Two Mothers, One Goal
Determination and intuition lead to successful therapy for two families with special needs.
By Dwain Hebda
Cristin Goodner takes a deep breath and apologizes for what’s about to come out. It’s been a long road, the one she’s traveled with her 5-year-old son, Gray. Talking about it gets her revved like a preacher in the pulpit.
“At 18 months, [Gray] was saying two words and I knew that that wasn’t OK,” she said, the words pouring out at the memory of it. “And, of course, you hear, ‘Oh, he’s a boy, he’s your first kid.’ But, I’m a nurse and I was like, ‘Well, there are milestones for a reason and something’s not right.’”
Suzanne Guerra’s mannerism is more subdued but no less intense describing her experience with her daughter, Maizy, age 6. Like Goodner, she knew something was amiss with her second child. And one day, she finally got fed up with being told that there wasn’t.
“With Maizy, it was really the verbal skills and not really being able to connect with her,” she said. “She was just in her own world, just wanted to play and do her own thing and when I thought she was going to start talking, it just didn't happen.
“I told my husband, ‘OK we’re at, like, 18 months; I have to call, I have to find out where to go, who to talk to and get some help.’ At the time we were living in Hot Springs Village and I just remember going back and forth to Little Rock and seeing this kid’s therapy place on the Interstate. I'm going to start there; I'm going to call. Five years later, and we’ve been there ever since,” Guerra said.
The business Guerra saw, and which Goodner also discovered, was KidSource Therapy in Benton, which for nearly 20 years has provided occupational, speech, developmental and physical therapy through six locations across the state. For the two moms, finding a source of help and understanding was like finally walking out of a fog into bright sunlight.
“I say all the time that without these people, my kid would not be anywhere near what he is,” Goodner said. “They are the reason he is where he is.”
Gray was diagnosed with multiple developmental delays, sensory processing disorder and apraxia, which is a brain disorder that makes speech difficult. Goodner said the straightforward approach of his therapists, as well as the ongoing support and take home strategies, made dealing with Gray’s condition much easier.
“It would have been very easy for them to say, ‘Well, this is what we did in therapy, see you next week,’ but it’s never been like that,” she said. “We developed close relationships. I feel like I can, on an appropriate level, call them with anything. In fact, I have.”
Maizy was diagnosed with autism, speech delays and sensory processing disorder, a condition where the brain has difficulty cataloging and prioritizing stimuli, making her easily overwhelmed by new places and experiences. Her mother watched as each condition was addressed categorically, at a pace the child could handle.
“The approach that they take, the floor time approach that the occupational therapists take at this therapy center, is basically child-led learning and teaching,” she said. “We're trying to go off their cues to find an interest. We're just trying to find anything, any small thing, that the child might be interested in and we play off of that,” Goodner said.
Like Goodner, Guerra was also impressed by the personal investment she saw from Maizy’s therapists and firmly believes it’s one reason her daughter has advanced as far as she has as quickly as she has. “They are like our second family. They love our children as much as we do, and they love to see them learn, and to change and grow,” she said. “I have constantly asked for extra things. ‘Tell me what this is; tell me how I can do this at home to help her. Can I read a book? Is there a book you recommend?’ They've always gone above and beyond to try to help.”
As much as Guerra and Goodner value the approach and are pleased with the results, neither would describe therapy as anything approaching easy, or the time and expense anything short of a sacrifice. But they continue to bring their children—Maizy’s older brother, Rayce, and Gray’s younger sister, Elliott, also receive therapy through KidSource—in the unshakable belief that such an investment is, and will continue to be, worth it.
“We drive a four-hour round trip, three days a week. Both kids,” Guerra said. “Ultimately the therapists would like for the children to get to a point where I can just help them at home, and maybe one day we won't need therapy because we all will have progressed so much that we can handle life on our own.”
“From what I understand, Gray can catch up and get on the same playing field as everybody else and that is our goal, obviously,” Goodner said. “The earlier you catch [apraxia] the better your prognosis is going to be. Apraxia is—I hate to say fixable, because it's always there and his sensory stuff is always there. But he can catch up. He will just have to do things a little differently.”
On the other hand, both women were very pointed in their assertion that therapy only works if one seeks it out. Their advice is simple for other parents who might suspect something is out of the norm concerning their child’s development.
“Follow your gut,” Goodner said. “That is your job and you don't take ‘no’ for an answer. If you feel like something’s going on, you look further into it. If you don’t get the answer you want from them, then you say, ‘OK; I want a second opinion.’ You are your kid’s advocate.”