By Irene Coleman, Special Needs Coordinator, Protected Tomorrows
Summer has ended. You have made it through the summer and now can retreat back to your life. Your family has braved it through the unpredictability of the summer and the scheduling of activities to keep your child on a routine. School is back into session and across the nation special needs families are doing cartwheels and happy dances now that the routine is back. As a special needs family you can once again have the normalcy of school schedules, therapies, after school programs, and fall recreational activities.
Many families have come back from family vacations. A family vacation is important time for a family to collect memories, bond, and relax. Planning is an important piece that can make or break a special needs family vacation. We need to prepare our children for the environment change, select a location that will be understanding, and make necessary accommodations for our child’s condition such as medical supplies, flights, and restaurants. We often have anxiety as the planner of the vacation and experience meltdowns similar to our children’s conditions.
A special needs family needs a place that we can retreat to and have the support of unconditional love from a community. A special family needs a destination that can accommodate the need of the individual and the family. A special needs family needs to be in a vacation environment that understands our child and family behaviors. A special needs family needs to relax and enjoy the time to enjoy life. With a list of all these needs it sometimes seems endless. Why take the time to go on a journey of a vacation? The reason is simple. You and your family need it!
This summer marked the sixth year anniversary of receiving the diagnosis of autism for my daughter. At that time, it was said by the doctor that my daughter might never speak and, that if I conceived another child he or she would have a greater chance of being affected by autism. That day I had tears rolling down my face and the emotions poured out. There was relief that we now had a diagnosis and that a treatment plan could begin for her. There was the grief of the loss of my child, hearing her first word verbally, and the possibility of the loss of future children to this condition. After receiving the diagnosis, our daily life continued. I went straight to work that day and poured myself into my work. We never stopped to take the time to heal. We never retreated to embrace what was going to happen to our life until now. This summer, my family, my daughter Bella and I, had a very special summer vacation. We were chosen to take part in a week long healing retreat through Integrative Touch for Kids (ITK).
The philosophy of ITK is Whole Child • Whole Family • Whole Community in a way that transforms how children with special medical needs are currently perceived and allows children to be seen in the context of their family and their community, not in isolation, or as individual patients.
This was our family’s first vacation. A vacation that was long overdue and was not thought about because of finances, scheduling, and not realizing the importance of taking time to heal. We were now being given this opportunity along with eight other special needs families.
Our retreat started with a welcoming by the ITK nurse who greeted us with a sign at the airport that read ‘Welcome Bella and Irene.’ The first thing that I was asked was if I would like some time for myself. This is something that not many special needs families expect to hear from someone that we’ve just met. It typically comes with a long list of what to expect of Bella or questions about what does she need. This time it was different. Bella took the hand of the nurse and walked off. A little scared of what she would get into, but she felt both loved and taken care by this community from the first instance.
As we began this healing retreat, our family, along with the eight others, had come with the outlook that this healing retreat was for our children. But, we all came eventually to the realization that this retreat was just as much to do about healing ourselves as our children. For many of us, it took time to understand and to let go of the instinct that this was for our kids. This is such a common thread that each special needs family shares. You know how everyone tells us that we need to take care of ourselves and make time for ourselves? Well, we need to listen to it because it is true! If we can’t take care of ourselves, then we can’t take care of our kids.
So for a week, our family, along with all of the others were gifted with complementary and integrative therapies to support conventional medical approaches. We had a variety of programs hand selected for us from massages, Reiki, craniosacral therapy, Journey Dance, acupuncture and others that are beneficial in the management of stress, anxiety, pain, and support healing for the mind, body and spirit.
Our family had thought going into this retreat that we would have a life changing event such as my daughter speaking verbally for the first time. A moment and memory that would be cherished for a life time. A wish that most parents of children of non verbal wish and pray for each day. Instead we received a different life changing event; the ability to let go of the need for her to speak verbally and the understanding that she will communicate in her own expressive way. Her nonverbal communication is a beautiful way of expressing love, understanding, and acceptance.
Our family is forever changed. Our outlook on life and the possibilities we learned from a retreat gave new meaning to our lives and understanding. It opened up doorways that seemed to be closed and opened up paths to unexpected possibilities when leaving the retreat. It provided us the time to let go of aspects that needed to be let go of and to move forward to a new journey with our lives. It gave us a place that will always be home and people who are family. It gave us the relaxation of the feeling of a vacation.
The retreat didn’t stop after the retreat ended; it was brought back and embraced into our everyday lives. We will go back to the place of the retreat next year to volunteer and be with our extended family.
We encourage you to find a community that you can retreat to and be supported by that will outlast your vacation memories. The reason is simple. You and your family need it!
To learn more about Integrative Touch for Kids go to www.integrativetouch.org.