One Mom’s Story of How Compassion Pays Off – for Everyone
By Kim Snow, Executive Director
We have all heard the phrase time is money. As women, we often use time as our currency. Where will we spend our extremely valuable hours? At the office? With our kids? At youth sports? Having dinner with friends? Time is a precious currency because there are never enough hours in a day or enough days in a week.
As moms, we spend countless hours investing in our children; however, in my journey with our son Parker, my time has definitely been my currency for how to best meet his needs. Over the years, I have witnessed many people invest kindness and compassion, not just time, in Parker. I have also seen people dismiss him, pass him by, or belittle him. The profound impact of these acts, both good and bad, made me realize the potential for “Kindness Currency” as a method to enhance our economy.
Our ultra-competitive society causes us to often overlook the simple things, like kindness, which are contagious both when received, but more importantly, when given. My awareness of these simple emotional gifts has grown exponentially over the past year as I took on the role of Executive Director for Franklin Center. But that’s 17 years in the making. Let’s go back to the beginning of Parker’s story.
Parker was born on February 16, 2006 at 38 ½ weeks weighing 6.8lbs with bright blue eyes, a patch of Albino white hair, and several pigment-free birthmarks. These markers were concerning to our doctors, who recommended we do a genetic test. Without much thought, we said yes, not knowing how those words would change our world.
Three days later, we left the hospital, a happy family of four, ready to begin our exciting life together. By all visible signs, we had added another healthy boy to the Snow family.
Then, our pediatrician called to say the results of the genetic test were in, and we had an appointment to meet a geneticist at the University of MN. In our call, the pediatrician said that she had not heard the diagnosis before, but it probably wasn’t anything to worry about given how well Parker had been doing.
We arrived at the hospital, optimistic about our future. The geneticist waltzed into the sterile exam room and blew up our world with one ill-thought sentence: “I hate meeting people for the first time that I have to deliver bad news to.”
This was the first of many moments where using compassion currency could have drastically impacted how we navigated the situation.
She hadn’t looked at Parker, introduced herself, or even asked how he was doing. She just dove into the diagnosis; 4Q partial deletion. Words that would forever change our world. She was ill-prepared to show compassion when sharing news that this beautiful boy was born with a genetic deletion with only 13 documented cases in the world.
Parenting a Different Path
The chain reaction resulting from that appointment changed the trajectory of our lives and my career. I resigned from my job to focus on Parker and learn as much about his deletion as I could. It turns out the geneticist was right on a few things: there was very little information available, no support groups, no other doctors who could provide a better prognosis, and lots of advice to wait and see, which often came with the caveat to not expect too much for Parker.
Besides our ever-growing anxiety and fear of the unknown, Parker’s first year was fairly uneventful. But when Parker was closer to 18 months, we started to notice the delays. He didn’t walk until he was 2 and was virtually silent until he was 3. We enrolled him in St. David’s inclusion preschool at 2, where they recommended that he receive occupational therapy and speech therapy several times a week to augment the Orono school district support (Parker didn’t qualify for more than a monthly visit).
St. David’s was the first organization we found that used kindness currency in how they embraced families and celebrated kids where they were at, not where they were expected to be. It was filled with skilled therapists who supported Parker unconditionally and helped us begin to understand him. His primary challenge was his slow motor planning skills which means it takes Parker significantly more repetitions to learn new skills. This has a layered effect because it also means he struggles to learn multiple skills at once. Hence the silence during his early years: he couldn’t process learning to walk and talk at the same time. We coined this as “Parker Time.”
Seemingly a simple statement, but “Parker time” was a seismic shift in how we set our expectations, how we parented, and how we talked about Parker. Parker has continued to meet many milestones, but always on his own time. Learning to adjust to “Parker Time” was a process that helped me realize the power of compassion, a lesson that extended well beyond my relationship with Parker.
Compassion in a World Built Around Milestones
As we explored different therapies and saw slow progress, we learned about parenting a child with a different path. “Neurodiverse” wasn’t a term at the time, so we talked about his special needs or developmental delays, but it was very hard to open up in our world of overachievers.
Everyone talked about the milestones, new words and skills their toddlers were accomplishing, and silently, I hoped that Parker would one day talk. It was lonely and scary. I learned to seek out friends and providers who understood compassion and how to use it as currency. They didn’t give me looks of pity or say it will all be okay; they listened and provided meaningful suggestions on how to support Parker.
A prime example came from a dear friend with a child that has significant medical and physical needs. Her advice was to focus on small goals, how to get from preschool to kindergarten rather than where would Parker live as an adult. Compassion Currency, a simple gift with exponential value, has been the foundation of how I have managed my expectations for Parker since that day.
Our society has conditioned us to believe that achievement will lead to success, but I believe that achievement is much broader than the success society has defined. It is about perseverance and overcoming obstacles and when you can’t overcome, being met with compassion, rather than disappointment. I mean, we all need a cheerleader to help us get through life. I knew I couldn’t focus on the “traditional” path, I needed to focus on Parker’s path in Parker’s time and cherish each milestone, big or small. And the biggest gift I could give others on this journey was to extend my valuable Kindness Currency.
A New Way Forward
In middle school, we found Parker starting to regress because he was simply overwhelmed. We began looking for alternatives when a friend recommended the Academy of Whole Learning, now Franklin Center. During our tour, we immediately knew this was the place for Parker. It was filled with kindness, compassion, and kids that needed those as much as they needed small teacher-student ratios, social and emotional support, and individualized teaching methods.
Franklin Center has literally been life-changing for both Parker and me. For Parker, it is a place that has allowed him to learn new skills, make friends, and build confidence. For me, it was first a school for my son and a community of like-minded parents who had been navigating their unique story — mostly in isolation. I felt seen and understood.
I was asked to join the Board of Directors after Parker’s first year and jumped in. A year ago, our previous leader retired, and I applied. Since being named Executive Director, I have learned so much about the broad spectrum of neurodiversities and need to showcase these amazing individuals.
Franklin Center is a unique organization that focuses on serving the whole child through our program areas. As a nonprofit organization founded in 2003, Franklin Center delivers innovative and tailored services to individuals who learn differently. Our mission is to transform lives by addressing the holistic academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of the neurodiverse community.
Our educational model is differentiated in that we integrate mental and behavioral health into our academic teaching. By emphasizing students’ strengths, we empower them to overcome challenges and thrive.
I believe this organization can make a difference in promoting kindness and compassion for the neurodiverse community. We can raise awareness of their unique journeys and help people recognize the tremendous effort and dedication it takes to achieve their milestones. I have told one story, but there are so many more. If you have a story to share, let us know (email firstname.lastname@example.org). We’d love to share it!
Learn more about:
Franklin Academy: K-12 education tailored to each student’s needs – academic and social.
Franklin Therapy: We focus on the intersection of mental and behavioral health for neurodiverse individuals and their families.
Franklin Capstone: A range of programs for 18-28 year-old-olds to equip them with the skills and the confidence to live independently.
Camp Franklin: Keep the fun and the learning going through summer, with a wide variety of camps and outdoor activities.
Franklin Enrichment: Engaging experiences outside of school where students build friendships, create connections, and develop social skills.