Unconditional Love

My list of angels and superheroes could never be complete without the special place that Omar, Daniela, and Martin, as well as their mom and dad, my uncle Pedro and my aunt Pierangela had in my life.  They are my cousins, but in reality they are so much more than that.  Truth is, I tried to write this piece so many times, but words are not enough to express my immense gratitude to them.

Daniela and me

My childhood and my life in general were simply made better because of them.  Around them, we were just a family.  We were not special, different, and didn’t need to be “accommodated.”  Life was simply life.  Love was simply love.  And my youngest brother with disabilities was their cousin too. They saw him for who he was.

Daniela and Martin

They presented a micro social experiment of what could be possible.  They presented an alternative. I felt safe.  I felt understood.  I felt heard.  And what’s more important, I felt that my little brother was a person first.  When I was growing up, it was not uncommon for people to see disability first, then, perhaps, the person behind it.

Omar and Daniela

At my cousins’ house this was not the case.

Daniela with my brother Fernando

To Omar, Daniela, Martin, and my late uncle Pedro and late aunt Pierangela, THANK YOU.

Daniela and Martin
Thank You!

Lola Koala Travel Adventures by Dr. Tinita Kearney: Children’s Book Review

September is Children’s book month and I’m so excited I get to review Dr. Tinita Kearney’s Lola Koala Travel Adventures!  This is a skillfully designed book, that takes children through the “Ws:”  WHO/WHAT/WHERE, and also helps them answer YES/NO questions.  As an educator, I know how much young children can struggle to learn these skills.  This is why Dr. Tinita Kearney (Dr.T), a speech pathologist by training, has focused on these language skills and has made them FUN TO LEARN.  Learning and playing are one and the same when it comes to young children. 

Question for the author:  What inspired your story?

Dr. T:  School year after school year I am met with a caseload of unique, eager-to-learn elementary-school-aged students with not-so-unique speech and language issues. And while a percentage of these students have difficulties that require intensive therapy (plus the dedicated involvement of the family and school team), a good portion requires much less involvement from me. It’s this group that I aim to help with my books–by empowering their families to build their language skills at home with consistent, fun practice and resources!

Ready to get a preview of the book?  Take a look at this lovely video of Dr. T reading to her daughter:

Lola Koala Travel Adventures

Looking for a way to teach your toddler how to answer the most important questions (Who/What/Where/Yes and No)?  Grab a copy of your book right here.  Enjoy!

How to Deal with Your Toddler’s Tantrums

If you have been home for a while, dealing with your toddler’s tantrums is probably at the top of your list. Parents find it very difficult to get anything done while their children are kicking and screaming at the top of their lungs!

It’s no secret that toddlers have tantrums.  For some lucky parents, tantrums are a rare occurrence, and for other no-so-lucky parents, tantrums are the order of the day.  How do you deal with your toddler’s tantrums once and for all?

For starters, it is important to understand them.  Why is it that tantrums occur at around this age?  What makes our toddlers want to engage in them?  How do we understand children when they are having a tantrum? 

Dealing with tantrums is not easy, but we have streamlined the process by 1) Understanding your child’s tantrums, and 2) Eradicating or significantly decreasing them.  We explain this in our new course, The Tantrum-Free Toddler.

Don’t lose your mind trying to deal with children at home who demand your attention while you have new remote work responsibilities.  This is the right time to work on modifying that behavior!

If you follow the tried and true behavioral methods that we outlined in the course, consistently and diligently, we promise a tantrum-free child in a matter of days.  Don’t miss this opportunity!

This course is just $20, but it won’t be for too long! Grab your copy before the cart closes on April 15!

Personal Stories: Learning from Our Collective Experience

Personal Stories define us.  This is what we tell ourselves and tell other people about us.  They are part of what we use to understand ourselves, understand the world, and come to terms with the choices that we make throughout our lives.

This is why I’m opening this section to the special village in its entirety.  Do you have a story that you would like to share?  Did you learn from any particular experience that you had with your child (brother, sister, grandchild, etc.)? Is there anything that you would like to share with the world so that you can enlighten all of us?  We want to be here to share our experiences and support each other.

I would not be in this space if it weren’t for my youngest brother, Fernando.  He is seven years younger than me, and five years younger than our middle brother, Hernan.  I have so many stories to share about how tough it was to grow up in a time and place when caring for the disabled and including them in every aspect of life and decision making was not mainstream.  I grew up understanding how judged my parents felt.  I grew up feeling the isolation that stemmed from this experience.

The good news is that none of this stopped us.  Families can be very resilient and can thrive in the shadow of extreme pain.  It is because I want to showcase that resilience and foster an environment of understanding that I would like to feature YOUR story.  Share your thoughts (or your story) with me at ourspecialvillage@gmail.com.

Fernando 🙂

Hope to hear from you!

Dr. Klimek

Recommended Products and Activities

Hello families out there! Welcome to the new section of this blog for Recommended Products and Activities that are useful and relevant for our families!

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked, and very often, is what kinds of products I recommend to optimize children’s learning.  Of course, I have an arsenal of answers, depending on the child’s needs and the family’s need. 

I will be dedicating this section of the blog to those products that I find most helpful, and will be talking about tips and strategies related to those products.  And why not, I will also talk about products that I have found useful for PARENTS!  Yes, you busy parents out there!  We will talk about the latest or the most relevant movie, book, and even vacation.  We will talk about activities that you can do by yourselves, to celebrate the incredible families that you are, and activities that you can do as a special family, paying special attention to places that are accessible to our children.

Please check out this section.  Updates will be posted shortly!

Notebook, pencils, watercolor, and scissor
Tips on what to buy and what to do!

The Ultimate Goal of Education: Learning how to learn!

In my work with young children, I often get asked by caring parents about what goal/s I’m working on with their children.  For the most part, goals are varied and they depend a great deal on 1) the functioning level of the child, 2) the needs of the family.  When working with very young children (0-3 years old), the family is the principal stakeholder. 

But no matter the individual goals and objectives for each child, the main goal of education is to help children become independent so that they can learn for themselves.  College students, for example, will have forgotten over seventy five percent of what they learned in college a few years after graduation (my observation), but they would have learned HOW TO LEARN.  They would have become smart consumers and will know how to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments in their field.  We don’t want physicians that only remember what they learned in medical school!  We want them to keep themselves up on the latest medical news!

Similarly, children (even young children) need to learn how to learn.  How do they do this?  With some individual variables, we can say that most children learn by 1) being shown how to do tasks (commands or play), 2) being given the opportunity to repeat those tasks, even if they make mistakes, 3) and providing them with free play time.  This last point is important, as it will be used to reveal how much a child can do by him/herself.

Children need modeling, and strategies and techniques in order to learn from those around them, but they also need space to be able to practice on their own.  Two -year old children have a difficult time sitting for any period of time as it is, and it is not natural to have them sit and pay attention for a long period of time.  This would set an unrealistic expectation for the parent and it would only hurt the chances that the child will be able to learn how to learn.   We need to build in time for children to express themselves.

Next time you wonder what’s the best legacy you can leave for your child, think of yourself as the nest, and of your children as birds who are slowly spreading their wings so that they can fly.  What can you do for them to become more independent?  What does your child like?  What is your child good at?  Does he like to do what he/she is good at or does he/she struggle?  Make sure that when you teach your child about “learning,” you make it look more like play. 

Of course, there will be times when you will feel like you need help, and you should ask for help!  If you have a young child, and need help determining whether your child would qualify for the early intervention program, click here.  If your child is 3 to 21 years old, and you need help determining whether you should request help, and want to know more about help in school systems, contact your child’s school psychologist, or drop me a note at ourspecialvillage@gmail.com.  I will get back to you.

All The Best!

Dr. Klimek.

Two young smiling  women in graduation caps and gowns.
Ready to engage with the World!

Entrepreneurship Chronicles: Month Two. Reflections of quitting your 9 to 5 job.

“All we have to do now, is take these lies, and make them true somehow” George Michael, Freedom.

I have been trying to write this post (and others) for a few days now, but the truth is, it has been a very busy month!  It is very interesting, because one of the concerns I had before my last day of being an employee was letting go of what many people refer to as a “secure paycheck.”  I had done my homework, however, and I knew from many entrepreneurs in the field that a good life, with a work-life balance, independence, and professionalism, and of course, good monetary compensation to go along with the package, was entirely possible. Of course, even though this is a legitimate concern, it is one that seems to be exaggerated by our fears and the fears of our well-meaning family members and friends around us.  In the end, the only regret I have about having left my job as an employee, is that I didn’t do it sooner.

As a matter of fact, this month has been a month of learning for me (as every month should be!) and I would like to share some tips for those of you who are contemplating a change, whether you have already made a decision to quit your 9 to 5 job, or are still contemplating your options.

  1. Leaving your current 9 to 5 job is risky, but so is staying:  If there is one common element to my reflections about my departure from the NYC Department of Education, it that I didn’t do it any sooner.  It was quite evident that our working relationship was not working.  On the surface, we managed, to a degree, to make it look like we had the same mission, but behind closed doors, our philosophies could not be more different.  I worked for a division within the department that believed that efficiency was equated with taking care of our clients (families and their children) in the shortest time possible, with minimal contact, and treated families and school personnel as “suspicious” every time there was an issue.  I had a boss that once asked me to talk to a school principal to get details about a certain situation in a school.  When the school principal explained the situation via email (corroborated by other school personnel), my boss responded by saying: “She sounds too defensive.  She must be lying,” and proceeded to make a decision based on her assumption that the school principal, and the other school personnel, lied about the occurrence.
  2. If you are asked to do, witness, or are aware of illegal or immoral acts, leave immediately and don’t look back:  You can try reporting what you were asked to do to the Human Resources department, or the legal department, but in my case, I was under the impression that they were not going to help me for many reasons.  My last boss once demanded, at a staff meeting, that counselors who directly deal with families of school-age children not spend more than 15 minutes with every family.  However, she said, there is an exception to this rule.  “Unless the person you are seeing is important or famous,” she said, and told the staff that the lady she had seen for about an hour that very week was a famous actress on Broadway that had given her two tickets to her show as a gift for her undivided attention.  I think back to this moment and know that this is when I should have left.  Not a minute later.
  3. Being an employee does not mean a secure paycheck:  Yes, as long as you are employed, you will get a paycheck, but this will end the moment that someone decides that they no longer need you.  I have heard of too many people who lost their jobs from one day to the next, without a warning.  No one is safe in any job, with any employer.  I was once having a conversation with a senior administrator from the NYC Department of Education, who told me that Human Resources and some of the senior administrator of a particular department had devised a plan to “get rid of” an employee who they no longer wanted.  They were going to keep “writing her up” until she got tired and resigned.  She did resign. (Hence the reason I opted to not contact the Human Resource Department).
  4. Being self-employed means that you can put your own skills to the test.  When you are employed, you are satisfying somebody else’s vision, but when you are self-employed, you are free to create your own vision, and contribute to this world in your own terms.  You are free to not only help others the best way you know how, but you are also free to earn as much as you want, work the hours you want, and do it from wherever you want.  The choice is yours.

Know that there are resources out there if you need help deciding if it’s time to leave. One of the institutions that helped me the most was the Workplace Bullying Institute. They helped me realize that quitting, for me, was the most powerful, and life changing decision.

I’m glad I did!

Dr. Klimek

What a working brunch looks like today!

If you have any questions about this topic or any topic on this blog, please drop me a note.

The World Through the Special Parent’s Lens: Solid Advice for Well-Meaning Friends and Family

The other day my husband and I were preparing for the upcoming holiday season.  Yes, I know what you are thinking.  The summer isn’t over yet, and we are already talking Holidays?!  Let me explain.  Our combined family is large, and I’m not only talking about our wonderful immediate, blended family.  I’m talking about all of what that implies:  my family of origin, his family of origin, my daughter, his sons, their families, our foster daughter, and their respective families.  In addition to that, we both have the “package” of a previous family.  As you can probably see now, there is a great deal of planning required.

One of the factors that goes into planning for this type of get-together is the fact that my youngest brother, Fernando, who is now 40 years old, is an adult with developmental disabilities.  Why is this a consideration?  My brother is an adult in many ways but cognitively, he behaves and sees the world more like a 2-year-old child would.  He claims spots as his own (for example, the couch in front of the TV), does not want to share (don’t even think about taking his remote control), and can watch TV for hours! (dare not change what he’s watching!).  In addition, he still needs help for certain activities of daily living that most of us take for granted, like going to the bathroom or eating a full meal without spilling anything or staining his shirt. 

This is a huge source of stress for my mother, who in a way, sees herself as the perpetual mother of a toddler who just happens to be really big in size.  This is, of course, a major consideration of when, where and how we plan our events.  Hence, the need to plan for Thanksgiving well in advance, especially when huge family crowds are expected. 

As I thought about Thanksgiving and how to make it comfortable for everyone but especially for my mom, I was reminded of the winding road that brought me to this place of kindness, understanding, and non-judgement.  The road that brought me here was a surprising contrast.  It took me quite some time and some tears of my own to understand, really understand deeply and without judgement, what it means to be the parent of a child with disabilities.  No matter how old that “child” is, he/she will always be a child for those parents.

A group of people are gathered around a table.

This year my mom and brother will be in town for Thanksgiving, as they normally are, and like many years before, we will be flooded with well-intentioned family members and friends, that will want to celebrate Thanksgiving at their home, and I will have to explain, one more time, why this is not a good idea.  I will feel bad saying no, and they will not understand why, even with their kind offer of giving up a couch, a TV, and even a remote control to my brother, I’m still saying no.  The truth is I totally understand their perspective, but I deeply understand my mother’s too.

Here is some advice and wisdom that may help the lay, well-intentioned person, family or friend, understand their special-family loved one:

  1. Special parents feel judged.  If you take away just one piece of advice from this piece, please let it be this one.  Special parents always feel that the world thinks it’s their fault.  Parents typically experience feelings of guilt when things go wrong in their children’s lives, when they see their children suffering.  Somehow, parents think if they could only…(fill in the blank).  And to top it all off, I have heard many well-meaning family members and friends inadvertedly judge those they love by pointing out that things could be better if the parent just did something differently.  So when you feel like your friend or family member is not listening, has put up a wall, or is rejecting your advice, remember that this parent may be receiving the feedback as a judgement.  Be patient and understanding.  Ask the special parent how it feels.  Let them tell you what is like to be in their shoes.
  2. Special parents feel most comfortable in their own environment.  We all in one way or another can’t wait to “get home” at the end of a difficult day.  No matter where home is, it is a symbol of rest, peace, and individuality.  For a special family, the role of this special haven cannot be underestimated.  Their environment may be accessible and may have accommodations that make life easier for the special family.  When they say they prefer to meet at their place, understand that they may not be rejecting your invitation, they are only asking for an accommodation to be able to enjoy themselves a bit more freely.
  3. Special parents feel misunderstood and isolated.  Feeling misunderstood is a consequence of feeling judged.  This is a particularly serious feeling as it may lead to depressive thoughts and the consequence of not only feeling isolated but becoming isolated.  If you have a special parent in your life, pay attention to these feelings. 

In short, my advice for all of you out there, friends of our very special village, is that if you have a family member or friend who is a special parent, please be there to understand, support, and lend a hand.  Should you still say what you think, give advice, and lend your opinion?  Of course!  Your relative/friend really needs you, all of you.  But just be aware of what may be happening behind the scenes, so that you can be more present and more whole to support your friend.

Eight people standing under trees.

If you have any questions, drop me a note!

Dr. Klimek

What is Early Intervention? Read here to find out!

What is the Early Intervention Program?

First, let’s take a look at the law (IDEA), to see how it is defined.  IDEA states that the Early Intervention Program is designed for very young children, ages birth to 3 years old, who qualify based on an existing disability, is diagnosed with a disability, or is considered at risk based on criteria based on the individual states (in the United States).  individual state’s health department manages the program based on each state’s eligibility determination formula.  To freshen up on the law, please check previous post here.

Is Early Intervention a mandated service? 

Parents can opt-into this program and can have access to a range of services based on what is recommended for their child.  For example, children and families can have access to social workers, case coordinators, special instructors, speech and language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other services based on their needs or on their families’ needs.  However, this does not mean that if a child is found eligible for the program, the parents MUST accept it.  Accepting this program is at the parent’s discretion, and parents must give consent in order to have their child tested for eligibility.

I suspect my 2-year-old child may need some help, what should I do?

 You will need to have a referral for the Early Intervention program in your state.  In New York, each municipality (region) oversees early intervention within its boundaries.  For example, in New York City, each borough, or county, has a regional office dedicated to this program.  Referring a child is not as difficult as it may seem.  You can refer your child by talking to your pediatrician.  If she/he think that a referral is warranted, they will refer your child to a specific municipality.  You can also call your state’s department of health.  In New York City, for example, parents can refer their child/children to the early intervention program simply by calling 311.

I’m still confused.  When should I call the Early Intervention Program?

In a nutshell, if your child is experiencing difficulties in the expected milestones, for example, walking late, not walking, not talking, having difficulty engaging with you and his/her surroundings, and having difficulty engaging with toys, among other things, it is always a good idea to request an evaluation.  A group of professionals will come to your home to assess your child’s cognitive, social, motor, language and affective domains.  In other words, they will look at how your child plays, relates to you, relates to his surroundings, and communicates, and they will come to a conclusion regarding possible services needed.

It is better to be safe than sorry!

For more information, please drop Dr. Klimek a note.

A mother is looking lovingly at her little boy while her little boy looks intently at the camera.
Early Intervention Helps the Entire Family!

Cafe Argentino Restaurant

There isn’t enough positive feedback that could be said about Café Argentino Restaurant, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York.  I have had the opportunity to bring my very own special family to dinner many times, and the owners, Cristian and Valerie Herrera, make us feel like family every single one of those times.  The food is amazing, and the ambiance, warmth, and welcoming environment are absolutely fantastic.

Dr. Klimek with Cristian and Valerie Herrera

Special families are put in a tough spot at times, when the need to go out to dinner or engage in any type of social activity arises.  Children, youth, or even adults with disabilities don’t always react in very social-appropriate ways when confronted with situations that make them uncomfortable, and many social situations tend to make them uncomfortable.  This leads to isolation for their families, which in turn produces a feeling of being disengaged from society.  Cristian, Valerie, and the staff at Café Argentino have the tact, loving-kindness, and life experience that can put families at ease.  My mother often asks me to bring her and my brother there as she feels absolutely “at home.”

Dr. Klimek with her family at Cafe Argentino

Café Argentino has recently partnered with a non-profit organization, The Bocha Project ( http://www.thebochaproject.org )to help them raise funds for various programs that promote inclusion and inclusive practices around the world.  Cristian and Valerie have expressed their desire to make their own workplace more inclusive, as they would like to employ adults with disabilities that are interested in working in the restaurant industry in any capacity.  For their progressive and inclusive practices, Our Special Village would like to say Thank You Café Argentino!  Keep up the good work!

The Bocha Project at a fundraising event at Cafe Argentino

You can visit them at:

Café Argentino

499 Grand Street

Brooklyn, NY 11211

718-782-9477