By Charity Kountz
Do you remember the first time you looked into your newborn child’s eyes and felt an overwhelming tide of joy combined with hope for the future?
Now, imagine your child being diagnosed with a special need, like ADHD or dyslexia. In that instant, it can feel as if all those hopes and dreams just became overwhelmingly out of reach. I have two children who have been diagnosed with special needs. In the last six months, I have begun to realize while my family – individually and collectively – is going to have to work a little harder to reach our dreams, fulfilling those dreams will be all the sweeter.
My nine year old stepson (who I consider my own) has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). ADHD causes extreme hyperactivity, impulse control issues, and an inability to concentrate for long periods of time. For a child with ADHD, sitting still for long periods of time is a tremendous stress on their body and mind.
SPD means the brain doesn’t properly process information from the senses. A simple touch or a hug, to a child with SPD, can cause him to scream uncontrollably. SPD is a part of the autism family, which classifies our son as high functioning autistic. But to look at him, with his copper red hair and brilliant blue eyes, you’d never realize it. My fiancé also has SPD. For him, filling out paperwork is overwhelming and frustrating. A simple trip to the grocery store can cause a sensory overload.
My eight year old daughter was recently diagnosed with dyslexia and general anxiety disorder. She is a gifted, naturally talented dancer who loves music, dance, and art. Unfortunately, from a very young age, the simplest things caused abject terror, like walking in the grass or riding on an escalator. Some days feel like tiptoeing through a minefield, waiting for an explosion.
I myself struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and intermittent depression as a result of an abusive childhood. PTSD can have a wide range of symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, social issues, and more. Sometimes, just forcing myself to walk out the door for an appointment is a challenge. Currently, my symptoms are controlled thanks to therapy and medication when I need it, so I became a licensed real estate agent.
As a family, every day we find ways to understand and work together to overcome the challenges we face. These special needs haven’t changed my hopes and dreams for our family, it’s simply caused me to look at those dreams differently.
The Day to Day Lessons
We moved recently, an event that’s stressful enough. At the same time, we changed ADHD medications for my son. We’ve changed medications four times in the last year, trying desperately to control his symptoms without turning him into a zombie. One common side effect of ADHD medication is weight and appetite loss, requiring physician monitoring. When his weight loss and side effects became too much for the therapist and our family to tolerate, we had no choice but to change yet again.
As a result, he went without his medication for three days while I struggled to fill his class II controlled medication (a battle every month). The day I got his prescription filled, he and my daughter got into an argument. In a fit of uncontrolled rage and frustration, he slapped her in the face as hard as he could.
How do you explain to your terrified child she was slapped in the face by her step brother because he was un-medicated and unable to control himself? How do you help her see the stress of moving and loss of routine was the cause, while still teaching both of them to be responsible for their actions? Talk about walking a fine line in parenting! My fiancé and I spent over an hour trying to come up with a solution. It boiled down to talking with both children, individually and then together to help them understand.
And for me, the biggest lesson is to wake up each day and remind myself that today is another chance to try to be better. Not perfect, just better.
The Biggest Challenge
One of my biggest challenges as a parent of two special needs children is being an advocate for them. I advocate for them with their medical treatments, but it goes way beyond the medical. I’m also an advocate for them in school, on the playground, and in the family. And every day, all day, no matter what I’m doing, they’re in my mind. My daily hope is that I’ve equipped them to deal with whatever issue comes their way without me and that they’ll come to me for help with anything else.
My fiancé steps up too, when he is home from work as a truck driver hauling hazardous materials throughout Texas and while he’s on the road. We talk through problems, and he picks up when my nerves get frayed and my patience is tested beyond its limits (more often than I’d like to admit).
Communication is Key
Having two children with special needs has required my fiancé and I to develop a whole new set of parenting strategies and change our perspective about everything we thought we knew about parenting. Communication has become a cornerstone in our family. My fiancé and I spend hours on the phone brainstorming ways to teach and reach our children and help them grow, despite their challenging special needs. Because special needs are very complex issues. How do you help a child understand something they can’t see, taste, touch, or hear?
Recently, I was able to connect with my son on a very important issue: schoolwork. While this is a common struggle with all children, for a child with ADHD it’s even more difficult. He knew we expected him to do it and his teachers did too. But he really didn’t see the point, and it was already so hard for him to maintain self-discipline and self-regulation to follow the rules in the classroom, he just wasn’t doing it. As a result, he was failing the third grade. We’d lectured him on it, taken away privileges, and still weren’t reaching him. One day, he and I went grocery shopping together and I finally found a way to reach him.
I asked him what sport he’d like to play someday, and he said, “Football.” So I asked him if he could go onto a football field and play football right now. “What, you can’t join the NFL and start playing?” He laughed and said “No” as if I were silly to even suggest it. So I compared practicing football to schoolwork. His face lit up with understanding.
From that point on, his teachers haven’t had a problem getting him to do his schoolwork. He understands now schoolwork is practice for a much ‘bigger game’ in life.
Communicating with our children on their level instead of ours, helps improve their understanding. Putting an issue into a context they can understand helps them embrace the idea easier. We still have the typical sibling issues (“He’s looking at me!”), and everyday issues of two kids trying to get along, but we no longer hear a constant refrain of “I hate him/her” like we did the first year when we began blending our families.
In my real estate business, this has helped me to look differently at the situations I come across every day, and to look beyond them to the deeper, more complex issues that might be involved. Nothing in real estate is ever so simple as it seems on the surface. I believe this gives tremendous advantages to my clients as I advocate for them.
We’re working hard to teach our children to be tolerant of themselves and others, as well as being considerate about their differences. By showing them patience, tolerance and understanding (as hard as that is sometimes) we teach them how to show compassion to others. We’ve seen our children embrace new relationships with kids in school that other kids make fun of and ridicule.
Earlier in the school year, two bullies were picking on our daughter during the walk home. My son not only stood up to them and told them to stop, but also took a beating from one of the older, larger boys to keep him from going after her. I was horrified for him and we immediately filed a police report at the school. But at the same time, we were so proud of him for standing up against a bully and preventing someone younger and weaker from being preyed upon.
When I asked him why, he said, “Because it was the right thing to do.” It was everything we’d been trying to teach him: doing the right thing, standing up for those who are weaker, and refusing to be a victim. I wish I could say the bullying stopped (it didn’t) but those kids never laid a hand on our son again.
This has also taught me a much tougher lesson for my business: sometimes you have to take some hard knocks to do the right thing. This year I had to cancel a listing because the family had some unexpected financial issues come up at tax time. It impacted me significantly but in the end, it was the right thing to do for their family and for my business.
Learning to Be a Better Person
My son, on his medication, is a bright, kind boy with a love of electronics and Legos. Sometimes, his way of looking at the world leaves my fiancé and I scratching our heads, wondering, “How did he come up with that?” And other times, I’m in awe at his wisdom and generosity at such a young age.
In the beginning, I had to step back, and realize that I needed to be more patient and understanding of him BEFORE I could teach him to be that way toward himself and others. It’s a ripple effect and has been neat to watch as we all learn to work together and become a more cohesive family unit. We certainly don’t get it right every day but each day is another opportunity us to become better people.
I’ve also learned in my business the kind of real estate agent I want to be. I strive to build relationships with my clients. My goal is to be their realtor for life, not just that one transaction. By going beyond a simple transaction, I can help individuals and families to solve financial problems, and build wealth for their families through home ownership.
A Heartbreaking Diagnosis
My daughter’s diagnosis of dyslexia this year was particularly heartbreaking. Like many parents, I knew my daughter was gifted. As she entered school, teachers told me she was gifted and I should start looking for a good program.
Then, after kindergarten, it began to change. No more glowing reports home. No more raving teacher conferences. Instead, it was about how behind she was, how she was easily frustrated, uncooperative, and losing ground as compared to her peers. By the middle of second grade, her reading hadn’t progressed. In fact, her reading scores were regressing, until finally she was barely at a Kindergarten level. But at home, she was able to competently read a wide range of materials aloud.
I felt helpless watching her struggle. The teachers insisted she try harder, spend more time studying, and to practice more. We spent tear-filled hours every night battling through simple worksheets until we simply couldn’t anymore. As a writer and avid reader myself, I felt like a complete failure. I was at a loss for how to help her.
The frustration was driving a wedge between us. She became belligerent, disobedient, and defiant. What had begun as something she would ‘grow out of,’ had become a vicious cycle. Finally, in the last semester of the school year, when it looked like she would fail, I convinced the teachers it wasn’t a behavioral problem, and insisted she be tested. When the tests came back positive for dyslexia, it was almost a relief.
Being able to name the problem has lifted a burden off my daughter’s shoulders too. The sweet, cooperative child I’ve always known is slowly returning. She’s interested in learning again and no longer has a defeated, depressed demeanor. With mild medication for her anxiety, her nightmares and daily anxiety have mostly disappeared.
Together, we’ve watched videos about other people with dyslexia. We’ve worked together to understand this new challenge and that has given us both hope. One of her favorite videos was about a famous dyslexic movie director who talked about his days in elementary school. I will never forget the hope in her eyes when she looked at me and said, “He’s special, like me?” For the first time, she realized she wasn’t alone. All I could do was hug her close with tears in my eyes, hope for the future in my heart, and say, “Yes sweetie, he is special like you. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
This has also taught me as a realtor, it is okay for me to be different. It’s given me the courage to accept myself as amazing, not because others are inferior or superior to me, but because I am amazing. And that’s my way of reminding myself each day of who I strive to be.
Applying These Life Lessons to Business
Working with my kids on their special needs has helped me to be more tolerant of others. As a real estate agent, I’ve found there’s a real place for compassion and warmth in this industry.
Recently a woman came to me looking for a house to rent. I had no idea that in addition to needing a new home, she was dealing with a pending foreclosure, a dependent father with Alzheimer’s, domestic violence, and a host of financial issues for over ten years. The day she opened up to me about her crises was overwhelming but I was so excited to help her because I knew I could.
Three months later, her house is sold avoiding foreclosure, she’s moved into an apartment, and she is regaining confidence again. She still has struggles but she regularly calls me and tells me how working with me changed her life, and gave her hope and empowerment again at a time when she really needed it. She is working on her credit and looking forward to owning a home again in a few years, once she’s on her feet.
As a business owner, my goal is always to help someone. As a realtor, I take the tough cases, because I know in the end, I’m going to really help. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction like no other. And at the end of the day, I get to come full circle, and share it all with my amazing, special family.
Charity Kountz is a Dallas Real Estate Agent who makes finding or selling a home amazing. Whether it’s an apartment, or a house, buying, selling or renting, she’s ready to be your real estate resource. She’s also the award-winning children’s author of Jason, Lizzy and the Snowman Village, available through Amazon. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or via email at email@example.com