September 28, 2013

Lessons from Parenting Special Needs Children: An Interview with Erik Young. ~ Michele Paiva

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Erik Young, author of The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide, where I learned how the philosophy and strategies in his book can help any parent, not just those with special needs children.

First, I wanted to know how this energetic, captivating gentleman became interested in working with children with special needs.

“This happened totally by accident. The plan was to be a professional musician and I was trying to pay my way through college as a music major while starting a new family. I needed a better job than waiting tables, so my mother got me a job at the head trauma rehab center where she worked. I didn’t think I would be any good at working with special-needs individuals, but Mom thought differently. As usual, Mom was right. I was really comfortable in the job.”

He went on to explain that he started taking more psychology classes and working in homes of families with intellectually disabled children. It was at this time that his own son was diagnosed with ADHD.

This experience defined him not only personally but professionally for the rest of his life.

“After graduation, I went on to grad school and eventually made my way to Devereux’s PA children’s services. Here I was able to work with children and families suffering from autism, ID and a whole host of other serious conditions. It was ‘the crucible.’ This led to my wife and I starting to foster special needs children. And I further got to refine my skills and knowledge applying what I knew from working as a clinician in my own home. Really, none of it was planned…it just sort of happened. I just went with the flow…and I’m glad I did.”

I was curious as to what it means to raise a child with special needs. The very first item he brought up was isolation.

“Potential isolation. No parent raises their children alone…they rely on family, friends and community to provide support. When your child isn’t neurotypical, this support often isn’t as effective (if it is present at all). Special needs parents often find themselves ‘going it alone,’ unable to easily turn to family, friends or community.”

His book is about children with special needs, or, more precisely, parenting children with special needs; but getting kids to complete their homework, for example, is something that plagues most parents in the evenings, when everyone is tired. What advice does Young have?

“When I was in music school and working three jobs to support my family, I often didn’t have a lot of time to practice. Many of my peers would practice for hours at a time. I didn’t have hours of time. I developed a strategy of doing really short, focused practice sessions… some as short as 10 minutes at a time. I found I not only got better, but with less effort than many of my friends.

Later, I started using this strategy with my son, who would get quickly frustrated with his homework. Instead of having him do hours of homework in one sitting…we would break it up into little bits and then take frequent short breaks to let his head ‘cool down.’ We found that the quality of his work improved as his frustration decreased…and he got more done in less time.”

Young has used his techniques to assist many of his clients—and he’s been able to help others through his book as well.

His book was born out of both happenstance and necessity. Young would attend meetings, seminars and trainings, and when he’d ask the presenters if the treatments were effective for some of the children with autism or other special needs demographics, they’d often reply that they weren’t sure.

This frustrated him and fueled his desire to define more of what he had to offer as he transitioned from corporate to private practice. He outlined a series of intervention strategies coming from both clinical and personal experience. In a nutshell, his life experience actually informed the book; he simply had to get it on paper.

“I remembered how tough and painful it was for my wife and I to adjust to being special needs parents…and I was a professional with specialized knowledge and support! How did other families cope? My hope is that my experiences will help other families cope and manage little better.”

So what does a husband, professional and father of five do in his free time? As any wellness professional knows, balance is key. He enjoys music, both listening and creating it (he is a trained pianist and guitarist); he likes to play with his kids and practice yoga with his wife on the dock of a local lake. He coaches a Taekwondo competition team, and he loves to fire up the grill for dinner and make his wife one of her favorite vegan meals.

As the father of five special needs youths and as a special needs foster parent, Young feels that every parent has something to offer their child and it is from this place that change and growth can occur. His book The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide is available on Amazon and anywhere books are sold.

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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp

{Photo: via Mystify me on Pinterest}

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Michele Paiva