make the hospital experience more pleasant?”, and above all, building community. The virtual lack of technology at camp was so refreshing. I felt myself detoxing from my smartphone addiction as I wrapped myself in nature, old fashioned, simple play, and grand company.

Many friends have asked me what it was like for me to be surrounded by children who spoke Czech. Did I learn any Czech? How did I communicate with them? Well, I was immersed in a foreign language – of that there is no doubt. Most children spoke no more than a few words or phrases in English, and my Czech is abysmal. But the children understand more English than they speak, and play is a universal language.  The children’s welcoming of me was profound, inviting me into play, making me feel immediately part of the group. “Frisbee?” “Will you play?” “Come play football.” “Ping pong?” “Draw.” Once engaged in a game or project, there was much good will and laughter as we all tried our best to communicate.

I too, grew my Czech vocabulary one word and gesture at a time. I made it my goal over the week to learn everyone’s name – a challenging feat with names that were not familiar to me.  But with each name and greeting, I could see the rapport growing, the shy kids responding, the teens warming. Some of my favorite moments were when I would board the 1970’s retro bus for a field trip, and a kid would smile at me and pat the seat beside them to show they’d been saving it for me. Or that wonderful moment, when the quietest camper, one who spent much time alone and looked down or sideways rather than meeting your gaze, took my hand as I stepped off the bus and walked quietly with me to our destination.

It’s the small stuff, really.

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Children berry picking on a picnic in Czech countryside

 

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Klicek Foundation cofounder Marketa leading us in a trivia game in the camp’s mess tent, where we ate all of our meals.

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In my next several posts, I will dive deeper into some of the activities we did, the games we played, the lessons I learned.

 

Child Life Cooperative: Learning One Child At a Time

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This week we welcome Allie Jones, the founder of the Child Life Cooperative- a website and podcast with the mission to advance the child life profession by learning through reflection, uniting for support and equipping students. Follow on Instagram or email at allie@childlifecooperative.com. I invited her to share a story about her work with you all.  Take it away, Allie

 

Deb may not remember this, but when I began my very first child life job I desperately reached out to her for help. The job I had been dreaming about turned out to be a job that I dreaded going to each day. I am pretty convinced that I developed a reputation on the commuter train as being “the girl that was always crying” before and after work in the city. 

Within a short week of starting a one-person child life program, I quickly got the sense that child life was an unwanted and misunderstood service. The rehabilitation hospital wanted a person who would organize fun activities for the therapists to do with the patients during therapy. Staffs’ expectation was that this person would then stand off to the side—no talking, no co-treating. In their minds, child life was a party planner and recreational therapist. And if I tried to advocate and educate staff of more appropriate ways to utilize child life, then I would be at risk of being fired. On my first day as I shared ideas of how to develop the child life program, a behavioral therapist looked at me square in the eyes and said, “just do what they tell you to do. Tread lightly, Allie, or else…”

I felt intimidated. I felt overwhelmed. I felt defeated. And, I felt utterly alone.

I decided to email Deb Vilas, someone who I had never met, but whose name continued to pop up in child life forums and articles. I wanted to see if she had any advice on how to proceed in such a discouraging job.

Deb encouraged me, providing alternative approaches I could try. She reminded me to gently educate and model for staff what child life truly was. She pointed me towards focusing on connecting with the patients personally and spurred me towards pressing onward with confidence and conviction.

Which I did. And to be honest, every day was a battle.

Not only were the expectations of party planning incredibly taxing and difficult to carry out as a one-person program, my patient population also proved to be a challenge. Many of my patients were from the inner city and had come to the rehabilitation hospital due to injuries related to gang violence.

One patient, we will call him “Devon”, is a young man I will never forget.

I met Devon one afternoon during rounds. He had just been admitted and I could hear him shouting and swearing down the hall.

I heard staff whisper, “he is 16 and was shot 6 times trying to steal a car. This will be fun, won’t it?”

I knocked. “Devon? I am Allie, my job is to—“

“Hey, you know what? I don’t care. Go f*** yourself.”

“Alrighty, then. Good talk. Until tomorrow, Devon.”

I didn’t feel it was the time to keep pressing at that moment with Devon. Instead, I tried to break down his walls by showing up at his room every. single. day. The kid was going to be here until further notice, so I figured I had some time to connect with him.

And so. Every. Single. Day. I kept at it.

Day 2.

“Hey, Devon. Allie, here.”

“Get out. Go f*** yourself.”

Day 3.

“Devon, I just got this new video game and—“

“Would you shut up? Leave!”

Fast forward to approximately 15 days later.

“Hey, Devon.”

“Allie, right? Word is you have some McDonald’s gift cards you give out to kids and can take them across the street after therapy is over.”

That was true. I actually received training in order to be able to take kids on outings.

Yet, hearing him actually initiate made me speechless at first.

“I like hot fudge sundaes,” Devon continued.

Finally, I responded, “I do, too. Let’s go get you one.”

From that day forward I sat in disbelief as I saw D’s walls slowly start to come down.We began a weekly ritual of going across the street to McDonald’s. And boy, it must have been a sight to watch us even try to get there! Devon was paralyzed from the neck down and was cruising in an extremely heavy and finicky power wheelchair. I was the lanky young-looking girl who would try to push said power wheelchair when it would malfunction!

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But we would make it. And we would sit and actually talk. Devon began to open up to me about the life he lived from foster home to foster home. He shared with me the loneliness and abandonment he faced that pushed him to join a gang, his only sense of “family” and “belonging”.

Devon came to our hospital as a raging, angry, bitter and violent teenager. Yet he transformed into a gentle, kind and respectful young man. He even befriended another patient, a young 5-year-old girl who had a diagnosis of selective mutism. Yet Devon swore that she would talk to him. Sometimes when Devon was upset, he would have the nurse cover his face with his blanket so he could shut out the world. And then, this little 5-year-old friend would wheel up to him, rip off his blanket and smile at him. They would talk for hours. A true picture of “the lion” and “the lamb”.

Though the child life job description never seemed to get better at that hospital and the staff continued to be resistant, no matter what, meeting Devon and the relationship that budded made all the tearful train rides worth it. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Choosing to zero in on each individual patient ended up giving my work so much meaning and fulfillment, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time and even if I was still expected to solely plan parties. Because those patients didn’t just need a Halloween party or a fun game to play during therapy, they needed a child life specialist.

So for all of you who may be in a job that you hate, or be longing for a different opportunity, take a minute to look around and try to find your “Devon”. It will be worth it.

Continue reading

Walli Kids: Spotlight & Giveaway

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Many parents arrive in hospitals for unexpected visits, sick or injured child in tow. In emergency situations, they probably don’t have a child’s favorite toy or game with them,  and they may find themselves waiting long hours without a way to distract or occupy their unhappy child. Even during expected hospitalizations, there are times when a child has to visit and wait in areas of the hospital, for tests and procedures, where they have nothing but institutional walls to greet them. Child Life Specialists know the value of great distraction tools to soothe anxiety during long waiting periods and painful procedures.

With this in mind, I would like to welcome guest blogger Patricia Montouchet, the founder of  Walli-Kids. She has a great product for parents, child life specialists, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. 

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Today I am going to tell you about Walli-Kids, the company I created a few years ago.

You might wonder what started Wallikids ?

Difficult to pinpoint exactly how the idea and the vision fell into place, but …

Many years ago, as every mother, I recall being awfully stressed when my son crashed his bicycle, hard enough to break open his helmet. We had to rush to the emergency room and… I will skip all the details. Needless to say, we had to wait long hours on that Saturday afternoon…

What to do? How to distract Lucas? What could I do to ease his pain, anxiety and hide the waiting.

Nothing, I had nothing… In our hurry, I forgot to take his books, games or even his favorite stuffed animal friend as time was of the essence. There was no picture on the walls to help distract him, no child books.  Without any doubt, this was a difficult and striking experience for me.

When my children left for college, I decided it was time to do something I would really enjoy. My daughter Margot is very creative and together, we started  drawing Ralph the Giraffe© and  Mitch the Fish© which would, after a few years, be part of our Animal Buddies collection.                              

 

Coleman the Pelican© was created after a family vacation at the beach.

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Myrtle the Turtle© after reading about the Great Coral Reef and

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           ED ABIGAIL 36x30 Abigail the Snail© to remember our  many summer vacations in our native French Alps.

Walli-Kids Animal buddies Collection is for younger kids that don’t know how to read: they have to look for numbers and pictures, soon they will start having fun. Under an adult supervision, all the many details can be highlighted such as a frog group or a crab family… These colorful designs are a conversation starter for the medical staff as it is easy to start a storytelling or ask to find other hidden animals. These posters are perfect for kids to learn new words and discover new places

At that point, we had something for younger kids but nothing for the ones who could read, so our Puzzle-Jumbles collection was created…

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This was countless hours of assembling arrays of diverse and colorful objects. Enough to keep the children entertained for a while and well-hidden to make their focus last longer…

Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun figuring out what would go into each activity-poster and then counting and re-counting each object to make sure that it was all there. The hardest Puzzle-Jumble activity-poster you might wonder? Without any doubt Animal XL© and #8 XL©

 

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We are still working on our 3rd collections: Same difference. I will keep you posted soon…

Now, the best part is that I can write about how excited I am to share with you our newest product: Acry-Walli. Our designs are reverse printed on a rigid 1/8  inch thick sheet of clear acrylic with a white vinyl backing. The end product displays vivid colors and is very durable. It is very easy to clean with any antibacterial solution, it will not be damaging to the ink as it is reverse printed. These activity-posters can be screwed on to the walls , hardware and color snap-caps are provided to hide the screws. All our designs have rounded corners to avoid catching little fingers.

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You might ask where is the best place to put the Acry-Walli? On walls, in waiting rooms, consulting and treatment rooms. Note that since we design and manufacture every product here in Atlanta, we are able to offer any size, or even incorporate our customers’ mascot or logo in the design.

There is another product that  I should mention as it has become Child Life Specialists’ best friend: our Walli-Kids lap-posters printed on a high quality styrene. All of our designs are available in this 12”x10” hand held size. We came up with this smaller dimension to make it portable and help young patients focus on something colorful and attention grabbing during medical procedures such as treatments, vaccinations… I must mention that many hospitals use them in their waiting room to help with the waiting.

As you read my article to the end, you deserve “a little something”, so if you enter your contact information on our website, Facebook or Twitter, your name will be entered in our drawing for 2 free lap-posters, one from each of our collections.

Should you have any questions on our products, do not hesitate to email me at patricia@wallikids.com.

Get Well Maps: Road to Recovery

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Please welcome our guest blogger, Christina Connors, who I interviewed after she connected with me on Linked In and sent me samples of her incredible Get Well Maps.

What inspired you to create these maps? My son’s medical experience in 2014, and my desire to help other children and families facing medical challenges, inspired me to create Get Well Maps. Andrew was 5 years old when he was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia and H1N1 flu, and his condition quickly became life threatening. He was air lifted to our closest pediatric hospital (~2 hours away) and was transferred to the PICU secondary to respiratory failure. I felt completely helpless to care for him. There were so many uncertainties. My “Mama Bear” impulses were raging, and yet my background as an Occupational Therapist was underpinning every effort I made to advocate for my child.

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I felt compelled to have a visual that would depict his “Road Home”, because despite the uncertainty of prognosis, timeline or discharge plan, we needed to SEE our goal of getting home in the midst of adversity. I asked my childhood friend to make a map that had a road, photo of our home and matchbox car to move along as his condition progressed (My son has always loved anything with wheels). She was eager to do anything to help, but found it strange that my request of her was a “craft project” (Child Life Specialists & OTs get it). She graciously obliged, anyways. What began as a desperate mother’s attempt to provide a tool to help her child, began to draw interest from his medical team, and sparked communication that connected us throughout his care (“Is that your house?”, “Do you like to play outside?”, “Buddy, you’ve already rounded that bend”…). It was months after our experience, and after becoming involved in our pediatric hospital’s Family Advisory Committee, that another parent encouraged me to develop this idea in a way that would help other children and families throughout their medical experiences.

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What was the process like from your idea to creating the product and your company? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared! I was exposing a time in our family’s life that held much vulnerability. But I was also excited about the possibility of having a creative outlet that helped me process our experience in a way that helped others. My faith was strengthened by our experience, and I felt like I was being called into this work. I felt that this was a unique opportunity to combine my experience as a parent and healthcare professional (& my husband is an educator) to make a positive impact in the healthcare experiences of other children and families. I began slowly. Brainstorming, then drafting prototypes, researching materials, production options, searching for the right illustrator, and learning the basics of establishing a business. I use the analogy of a foggy road when I think about the process of transforming an idea into a company, and even now as I continue to navigate and evolve. I can’t always see where I am headed because the road is foggy, but when I have faith enough to move forward, the fog lifts briefly and becomes a little clearer just in front of me, which in turn gives me the confidence to keep going. (Just can’t seem to get away from the road/car analogies!)

Can you tell us a bit about your work as an OT and your experience as a mom? I graduated from the Occupational Therapy program at Towson University in 2002, and have been practicing as an Occupational Therapist for 15 years. I became interested in Occupational Therapy after my Aunt was in a car accident and sustained a C4-C5 spinal cord injury. It was the 1st time my family was truly impacted by disability and I was inspired to learn more about the professionals that were helping her. Since beginning my career as an OT, I have always had an equal love of pediatric and adult rehabilitation. I have experience in hospital, inpatient rehabilitation, home healthcare and school settings. I have always found my work as an OT very rewarding, and am very passionate about working with individuals with neurological disorders and sensory needs. My greatest loves… my hubbie, Mike, and my 2 children are at the center of my world. There was a lot we experienced emotionally as a family during and following my son’s hospitalization that changed my perspective as a mom. I don’t worry as much about small decisions and details, don’t take as much for granted, and really value the importance of finding moments of “calm” in our hectic day-to-day routines. Their love, support, and boundless energy are driving forces behind Child Inspired.

What do you want parents and medical staff to know about children in hospitals? I think many already know, but I think ALL medical professionals need to know that (many, if not most) children and families are not processing auditory information effectively during stressful medical events. Children and families want (and need) medical teams to disclose accurate and honest medical information, but it needs to be delivered with a compassionate, child-centered approach. Don’t be scared of informing children and parents of setbacks or regressions in progress. They know setbacks occur. They just need consistent, jargon-free language that helps them understand what is happening and supports them through the disappointment. Families and medical professionals also need to know that emotional healing will often take much longer than physical healing, and need to be educated on resources that the family can access if emotional or behavioral concerns arise after discharge.

 

What are your hopes for your company? My hope for Child Inspired is that our Get Well Maps will become a model for child-centered discharge planning, and that our tools will also help children and families visualize their progress as they re-integrate back into school and community activities after medical events. In this fast-paced, digital age where much of what our children encounter is instant gratification, many children need support and encouragement as they work towards goals that require time and perseverance. It is my hope that our Maps facilitate positive, encouraging language and communication between children and the adults providing their care.

 

Do you have any tips for how parents and child life specialists might use these maps? I love your profession and the amazing work that you do with children, siblings and families, as well as the work you do to model and advocate for child-centered care among your other medical colleagues. I think that Child Life Specialists can play a pivotal role in daily medical rounding and discharge planning, and that Get Well Maps provide a method for facilitating child-centered communication and visually tracking medical progress. A Get Well Map is fun, and individualized to the child’s interests and goal, therefore, it reduces anxiety by helping you relay and reinforce information discussed in medical rounding (often laden with medical jargon) in a way that is developmentally appropriate and child-centered. Contact us to learn more about how a CCLS is using Get Well Maps with children after bone marrow transplants, and how her unit now has a physician order and pathway to initiate Child Life assessment and intervention (including Get Well Maps) from diagnosis to discharge.
Anything else you want us to know? Thank you for all that you do! As always, I would love to collaborate with you and your teams to develop solutions for your patient populations and healthcare organizations.

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