All About Trauma-Informed Practice – Episode 37 with Colleen Wilkinson
Welcome back to The All About Audiology podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lilach Saperstein. And this episode is really truly from my heart. Coming to you guys, to my listeners, it’s a topic that’s really, really important to me and something that really propelled me into making this podcast. And the more and more we’re continuing with interviews, more and more guests come on the show, the more I interact with you guys, I see that the original message that I wanted to come and put out in the world is really something that’s very, very necessary. And that is that, this is hard, this journey, hearing loss, learning all about audiology, making really big decisions for your child is not an easy topic. It’s something that really has to be given weight and really has to be taken seriously.
And something that I was noticing throughout my studies and throughout my work was that there was a lot of emphasis and focus on doing the interventions, doing the treatments, getting the hearing aids, programming them and, many hours of speech therapy, or deciding to do the cochlear implant surgery… And then boom, boom, boom, like action, action action, which obviously is fabulous and very necessary. And there wasn’t quite as much urgency and attention given, almost at all, to the emotional processing of the family to the news of the hearing loss, specifically to the parents, who may have really been totally caught off guard by this diagnosis or not. Whatever it is that the experience of the parents is, it wasn’t being properly addressed.
And it’s really the perspective that I wanted to bring to this, to the all about audiology project, to this whole community, is that we really do need to care for ourselves as parents, where audiologists do really need to take into account the parents’ reaction, the parents’ readiness, the available resources, in all the ways that that means. Financial and time and emotional attend to the needs that now have presented themselves with this diagnosis, and also to the entire process of grieving, of being in denial, of accepting the news, of going into action, of becoming advocates; this whole journey that twists and turns and winds back and comes back around. It’s really something that is, I feel, a very big message, a very big mission for me to make room for that and make space for that within the community of families who are navigating hearing loss.
In Episode 31, I interviewed Mama Manon, who is a French teacher and gives parenting workshops where her entire approach is coming from addressing our children and connecting with our children from a body level. How do our bodies feel in different circumstances, what is that gnawing in my stomach or that fluttering in my chest? Am I listening to those cues? Am I paying attention to my body and then also making room to connect with what our child’s bodily experience is? Like if they’re flailing around if they’re unable to regulate their bodies and all of that. So, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to Episode 31, I highly recommend you go back. And then in Episode 33, I interviewed Dr. Julie Renshaw, and we talked a lot about the experience of the diagnosis in the context of the equipment that we use, so it was kind of a technical episode and something that I’m always trying to do is make a balance with these episodes so that you can really find what it is that you’re looking for.
And today I wanted to invite someone I really look up to, someone I’ve been following on Instagram for a little while and I just feel like all of her posts and all of her messaging really resonates with what I’m trying to do. Her name is Colleen Wilkenson. Her Instagram is Trauma_Informed_Montessori. Of course there will be links and transcripts on the website as always at allaboutaudiology.com. And I just want to invite you to come into this conversation and think about the word “trauma” in kind of a different way then you might have thought about it before. Because sometimes we hear the word “trauma” and we think it has to be this devastatingly, consequential life event, a major event, but the word trauma and how we can think about education and connecting to children and to ourselves in the context of trauma is to realize that trauma is a way that we are experiencing whatever is happening. That could be something that is acute, big event that is very, very upsetting and frightening and you know, too big to handle. But that can also exist, that constellation of what’s happening with our memory, with our body, with our limbic system, our whole emotionality, that trauma response can happen to things that for one person are no big deal and are just everyday life and for another person, it might really affect them and be difficult to handle.
So, I’ve learned so, so much about trauma, just on a personal level. You know, this is something that’s really touched me and helped me through my own stuff that is totally unrelated to audiology, but then to be able to bring in those frameworks and say, ‘Hey, is a child who is constantly ignored or feels unheard because their communication method is constantly breaking down, is that registering as trauma for them? There’s educational trauma that we talked about in the interview, and generational trauma as well of things that have affected us as adults or when we were children and how that then translates into how we interact with our children, or with our patients or with our students, for that matter. So, I really am so grateful to have you as a listener to come on this journey with me.
And without further ado, I’m going to welcome Colleen.
LS: “Welcome Colleen, thank you so much for joining us on the All About Audiology podcast. I have been following you on Instagram and I love, love, love so many of the messages that you’re putting out there with trauma informed Montessori, trauma informed education and parenting. And I think that’s something that is really becoming very popular. People are becoming more attuned to it, you know, in the good sense of popular. I’d love to hear about your background and how you came into this work.”
Colleen: “So, I came to this work when I was a very, very young beginners teacher on September 11th. And I had a very young pre-k class. And I very quickly learned that I was not at all prepared to even help talk them through what they were experiencing in Fort Worth, Texas at the time. So, it wasn’t immediate. It wasn’t that they saw something in person, but that the adults were afraid and that there was all these things on the news. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I didn’t know how to help them. And so, I was just doing my best, like so many teachers are. And then as time went on, I had had a child in my class who had experienced significant infant trauma and I started learning about reactive attachment disorder through that family, and what the outcomes of attachment disorder could be.
So, because I was 26 by that time and really felt like I was wise in the ways of the world, I felt able to go and become a foster parent. I felt that I knew all about this stuff now because I’ve been doing this for a while, and very quickly realized that there was a lot more to it, even then I had experienced as a teacher. So, I became a parent who also needed these trauma informed practices in my home. And so, when I started really doing therapeutic parenting, and using these trauma informed practices on a daily basis at home, I like to say I don’t compartmentalize well, so, I just use the same practices at home, and I just started using them in my classroom too. It’s just easier that way. And I saw a transformation in the children in my care. And I saw the change in the relationship with the students that I was having, where we were establishing trust and connection and safety. And I began to observe these changes in them.
And then I learned more about trauma informed practices through the Parent Purpose Child Development Center out of TCU in Fort Worth, and the trust based relational intervention system and have sort of grown my practice from there over the last 10 years and now I consult with schools all over the US. I teach a graduate level class at Dominican University of California, and I help teachers both on my Instagram and through some individual coaching, kind of find ways to take these practices into their classroom to the benefit of their children. So, it really just started out of a need that I had and grew from there.”
LS: “Wow. Okay, so, I think what we should do is define some of the terms that you’re using. Let’s explain how do we define trauma? What does it mean to have a trauma informed approach for parenting or teaching?”
CW: “Yeah, that’s a really great question. A lot of times when people talk about trauma informed care, they think of adverse childhood experiences. And that’s a very, very limiting view. Trauma, truly, is something that happens to you, that creates a reaction in your body or in your emotional system, your nervous system, all that stuff. And the context of that event is the is the most important thing. Does someone help you? Are you ultimately safe? Did you have a web of support to begin with? So, what could be trauma for one person isn’t necessarily traumatic for another person. What is devastating to one person could be just another day to another person, it really is about context of what’s happening. So, for example, when people think of trauma in the big sense of abuse or neglect, and those things of course, I don’t want to minimize those things. However, trauma could also be the experience of racism over time, that’s traumatic. The experience of community violence, the experience of a natural disaster, here in Houston we got a lot of that with our big flood that we had a few years ago. So, we have all these other types of trauma that can come into play for children outside of the things that we would all commonly recognize as trauma.
So, that’s what kind of encapsulates trauma, it is what happens and how do you and the people around you react to it. So, when it comes to terms of trauma informed practices, it means different things in different settings. So, you can do trauma informed yoga, you could do trauma informed mindfulness, there’s trauma informed therapy, there’s trauma informed everything at this point. But really, the key piece of it, especially for people who work with children, is this: Am I responding to this child from a place of respect, from curiosity, to find out how to support them effectively? Or am I expecting and desiring compliance and obedience from children instead of seeing the need behind the behavior? If I believe behavior is communication, then I can see when a child is displaying a behavior (that means he’s trying to communicate.) And that could be, we often talk about it in terms of negative behavior, because that’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, if you will. But often, just as often it might be withdrawn behavior, or overly compliant behavior, following type behavior, those behaviors are all communication. So, for trauma informed practices, what I really want to do is see the need behind that behavior so that I can adequately support the child. That’s a really big summation, but there it is, just in a little bubble. What’s the need behind the behavior?”
LS: “I think that there’s a lot of power in what you’re saying of, let’s look at children as people. Hmm. That’s a novel idea.”
CW: “It’s a novel concept, right? Hahaha.”
LS: “Unfortunately, that in some way, we actually have to come in and make that clear. But then on the other hand, you do have an authority mismatch between adults and children. So, how do you not give up, not treat children “as equals” in terms of authority, like who’s in charge of things, but at the same time, have respect for them?”
CW: “Yeah, it’s an important piece. I honor your humanity and I set the bubble of boundary and intention around our relationship to make sure you feel safe because an adult with zero boundaries, also doesn’t feel safe to a child, right? Because if you’re not in control, I will have to be, if you if you’re not in charge here, I will have to keep myself safe. It’s a common theme for children who’ve experienced childhood trauma. So, it’s definitely again, that pendulum swing where we don’t want to be too authoritarian, too harsh, but nor are we permissive and over allowing either. There has to be a nice middle ground where I both respect your needs and have good boundaries.”
CW: “So, just this week I was at a parenting lecture I guess. It was actually at my daughter’s school. And it was supposed to be a mother’s night where everyone comes in, relaxes, get to know each other, the other moms in the class, and they’re like, oh, we’re gonna have a fun activity. And I totally thought it was gonna be arts and crafts or something. And then the activity they brought was a parenting coach. And then she gave us a lecture and I was like, I did not think this is gonna be a lecture. And it turns out that I really didn’t like a lot of the things she was saying. And, felt very much that her approach was, ‘You need to lay down the law, you need to be the authority.’ And in some senses that’s true because you do want to have boundaries, but I did not resonate with her approach. And I think that it’s really powerful to say that I’m not going to agree with everyone.”
CW: “Right, absolutely. Yeah. And what works for one person won’t work for another, you know what I mean? We’re all trying to find our path as parents, aren’t we? That’s okay.”
So, that’s one of the biggest messages that I really want to get out, first of all, to myself, and then to all the people who listen, which is you’re doing just fine, whatever it is that you’re doing and whatever thoughts, philosophy, approach you have, it’s because you’re the parent and you get to decide what’s good.”
CW: “And you’re the one who has the intimate relationship with your child. I mean, nobody knows your child better than you. You are the expert on your child. So, only you can make the best decision.”
LS: “So, bringing it into the experience of hearing loss. Many of the parents listening on the show have a child with a hearing loss diagnosis. And there are various moments in that journey that kind of stick out like getting the initial diagnosis that’s often a very loaded and difficult experience. But it’s really only the beginning of the places that can become really triggering and upsetting. Having to always explain what’s with those devices and what’s wrong with your kid and being excluded and educational opportunities, all the things that then come after that of how do we now handle parenting this child, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how parents can use some of these practices and what those are to support themselves as well as while they’re supporting their child.”
CW: “Well, I can tell you about a specific time that I did not use these practices with my own child, as I mentioned when we were chatting online that my daughter has partial hearing loss in one ear, and so she uses an FM system at school. So, one of the teachers decided she wasn’t going to use it. And she was like, ‘Oh no, I’m very loud.’ And whoo, hmm.”
LS: “Okay, you just resonated with every listener. Yes.”
CW: “Oh, I was just like, I got hot. I was like, ‘This is not about you being loud. I don’t care. That’s like 100% not helping, you’re not helping. So, it is something I’ve also put into play with adults where I’m like, how can I try to understand the need behind this adult’s behavior? But I think a piece that is important for parents is to know when we’re triggered, right? And so a key piece of doing trauma informed practices at home is knowing what what is triggering for you. For me, there have been times when that trigger was like, I grew up in a very academically motivated household where your academic success was, obviously this probably was not my parents’ intentions at all, but in my mind growing up this academic success was tied to your place in the family, our love for you, are so proud of you, right?
So, now that I have a child who struggled academically because of multiple issues, she has multiple diagnoses, but partial of it was because she couldn’t hear for quite a bit of it. So, I mean, I needed to let go of when is it that I’m feeling triggered? Because I’m worried that she’s not going to be viewed as “successful” because of her academics. Right, so that’s my junk. That’s my parenting junk that I need to let go of. So, I had to do my own work through my own childhood trauma, through my own childhood processing and through my own grief work around what do her diagnoses mean for her, for me, whatever. Now she’s 17, we’re kind of on, not the other end of it because it’s ongoing, forever obviously. My daughter will need a lot of support for probably her whole lifetime. But I’m in a different place than I was when she was diagnosed. And I am in a different place of acceptance, of understanding that her realities might be different. But they’re not bad, wrong, or not valuable, right? Her life is perfectly valuable just the way she is. So, a lot of trauma informed practices both as a parent and for teachers is doing your own work and figuring out what your junk is about.
I also grew up with a military police officer as a father. So, I grew up in a kind of household where it’s like, I say, jump, and you ask how high on the way up. Very, again, compliance driven. So, I personally don’t enjoy oppositional defiant type behavior. That’s a big trigger for me. I have to know that when I’m working with children, and I have to be able to put pause on that and say, ‘In this moment, am I reacting from something that’s real? Or am I reacting from my own triggers?’ So, knowing and being able to identify our own junk, our own processes is really important.
Another piece is making sure that we’re building positive relationships. We, as parents, as educators, as people who work with children, we get caught up in getting through the day, right? Get your socks, get your shoes, we got to go. Brush your hair, we needed to leave 10 minutes ago, right? We’re all trying to move through our day. And what happens sometimes is that we don’t stop and take the time to make sure we’re lighting up when we see that child. Make sure that our face, our body, our every action, says, ‘I love you’ to that child. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to tell you to hurry up because we got to go. But maybe the first thing I say isn’t, ‘You didn’t brush your hair,’ right? Maybe it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m so glad you’re here. Let’s take your hairbrush in the car as we go. Let’s go. We gotta do it.’
It’s those little moments when we can choose to connect before we correct and really choose to connect and build relationship that can be really meaningful to our ongoing relationship with that child. That relationship is what is the buffer for when trauma happens. When we have a solid, deep connected relationship with a child, we become a buffer to trauma because we can’t always predict what trauma is going to happen to a child, we can try our best. But truth be told, we just can’t. I can’t pretend like there’s never going to be another hurricane in Houston, right? I can’t pretend like we’re never going to get into a car accident. We’re never gonna know. Life is gonna happen with children, with us. I mean, it’s inevitable. But our relationship is the buffer, because that’s the web of protection that keeps them from being unsteady in those moments and having that person they can turn to, that person who will listen to them.
And so building that relationship, building positive relationship is so helpful. Making sure we’re spending time doing things they like. And it goes back a little bit to, are we over scheduled? Do we need to make sure we’re building in downtime in our lives, or we’re just at home with our children, living life together, not going from class to class to class, to swim to horseback. So, well for my child, we have OT, PT, therapy, therapeutic horseback, swim, right? It’s so easy to get so over scheduled, but I really feel like that building relationship piece and scheduling time when we’re just being together positive. That’s the buffer for trauma.”
LS: “And I attended a course once about trauma in the medical fields for EMTs and nurses and people with who were constantly getting this kind of second hand, ICU patients, all those things. And so, at the conference, the speaker was saying, “What do you think, true or false? If someone experiences this all the time on a daily basis, like it’s part of their job, they’re immune to it. And they don’t get that (trauma).” And some people said, ‘Let’s consider that because maybe if you keep experiencing this and maybe it doesn’t affect you anymore, you kind of get more hardened.’ But she’s like, “Here’s all the data. Nope.” It just keeps compounding and actually those things build on each other. And that’s why there’s such a high burnout rate with those kinds of professions. And I think that can also apply to parenting because if you keep having the same difficult interaction, without any resolution, and it doesn’t get to become resolved, then it kind of just keeps building and building like this big hurricane.”
CW: “And I think that’s really important for those of us have kids with disabilities or learning differences, because it definitely can feel like one thing after another. For us, hearing loss was a diagnosis that came on top of an autism diagnosis, on top of a chromosomal disorder diagnosis, on top of a PTSD diagnosis. I was just like, man, can this kid catch a break? Like, what? Come on!!! And there’s been diagnoses since then. So, it can feel like we’re never getting the resolution. There’s always something new. Our child has grown a little bit. Well, now we have this XYZ problem, instead of this. Now we have to go in for new implants or get fitted for new things. It’s a constant. And now again at that adult end of it, I have spent years learning the IEP (Individualized Education Program) process. I feel like an IEP master.
Well, my kids about to be a senior in high school, you know what I don’t know anything about, SSDI or any of these other adult programs. So, here I am, just when I became the master of something, I’m back in the newborn stage where I have to learn to navigate new systems with her. So, it is a constant kind of a way of thinking, ‘Okay, how can I process this new information? How can I process this new information? And what can I do to support myself?’ So, it is again, even for me, what helps me with that relationship support network, right? Other parents who’ve been there, people like you who are doing this work to support parents, right? Therapists who’ve seen my child for years, we have this continuity of care whenever possible, that know her, that know us and that can guide me through my journey and and guide us and helping her through her journey. I think this experience and getting together and feeling that web of support, again, is a buffer even for us as the parents.”
LS: “I think you hit exactly on one of the important points for me, because I feel like there’s a lack in the way that audiological care is given. I mean, across the board and medical settings, but you know, my experience and expertise comes from audiology. And there’s so much support for the child, so much attention, and so many appointments and IEPS and all these things that are going for the kid, as well they should be and we should hope that that continues. Absolutely. But the parents, I don’t know that there’s enough support for parents going through this journey, which is why I started this podcast, and why I have the programs that I have, because I think there’s such a need for that. There’s not a place for that during the appointment. You know, it’s really not about you, parent, it’s about your kid. It should be about your kid, but then where are you getting that other support and are you even acknowledging that that’s necessary?
And I think that point is something that I went through myself in the journey of being a parent. My oldest is five, so this is pretty recent for me. But as she’s grown, and then my other two kids as well, I’ve got a five, a three and a two. They’re delightful. Hahaha. And yeah, you know, slowly, slowly going through the teeny milestones of, you know, infancy into pre-K, that’s as far as we’ve gotten so far. But I see so much how it’s affected me in reviewing things that happened in my childhood, traumas that I had never even addressed or acknowledged. And it has been a very deep growth journey. Like my children are, I call them the little growth inducers, because they’re gonna get in your side and say, ‘Nope, you cannot ignore what you have been ignoring. You cannot deny what you have been denying,’ because now you have this other person who really relies on you to be present for them.
And so, I just want to put out very strongly a big recommendation for parents to take care of themselves. For whatever that means, if that means getting help and getting therapy, if it means getting support in your own relationships, and then how that’s been affecting the parenting relationship. That’s something that a couple years ago, I would not have been able to say, or believed it, and now it’s like, this has changed my life for the better. I’m a better parent for it, I believe.”
CW: “Yeah, absolutely. I mean, definitely, there were times when I just didn’t feel supported and I didn’t know what I needed and being able to say, ‘Hey, you know what I need? My kids are in a lot of therapy. I should be in therapy.’ And that’s powerful. You know what I mean. I agree that you definitely have to do your own work. I think it started for me the first time I heard my mother’s voice come out of my mouth and I was like, ‘Oh, wait, that’s not the parent I envisioned being. Shoot!’ How can I make that go away? And really having to evaluate.”
LS: “I love the post that you put up that said, “An escalated parent cannot de-escalate an escalated child.”
LS: “I was like, yes. That’s exactly it! If you’re not in the state of mind and you are yelling, ‘Calm down!’ “
CW: “Yes, yes!”
LS: “When you hear yourself yelling calm down it’s like, wait, is this a very valid expectation?”
CW: “Stop yelling in the house and you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, she yelled across the house.’ “
LS: “Right? Right. It’s in these moments of awareness where we could laugh at ourselves and look at that with kindness and not judgment, okay. And say, ‘Some of this energy needs to move.’ If that means taking a break or whatever you need. I’m very honest with my children, which I think I did not necessarily see growing up. And I will say to them, I do not feel well, I’m not having a good day, I’m upset about something, so they can see ‘Hey, you actually have emotions too.’ And I’m saying to them, this is really not about you right now. And I’m gonna go in the other room, and I will come back. You play with your Play Doh. I need five minutes.”
CW: “Yeah, Mommy needs a break. Yeah, I think it’s great. I think it’s healthy modeling, right? We are human beings, we feel a full range of emotions, and I’m going to model for you healthy ways of coping with those emotions, because you are going to feel them too. And also, we have to help model those healthy coping mechanisms for them. We have to be able to de- escalate ourselves and get regulated so that we can really, truly positively interact with them.
And also, it’s a good boundary for them to learn. To know that my mom has emotions, I might need to give her some space right now. You know what I mean? That’s a healthy thing I want them to know their whole lives, that my mom has feelings, I should consider them. It’s okay.”
LS: “But also that other people’s emotions are not your responsibility, right?”
LS: “And so then it’s like, this is not about you or on you. Hahaha.”
CW: “It’s not about you. I just need five minutes. And I think that there’s also something really healthy about about normalizing apologizing to children. Multiple times in my parenting journey, I’ve had to say, “I didn’t handle that the way I wanted to. I apologize. I was feeling… In the future, I want to do it this way. If you have something you need to say about it, I’m happy to hear your words about it. Even when sometimes she’s been like, ‘What are you talking about mom?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, whatever. I felt this way about it. This is my apology.’ And knowing that that’s okay. I have also a feeling that a human has called remorse, and that’s okay too.”
LS: “Yeah, that’s so beautiful. So, what are some practical tips that you would like to share with our listeners? We also have a lot of Audiology students and other professionals, teachers of the Deaf, speech therapists. So, we kind of have a beautiful community of the all about audiology podcast, where it’s kind of both sides of the conversation, which I love. You know, it’s not only parents, but it’s also the professionals working with the kids. So we’re trying to get the whole community together on these topics.”
CW: “I think one of the things that I would recommend for parents and for folks working with children is first and foremost, see the person. Take the time to see the person. Don’t let it become where we’re boiled down to, oh, I’m seeing these issues today. This is the problem. This is what I’m working on today. Don’t let yourself get caught up in checklists and the minutia without seeing the human being. The children are important just for who they are. And that it’s okay to spend a few moments of an appointment or hopefully more than a few moments of your day, just experiencing joy with them and having a good time with them and making sure that they’re having a good time with you.
Again, that goes back to building that positive relationship. And I think that it’s important that we, as professionals, so, speaking from an educator point of view and for your student audience, I think it’s really important to try to learn about educational trauma and how we, as professionals can actually be trauma inducing for children, if we’re not conscientious. Speaking disrespectfully to a child, speaking about a child in front of them as if they’re not there, or especially as if they can’t hear us, right? That’s
problematic. And if we’re really not seeing them for their strengths, we can really do a lot of damage to their young, little emotional selves. And I know, I personally don’t want to be a purveyor of emotional trauma. So, I’m assuming no one working with children wants that. So, we have to really be conscientious of how we do it. Again, it goes back into that being caught up of I got to see the next person. So, I want people to slow down and really be present with children. Be present. It’s the best thing to do.”
LS: “There’s an artist whose name is Christine Sun Kim. She’s deaf, and she does a lot of artwork around ASL and about Deaf identity. She also sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Yeah, so she had a recent post where she wrote like, why I think my speech therapy was all basically a waste of time, and did not help me in my life. And, one of the things was about ow there’s this common thing of ordering food, helping a kid be able to independently order, make an order at McDonald’s, and she was like, that is not the ultimate goal of my life.
And there’s just like, a big conversation around how adults who had experienced some sorts of emotional trauma and educational trauma relating to their disabilities or, I mean, differences. That’s also a difficult word if you’re going to the whole labeling issue of saying, ‘Do you have a disability? Or is hearing loss or being deaf, is it deaf gain or hearing loss?’ And there’s so much of that weight that you have this whole politics that’s going on around you and you’re like, I just have this one kid in front of me or multiple kids, my children, and how do I care for them? And so, it’s really hard for some parents. They’re being told from professionals, you have to go this one route. You must have a hearing aid. You must have a cochlear implant, you must do 17 hours of therapy a week. And that might work for some parents and for some kids, but there’s this place where the parent gets to also have an intuition as to, do I accept and agree with these recommendations? Or do I also think there might be something else for us?”
CW: “Yeah. We had to make some of those calls. You know, the gold standard in the world sometimes for autism is like ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). Well, I read from many autistic adults that they felt ABA was traumatic for them. Well, here I am parenting a child who’s already experienced childhood trauma. Am I going to compound that by a potentially traumatic therapeutic intervention? Or am I not willing to run that risk? And then of course, we ran into like the same thing. Rebecca, my daughter, identifies as autistic. Well, lots of people want to use person first language. Well, she doesn’t like person first language. She doesn’t. She’s not Rebecca with autism. She’s autistic. So, there’s an ever political problem, right? I think you’re right on target. I’m gonna tune in to the person in front of me to where they are now, and what they want and what they feel might change, but I’ll only know that if I’m in tune with them.
And if I have a relationship with them where they can trust that they can tell me that they don’t like something or if they do like that, or if they feel comfortable with something or not. I want to have those positive relationships.”
LS: “It’s very difficult to know what the line is. Is it that they just don’t want to wear their hearing aids so I’ll go along with it. Or were they wearing them for eight hours and now they are just super tired and they are fatigued and they don’t want to listen anymore. Maybe that’s an okay time to say, let’s take a break and put these away.”
CW: “Yeah. It’s a sensorial overwhelm. Sometimes it might feel better to not have that on.”
LS: “It’s very hard to know if you are doing the right thing. Of course all parents and educators constantly question themselves, but I think that is where the magic is. Because if you are questioning and trying to process it and look at it, instead of saying, ‘I’m right and they should do what I say.’ “
CW: “Do what I say. Right. It’s about looking at the bigger picture. Is there something more to this? And that I am not always going to be the holder of the answers just because I’m the parent or adult or the expert in this one thing and that actually this child might be able to tell me something more about what they need either verbally, non-verbally, behaviorally. There is something they are communicating if I’m tuned in to the relationship.”
LS: “Also, with hearing devices, cochlear implants, hearing aids and FM systems, sometimes they are too loud, sometimes they are too tinny and the high frequencies are too high. Sometimes the mold in the ear can be irritating. There can actually be issues and the child is trying to tell you something but they might not have the language to do so or the knowledge to do so. So, they are crying and pulling their hearing aids out. It’s not necessarily that they are rejecting the device. Maybe you need to get more tuning. Go back to your audiologist and check it out.”
CW: “For Rebecca, (my daughter) she eventually got tired of carrying around the FM system all day. She felt it was kind of bothering because she had to hand it to the teacher and then get it back. It was in front of her peers so she felt that she was different. Finally, we said that if you don’t want to wear it and you just want to do preferential seating and we’ll have written into your IEP that you can have written tasks. That the instructions need to be written down for you and that’s written into your IEP instead of the FM system. We’ll get around what works for you. For a teenager, she had a lot of say in that because she was able finally to communicate because she did that exact same thing. The teachers were telling me that she was leaving it behind or that she lost it. So, I was like, okay, what are you really trying to tell us here. Just say it and tell us what you need. She was finally able to tell us and she said she didn’t want to do this anymore. It feels too public.
So, there is always that possibility that if we’re really looking for the need behind the behavior, we can tweak something or make a minor change. We can still get their needs met without needing to double down and be the power structure of do what I say, you must comply. Sometimes, for a lot of children they just need to know why. Tell me why this is helping me. Tell me what I’m supposed to be getting out of this. That can help them get invested and have buy in from that. If they don’t understand why they are doing it, and partially that’s my own personality too. If I don’t understand why I’m doing something, I’m not going to buy in. I need to understand the big picture.”
LS: “But that’s for when they get older.”
CW: “I find it’s the same for children.”
LS: “When they are a little older. I’m just thinking about the people who are thinking that we want them to ask their baby.” Hahahah.
LS: “But you can still pay attention.”
CW: “Even for young kids, I’m a pre-k teacher. I do this with this age all the time. Five-year-olds, four-year-olds, three-year-olds, they need to know why. They ask why all the time because they want to know. Sometimes the answer is, this is what is happening and this is why I need you to do it. And now I need you to do it. Here’s the boundary. I can make it more comfortable for you or we can do it this way but we are going to do this or go to therapy or we are going to wear the thing. But there is a piece, again just that humanization and respect when we are willing to explain what is happening.
I was thinking about something you said a second ago about the secondary trauma. When we are in the hospital, they have these child life specialists. I think child life specialists must experience so much secondary trauma, because of course their whole job is to come in and explain procedures to children so they will know what’s happening. My daughter got an MRI. The lady came in and showed her pictures and told her this is what is going to happen. This is what it sounds like. I’m thinking this woman does this with all the children in the hospital. Well, some of the children don’t leave the hospital. So, she’s going in working every day with children who aren’t going to make it.
I can’t imagine that job. I don’t want that job because it must be so hard on the heart. But that secondary trauma, there’s so many professions of people, like you said, like medical burnout, teacher burnout. I’m sure in your work, you see hard cases that are heartbreaking and you just have to compartmentalize, but that’s not the way secondary trauma works. But we try to do it anyway as best we can. I think it’s just that piece for the child life specialist coming in and explaining and walking through, was so respectful for a child in the hospital. It’s definitely what I try to do in school and it’s something we should try to do for children.
Sometimes, I know you said, I really went a long way around this but what I was trying to say was (hahaha), I know we wouldn’t explain everything to a baby but sometimes explaining it to a baby, even though they don’t understand what we’re saying, it helps us with processing what’s happening and helps us begin to explain something we might have to tell our child later on. So, in the adoption world, when you adopt a baby, you should tell them that they are adopted from the time they are (I’m doing baby arms) babies in arms so that you can practice saying it. It’s going to get girbled in your mouth. Things that are hard to tell our children are hard to say. So, sometimes it helps if we can say, like hey pre-verbal baby, I’m going to mess this up so bad right now so let me just explain it as best as I can.’ By the time they are really able to understand, you’ve kind of smoothed out your story a little bit. You’ve kind of smoothed out saying, this traumatic thing happened when you were born or the reason you have this implant is because… And you figured out how you feel about it and how you want to present it to them in a healthy way. So, there might be something to be said for saying it to your baby even if they don’t understand.”
LS: “I love that first of all. And second, I think it would do wonders for the interpersonal relationships of the other adults caring for this baby. Your spouse, or your mother or whoever else is involved. Being able to not have things be taboo, because here you are talking about them already. I think it actually, I took your scenario and I carried it all the way forward. I’m thinking about many cases, two parents or two people caring for the same child, might not have the same reaction, probably won’t have the same emotional response and practically might not agree on intervention options. We see that a lot and you have one trying to convince the other. One is full of fear, one is full of guilt. They are all in their own story and the kid is in the middle. So, I think that even that communication pattern can really do some good because then you are actually articulating what you’re feeling. Then the other parent could say, was that what you are feeling? I wasn’t aware of that. That you just told them that, it can open up a lot.”
CW: “Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re feeling until you are trying to say it out loud or trying to communicate that this thing is happening and all of the sudden you are telling the story. You can tell which part you get stuck on or which part you choke up on and all of the sudden, you are like, well this is the thing for me. It’s this piece that’s really affecting me, and you have ah hah moments and then you can share those things. By the time you kind of put together a joint narrative if there is two parents, or a family narrative where you have been able to communicate to grandparents for example, and say this is how we are saying this to our child. We are speaking in positive language or whatever. Let’s talk through it so you can feel good about it for your own processing. I think it’s really healthy.”
LS: “Yeah. There are so many awesome moms who are on Instagram or blogging about this journey and one of them was saying, “My baby won’t hear me sing.” It was such a heavy and difficult thing for her to handle. And then she has the baby put her hand on her throat so she can feel the vibration. She said that she can sing to her baby, they can feel the vibration, they still see my connection to them and whether or not they are receiving the auditory vibrations through their ear, that’s different. That’s their difference.”
CW: “Not that the singing doesn’t have value to them just because they can’t hear it. It’s really powerful to figure out, again, what is the trigger for you. What is it? For her, it’s the singing. For someone else, they never thought of that, who cares. It is whatever you feel, it’s so individual. We have to figure out our own stuff.”
LS: “Colleen, I’m so grateful for you coming and sharing all of your experience and your wisdom about trauma informed parenting and educating. If people want to learn more about you or your work, where can they find you?”
CW: “So, I’m on Instagram every day hahaha @trauma_informed_montessori. You can also visit my website which is www.colleenwilkinson.com. I do training all across the US and online and I have some online courses. So, there are a number of ways to tap into the work I’m doing and I would love to hear from any of your listeners.”
Wow, thank you so much to Colleen Wilkinson from Trauma Informed Montessori. I would really, really like to hear what you have to say about this episode and how this landed for you. If you feel like there is a place to have this conversation together with audiology and together with other special needs parenting content, I really truly believe in and I would love to hear if this is something you want to hear more about from me. So, absolutely, reach out on Instagram @allaboutaudiologypodcast or through the website and you are so welcome to join the Facebook group and post about it there so we can all learn from each other and support one another because that’s what it’s there for and that’s where the magic happens. So, thank you so much for everything: for being a listener, for commenting, for sending messages because this truly, truly is a labor of love and I cannot wait to learn from you and hear how you felt about this. And thank you for giving me the space to also process so many things and learn from so many incredible people for my own growth. It does get a little emotional, so this is kind of an emotional laid-in episode. But fear not, coming up very soon is episode 35 which is all about tinnitus with Dr. Kelly Dyson. It is all published and ready to go and I will publish that very soon. And I am waiting for your responses to today’s real heart-centered episode.