Chynna T. Laird is a mother of three beautiful girls Jaimie (six), Jordhan (four) and baby Sophie (ten months) and a gorgeous baby boy Xander (two). In addition to living her dream building up her at-home freelance writing business (Lily Wolf Words), she’s also studying to obtain her B.A. in Psychology, specializing in Early Childhood Development.
Her hobbies include writing, reading, playing piano and violin and crafting with her girls. A lot of the material she writes about includes childhood experiences, her adventures as a Mom and her personal observations.
She’s won writing contests in ByLine magazine and her work has been published in various Christian, parenting, writing and inspirational magazines in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia. As well, she has a personal essay featured in Chicken Soup For The Soul: Children With Special Needs as well as one in Cup Of Comfort For Special Needs. Last year she released a children’s picture book she’s written called, I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD where she describes–through the voice and perspective of four-year old Alexandra–what it’s like to live with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (Sensory Processing Disorder).
Chynna is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Writers-Editors Network, Christian Writers’ Guild, The Canadian Author’s Association as well as The Writers Guild of Alberta. She has Press Cards through the PWAC and the Writers-Editors Network.
Chynna’s third book, The Sensory Diet: Setting Your SPD Child Up for Success will be released in January 2011.
What would you do if your child suffered with something so severe it affected every aspect of her life?
And what if your cries for help fell on deaf ears at every turn? You’d follow your gut and fight until someone listened. And that’s what Chynna Laird did. When she was just three months old, Jaimie’s reactions to people and situations seemed odd. She refused any form of touch, she gagged at smells, she was clutzy and threw herself around and spent most of her day screaming with her hands over her ears and eyes.
By the time she turned two, Jaimie was so fearful of her world they spent most days inside. What was wrong with Chynna’s miracle girl? Why wouldn’t anyone help her figure it out? Jaimie wasn’t “just spirited” as her physician suggested nor did she lack discipline at home. When Jaimie was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) at two-and-a-half, Chynna thought she had “the answer,” but that was just the start of a three-year quest for the right treatments to bring the Jaimie she loved so much out for others to see. With the right diagnosis and treatment suited to Jaimie, this family finally felt hope. Not Just Spirited is one mother’s journey to finding peace for her daughter, Jaimie. As Chynna says often, “Knowledge breeds understanding. And that’s so powerful.”
Genre: Memoir/Children with Special Needs
Paperback: 174 pages
Publisher: Loving Healing Press (November 2009)
Not Just Spirited is available through Amazon.com, B&N, and independent or chain bookstores.
Interview by Mary Jo Campbell
Ten years ago, we’ve never even heard the terms ADD, ADHD, or SPD. As a parent, how difficult has it been finding the answers you need to help your child with SPD?
Great question. Jaimie was diagnosed over five years ago and, at that time, we didn’t have access to the amazing resources there are today. The most frustrating part for us as parents has been finding the right form of treatment for Jaimie. It astonishes me that we can be given this diagnosis but then encounter so many barriers with getting her into the proper treatment, and coverage for that treatment, because some people don’t recognize it as an actual disorder. SPD and sensory issues are felt to be a symptom of Autism and therefore part of that treatment. But a lot of kids have the sensory issues without the Autism diagnosis. Let’s just say I did a tremendous amount of online and in-person research, talked with many experts and interviewed many people until I was guided to those who know, understand and work with children who have SPD. What a relief it was to find a community who ‘gets it!’ It can still be frustrating but at least I have the resources (and research!) to back up what I try telling people about Jaimie and her needs.
Can you tell us about a “typical” day in your home: the unique struggles you, your husband and children face as a family dealing with SPD? Also, what can we do as a community of parents to assist families dealing with SPD?
A “typical” day for us actually starts the night before. Jaimie’s sensitivity levels the next day greatly depend on the amount of sleep she gets the night before, which often, isn’t much. We get up in the morning and Jaimie needs to be able to sit on her part of the couch with her weighted blanket or vest on and “wake up”. After she’s had her milk she gets dressed then does a bit of computer stuff. Then we usually get her to either swing in one of her swings or bounce on her mini-tramp, depending on what her body needs. While all this is going on, I have to get my other three kids going. Our son, Xander, has a few issues as well (which we’re in the process of investigating) and can be rather difficult to get ready and keep calm. Let’s just say if Jaimie is, what we call, ‘up’ or seeking sensory stimulation, she gets everyone else going and then it’s utter chaos around here.
Steve (my partner) helps out with getting people dressed and giving some direction before he goes to work. Jaimie won’t let him do much for her so I usually have to do most things for her. (He’s always triggered sensory issues with her that we still don’t fully understand.) I take the older girls to school (Jordhan is in Kindergarten, Jaimie is in Grade One), give Jaimie’s teacher the run-down of what her evening was like so she’ll know what sort of vestibular/proprioceptive stimulation to give her during her day, then I come up with the younger two. Jaimie comes home for lunch to have her calmdown time—it really helps her to have a break. After school, Jaimie is usually very cranky because she’s held it together all day long and then releases everything. We’ve learned to help her do that in better ways. I give her a bit of quiet time on the couch and, if she isn’t too tired, we do her “Kathy’s Games” (that’s the name we give her Sensory Diet. Kathy is her OT.)
Jaimie needs a lot of vestibular input with auditory input as well. Her upper body is quite weak while her lower body is very strong because when she’s stressed she jumps, spins, runs and stuff. We don’t always know what exercises will work so we try a few things until she says, “Oh, that makes my body feel great, Mama!” Usually we do something in her swing, some sort of gross motor exercise and something where she needs to pull, push or drag something. These things organize her body so she calms down. If she doesn’t get enough exercise, she is even more cranky and won’t sleep well. If Steve is home, he watches the other three and if he isn’t then come into our Sensory Room and do other things. (Xander gets a lot of comfort from particular exercises so I let him join us, even if Jaimie doesn’t appreciate her brother joining in!)
We have bathtime at the same time and do the same routine every night. That’s essential.
Our days are a bit different from one day to the next (even one hour to the next some days) because Jaimie’s needs are different. And it really does affect all of us. But we try our best to stay in a routine, give Jaimie TONS of warning and visuals for when things will be different, and include everyone as much as we can. That’s what “special needs families” do. =)
As for the community, what’s most important is understanding. Learn about SPD and how it can interfere with a child’s ability to interact with you. These kids aren’t “bad kids” who just act out for attention or because they are told “No!” They’re reacting to things around them and how those things/people/situations make their bodies feel. Parents should feel strong enough to give the information to folks and those folks need to be willing to hear it. Understanding is definitely the most important thing families with SPD want because that leads to acceptance. Really it’s just being willing to look beyond the surface—what you see the child doing…what you may think is going on—and not being afraid to ask questions. Most of us would have no problem answering questions as that’s how to get people talking about issues and raising awareness for those issues.
Let’s talk about writing! You’ve published a children’s picture book: I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD and now your memoir, Not Just Spirited… Can you compare your writing processes for each book? Which did you enjoy writing more?
The writing processes for each, for me, were really different. The children’s book I wrote in about half-an hour after an upsetting experience at the park. Jaimie was struggling at the park because there were too many children there at the time and they interrupted her usual routine there. When a child came over to talk to her she screamed, covered her ears and ran away. I overheard a couple of other kids asking what Jaimie’s problem was and calling her ‘weird.’ I basically wrote it as a way to (a) help people, like those children, understand what was really going on with Jaimie; (b) help Jaimie understand that she wasn’t the only person out there who felt the way she did; and (c) help to verify her feelings. It’s tough having something going on inside of you that scares you so much but you don’t have the words to explain it to others. That’s what I hoped to do with the book. But I had to make sure that I wrote in the voice of a child the same age (four years old) and describing things the way a child of that age would. It was fun!
The memoir was a bit more difficult because it was like reliving everything all over again. It was tough enough the first time! But it needed to be done. That book I had to make sure that I was being respectful to my family and my kids because they are all still here and will see the finished book out there one day (Hopfully!) and I don’t want them, especially Jaimie, to ever be embarrassed or ashamed of anything I shared. Jaimie has never been very keen on my sharing stuff about her. But she’s starting to feel better about it because it’s her way of helping other people just like her. She even chose the cover photo!!
I’d have to say I loved writing the children’s book the best because it finally helped Jaimie understand and feel better about her SPD. Plus, because she has such high tactile sensitivity, I’ve never been able to calm or comfort her the way I wanted to. The book gave me a chance to do that without touch! Extraordinary!
When you began writing your memoir, did it help to have a picture book publication under your belt, or did one not affect the acceptance of the other? (Same topic, different avenues?)
For me, it didn’t make any difference. What’s funny is that I actually finished the manuscript for the memoir before I wrote the children’s book. It took that long to get it out there! It helped to have the children’s book out there because it showed that I’m serious about writing. At the same time, a lot of agents/publishers don’t consider a self-published book “published,” so it hindered me in some places. I’ve always found that authors, or authors-in-waiting, should be proud of all of their accomplishments and put them proudly in their brief bio with their submission. If nothing else, it shows your determination and passion about writing as well as the subject matter you’re writing about.
You stated in your recent WOW! interview that in addition to being Mama to four young children and writing books, you’re pursuing a BA degree in Psychology. How do you find that balance between self, family and writing? Do you have scheduled writing time? Do you check emails/blogs while cooking dinner or focus on one task at a time?
Oh boy, this is a great question. While doing this, I’m scanning the time so I can run off to get Jaimie from school. I have Jordhan right here doing her computer time and my two “babies” (Xander, three; and Sophie, nineteen months) are napping—which is a rare treat!
I don’t have a set writing time anymore because my kids’ schedules seem to be a bit different from one day to the next, especially when it comes to sleeping. So I just balance out the time I DO have between school and writing. On days when I have more reading to do in school, I can do more writing. I just read while rocking the babies to sleep or while they’re doing playtime stuff they don’t want me to be involved in (HA!) and do the writing when they’re asleep. Yes, I do check/return emails and post blogs while making dinner and stuff! It sounds crazy but I’ve always been someone who needs to do many things at the same time. When my mind is still, I get crazy. LOL! (You must also know the art of juggling!)
I must stress though that it’s very, very important never to take on more than you can handle. Keep your top priorities TOP then balance out the rest. And ALWAYS take a bit of time for yourself each and every day. An unhappy Mama makes an unhappy family. =) (Santa brought us a Wii system for Christmas and I enjoy sneaking in a bit of Yoga and Kung Fu and fun stuff like that!)
Please share your plans for any future writing or projects in the works!
Right now I’m working on writing a book about the Sensory Diet. It’s basically a parent’s perspective with the experts’ tips and suggestions mixed in. I was hoping to get some success stories from parents but, sadly, didn’t get very many. I understand, though. It’s hard to write about something when you’re still going through it. We’re still working on what works and what doesn’t for Jaimie.
I also have two fiction projects—a thriller and a YA—and am working with someone on editing another memoir about my mother. She had bipolar that she never acknowledged or got properly treated. The book will show what happens when families don’t face these issues and deal with them TOGETHER.
Hopefully, I’ll be out there again one day soon. =)
Thank you so much for your time and insights!
One lucky commenter will be randomly selected to receive Chynna’s book: Not Just Spirited. Must post before midnight on Jan. 14 and must have a US address.