Parents-to-be spend months if not years envisioning what their new family will look like and all the things they will do together. Should the child be born with special needs the parents begin learning about a life that they didn’t know would be theirs. Doctors do their best to give families realistic expectations for their child but that knowledge brings with it grief over the loss of the life they thought they were going to have. Sometimes the grief parents and families feel is acute and palpable. This may be when their child is receiving a new diagnosis or coping with a hospitalization. At other times, the grief may be behind the scenes when they see a friend or stranger enjoying a situation that their family will never enjoy such as learning to ride a bike.
As a home health pediatric physical therapist working with these families, I become part of their lives. Most people I talk to about my job can’t see beyond the assumed sadness. They are stuck thinking about all that a kiddo with special needs can’t do. But I get to help families see all that is possible. This is a special privilege. I am in their homes, using their toys, impacting their daily routines. All of this gives me the chance to get to know families on a deeper level than other medical professionals. And because of this, I am regularly able to help families not take for granted all of the often unnoticed achievements their kiddo makes.
I am in a unique position to help a family see past the grief and support their child each day. Sometimes that day is good and we make lots of progress, learning new skills and making plans for next time. Sometimes that day is bad and we spend time troubleshooting about where the difficulties lie and what resources may be available to help things get better. Sometimes the days feel a bit repetitive and I may wonder if I am making a difference for the child or the family. But sometimes I have an exceptional day where everything comes together and we can see a possibility of an outcome that never seemed an option before.
Those are the days that truly stick with me and make me grateful for the job I have and the families I help. When you spend your career working with families whose lives have been so significantly changed by disability and loss, you realize that any milestone can be momentous. Parents frequently remember their child taking their first step, saying their first word, or attending their first day of school. But there are so many other moments that can be just as important: sitting together at the family dinner table, enjoying a family picnic, meeting the neighbors during an afternoon walk. As a home health therapist I have the opportunity to help the child and family enjoy these daily, meaningful activities. And I get to be a part of these things too.
This is why I love what I do.