The following was written by My Collaborative Team staff member, Thabatta Mizrahi.
I pulled out the big tissue box and just sat by her side as she sobbed. We had been discussing her child’s yearly progress, as we had done every year for the last 3 years. Her beautiful boy had come to our school 3 years ago, significantly below grade level, with very few words in his vocabulary. He had some self- injurious behaviors because of a lack of coping skills, very repetitive play and conversation interests, and no eye contact. His anxiety was through the roof, and even something as simple as the color of the teacher’s shirt could be enough to set him off for the rest of the day. When he would have these meltdowns, it was nearly impossible to discover what the trigger was, since he had a limited vocabulary and tremendous difficulty in expressing his wants and needs. Over the years, he had begun to read, and through books discovered new play and conversation interests as well as a strength in math of which he had become very proud to share. In fact, math became the vehicle we used for him to create a connection to his little brother, as he felt he could help and teach his brother with homework. The parents had also embedded reading time into their nightly routine, where he read a math-themed book to his little brother before bed. As a team, school-therapists-parents, we had attempted to limit many variables, in order to understand his preferences and control the meltdowns. In doing so, he began to have more days filled with differing experiences, opening up his world. These experiences, the diminished anxiety, the increased exposure to vocabulary, and tastes of success, gave him the courage to express himself in new ways. In trimester meetings, the parents talked about being able to once again attend family events, go out to a restaurant as a family, and even have a date night and leave the children with a babysitter. These were milestones that years ago had felt like impossible dreams.
Despite these triumphant steps, the years had taken a tremendous toll on the marriage. She described it as being in emergency mode for the last few years. She explained that “the team” had taught them how to work together, for the children. But somewhere along the way, the spark in their marriage faded. Now that they felt like they could breathe again, they felt brave enough to move on. The steps were actually amicable, and for the most part, the kids were the priority. However, with each change in routine, a noticeable change rippled in her son’s development. When they were under the same roof, much of the routine decisions resided on her shoulders. Now that they were apart, they had differing opinions on how to handle almost every situation. It became very apparent to the team, how little the father had listened over the years to the “why” certain decisions were made. Despite his best intentions, his state of acceptance and understanding took us all back to Year One.
She wasn’t just crying because she saw the regression in her son’s progress, she wasn’t just crying because thinking about those earlier years brought back a sense of panic… she was crying because this time she knew exactly what he needed and she was no longer completely in control of making the decisions for him. She had to divide these decisions with someone that she was getting ready to fight her in the divorce process. She was preparing for a war she did not want to fight, she wanted only to fight her son’s battle. She cried because she had finally had a taste of what stability felt like, success, hope, celebration… she had finally felt like she could steer the ship. And now it was all coming undone. And this time, they would not be working as a team.
All I could do was put my hands on her shoulders and offer her tissues, promise her that we would be her team today and always. I wished at that moment that I had some kind of information to offer her, some kind of alternative to the battle she had to enter, some kind of alternative that would allow her son to remain first and foremost the priority, one where his best interests would be driving the decisions.
I wish that I could go back in time to tell this family about the Collaborative Process, one where they would have a team of professionals holding their hands through one of their most difficult moments, crafting a plan as unique and creative as needed for their children’s needs. In the Collaborative Process, her voice and his voice will be heard, but so can her team’s opinions, experience, and perspective be seen and interpreted by a Mental Health Professional and a Child Specialist with her son’s needs as an area of expertise. I wish I had known then that such an alternative to litigation exists. For families with children with special needs, the alternative is the only path and Collaborative is a necessity.
Being introduced to MCT was eye-opening. Being asked to join MCT in its recent presentation was an honor. I am proud to be part of a team that can offer families such as hers this kind of alternative, one as unique as her family’s needs. This past week we had the privilege of presenting for FACP and are looking forward to presenting for IACP in the fall. We hope that this alternative becomes the norm for families, especially families whose lives exist “outside the box.”