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Peace In Our Hands™

Healthy Family Living's™
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Peace In Our Hands™

My Personal and Professional Journey
by Carol Shugard, M.A., Early Start Teacher, CIIM, HFL's Council of Instructor Mentors

I began my journey into the world of the special needs family when my daughter was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome in 1991. Brandi was not yet two years of age and she was a fussy, inconsolable little one who turned my world upside down. I quickly changed my focus from teaching at the high school level to working with special needs children while at the same time I immersed myself in classes and trainings to better understand this new culture into which I had been thrust. My professional and personal lives merged as the techniques and "best practices" I learned through the various professionals servicing Brandi along with the knowledge attained through formal professional development broadened my range and depth of knowledge and abilities. I became a better parent for my child, able to meet her many needs and issues, at the same time I was becoming a stronger and more effective teacher to my students. My personal journey allowed me real empathy and understanding into the on-going struggles faced by the families of the children I served; I found myself moving through my own grief process as I assisted others on the same path.

In 1994 my family and I attended our first National Williams Syndrome Conference, and it was there that I came to fully appreciate the gifts our children with Williams Syndrome offer to us. They are bright, happy, emotionally present, wonderful people who teach many valuable lessons to all who come in to their world. We continue to attend these conferences and to enjoy the gift of the friendships and lessons shared. It is as if an on-going conversation picks up again at each event, with a brief pause in between, as children and adults reconnect and as new families join in at each event.

In 1995 I became a Certified Infant Massage Instructor, through training with Kalena Babeshoff, now Director of the Foundation for Healthy Family Living; I have also participated in other trainings with Kalena as the work of family health and bonding spreads. I provide Infant Massage training and follow up, focusing on infants and toddlers from birth through 36 months of age with special needs in the Early Start Program in which I am employed as an Early Start Teacher. Infant Massage is the first, and perhaps the most valuable, gift I offer to my families; the scope and depth of its benefits impact the entire family unit, as well as the baby, and its effects on the health of the family as a whole can be powerful. When my daughter was a baby, she seemed so uncomfortable in her own skin; her fussiness and discomfort, and her poor feeding skills and lack of weight gain made me feel like a failure as a mother. I was unable to comfort, or to feed, my child; and these two issues are profoundly personal to us as mothers. Once I understood that these issues were a part of Williams Syndrome and I obtained the appropriate assistance, I was able to help my daughter and to become secure in my maternal role. If I had only known about infant massage and its wonderful benefits, our journey as a family in the early years would have been very different, and I do not believe I would have doubted my ability to mother my own child.

In July 2008 my family and I once again attended the National Williams Syndrome Conference. I had presented at previous conferences on parent panels and shared our journey with new WS families. At this conference I presented on the Therapy Panel about the use of Infant Massage with babies with Williams Syndrome. Feedback from families attending the session indicate that there is deep interest in learning about Infant Massage, and that families are eager for ways to be empowered in their parenting skills, especially when health issues or other special needs concerns impact their children. The paper presented, "Williams Syndrome and the Power of Infant Massage", will be available for review on the "Foundation for Healthy Living" website in the future (*Note from HFL: Look for the article link in our next newsletter). I am grateful to Kalena Babeshoff, Director of the Foundation for Healthy Living, for assisting me through the process of developing this paper and providing her expertise on Infant Massage, as well as making my article available to others.

I continue to use Infant Massage training as the first part of the journey I walk with the families I serve. I present the training in the family home during home visits, ensuring that families are able to comfortably yet safely blend the use of Infant Massage into their daily routine with their baby. Follow up massage training and developmentally appropriate sensory exploratory experiences provide families with additional knowledge as well as support them in their use of Infant Massage, with adaptations made as the baby grows and changes. It is my profound hope to be able to provide this service for many years to come, and also that families who have little ones with Williams Syndrome will turn to the power of Infant Massage to assist them in their journey.


Carole Shugard
August 2008

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