Seeing the Possibilities Not the Problems
Joy, frustration, fear, anxiety, loneliness, hope. Every caregiver for a neurodivergent child has more of those emotions than they probably want. Every day contains a flood of feelings that can lift you up…or crash down on you.
One thing many caregivers don’t have is community. Who can they share stories with, ask questions of, or simply just be with, knowing that the other person understands their situation?
But when first-time author, parent, and psychotherapist Emma Nadler shared her story at a recent Franklin Center event, the room was full of “my people.” The calls from the principal, the uncertainty, the lack of information about how to help your child. The Franklin caregivers in the room could relate.
The Complete Unknown
“My daughter shakes with delight when she hears music, and knows the exact song titles and complete lyrics to most pop hits. She has unbeatable dance moves, which she mostly learned from my mother. And she greets people by name — sometimes first and last — her arms flapping with glee, which is one of the most wholehearted expressions of joy I have ever witnessed,” says Nadler.
That delight and joy was far in the future when, at seven months old, the family was told Eden was missing DNA and would likely be significantly impaired, including developmental delays. No one knew the specifics, because her deletion was so rare: would she walk, talk, tie her own shoes? It was completely unknown.
As Emma shared, “Eden did learn to talk, to read, to walk. In fact, she moved so well she had trouble sitting still in class. Around age three, she began to struggle with autism. When scared or anxious or angry, she wasn’t able to express herself through words. She used other methods of communication, which required her to wear a helmet to protect her from the volatility she experienced.”“And at that point in our lives, it was incredibly isolating,” said Nadler “There is a very specific type of grief that comes when, as a parent, you watch your child struggle that intensely.”
After trying a special education program at their local school, where Eden quickly learned how to get herself sent home “right back into the arms of her favorite people,” they found a program at Fraser. Eden thrived, gaining many new skills, and she felt seen and supported. Unfortunately, she only had a year until she aged out of the program. The search was back on for another solution.
New Members Join Eden’s Village
Fortunately, the search led to Franklin Academy, where Eden landed in the Minnehaha Falls classroom. New this year, the class provides each student with one-on-one therapists in conjunction with Franklin Therapy. The class is taught by Anita Haas, a veteran educator for neurodivergent kids and the winner of the 2023 MINNDEPENDENT Honor Teacher Award and National Association of Special Education Teacher’s (NASET) 2023 Outstanding Special Education Teacher Award
“This is the only program in the metro area that blends both therapy and classroom education,” says principal Kim Strandemo. “We know that the sooner we can help students learn how to learn, the smoother their path forward and the sooner they can succeed at school – both academically and socially.”
Each student in Eden’s small class—just six children total—receives holistic and personalized attention. For example, based on the goals for each student, created in collaboration with caregivers, Anita incorporated assistive technology to help Eden master handwriting.
Eden’s team–which includes behavioral therapists, support staff, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist–work together to maximize strengths.
“The staff at Franklin go above and beyond…and then some,” said Nadler. “I text with her therapy team nearly daily to coordinate care. They gush about the new things that Eden says and does. And I meet with Eden’s team lead weekly in order to support the work happening at school, at home.”
This fall, after realizing that Eden was the only girl in her classroom, Nadler mentioned to her teacher that it would be great for Eden to connect with other girls. And voila, Girls Group was born, with meetings on the playground, and dance parties to Sia and Taylor Swift. Shortly after, Eden told her mom, “I have a friend.”
Friendship is definitely hope.
Sharing the Story
In her memoir, The Unlikely Village of Eden, Nadler shares stories like these and divulges how once they started to live this unexpected path—friendships, marriage, and even clients through her work as a psychotherapist—needed to be reinvented.
“I decided to write this memoir because when we got Eden’s diagnosis, the book I needed most did not exist,” said Nadler. “The problems that we thought we would have, like teething is hard and work has been a lot lately. Those weren’t the problems we ended up having. The places that we thought we would go, Girl Scouts, birthday parties, maybe even Disneyland—those were not the places that we ended up going. Instead, we frequented Children’s Hospital and occupational therapy. Even so, we had dance parties, we laughed, we made the best of it, although sometimes making the best of it was crying in public.”
Building a Village
“We ended up building a village for ourselves, including a set of caregivers who have become extended family. The village includes Eden’s grandparents and dear friends who have stuck by our family through the unimaginable. Now, thankfully, Franklin is a part of that village, too,” said Nadler. “That’s what every parent and caregiver wants for their one-of-a-kind child: to feel loved, to experience a sense of belonging. To build skills for a good life, which is about relationships. To have days filled with teachers and therapists and fellow students—friends—who, when they look at them, see possibilities, not a problem in the classroom.”