How Having a Child With Dravet Syndrome Makes Me a Better Teacher

Patience, love, and understanding are just some of the qualities that caregiving brings

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by Meagan Cheney |

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I just finished my first month as an official first-year teacher. There have been quite a few tears and even more smiles, along with hugs and meltdowns — by both my students and myself.

But as I looked back on how it’s gone, I arrived at a pretty funny conclusion: The past seven years of raising Austen, my 7-year-old daughter with Dravet syndrome, have taught me some important lessons as I transition into the classroom.

I’ve been lucky to be able to stay at home with my kids over the past 12 years, although the last seven have been spent mostly caring for Austen. Between her seizures, autism diagnosis, and COVID-19, it’s been a lot to deal with. Being her caregiver is a full-time job. Plus, she has two older siblings!

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed staying at home. But after splitting with my husband last fall, I had to gather myself by the bootstraps and get back into the workforce. Thankfully, I had a teaching degree under my belt. A long-term substitute position opened up last spring, and when the teacher decided to leave permanently, I was offered her classroom for the new school year.

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I work for the Head Start program, so most of my students are economically disadvantaged. Some have a lot of issues going on at home. They’re all 3 years old, and because the pandemic started when they were babies, only two of them have ever been to daycare. They’re in a new environment, they’ve never socialized outside their families, and they’re often scared and uncertain about this unfamiliar world they’ve been thrust into.

While we do have a lot of smiles in our classroom, sometimes we have big emotions that we don’t know how to handle. The past seven years with Austen have taught me how to be patient with these kids, and also how to calm them down. We do a lot of breathing exercises and pay attention to sensory cues that might cause distress. Austen’s behaviors have taught me to look beyond the behaviors to see what’s triggering them.

Finding perspective

The most important thing I’ve learned is that every day is a new day. With Dravet syndrome, I had to adopt this mindset, especially when Austen was going through periods of back-to-back seizures. I just had to stop, breathe, and remind myself that tomorrow is a new day. When one of my students is having a bad day, I try to focus on the good and give them extra hugs if they want them.

Raising a special needs child certainly hasn’t been a walk in the park. But for every time I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, there have been twice as many instances where I find myself thanking the universe for the gift I’ve been given in Austen.

I might’ve had fewer dark circles under my eyes and gotten more rest, but I wouldn’t be the person I am if I weren’t her mama. So I’ll count my blessings, because without the darkness there is no light.

Note: Dravet Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Dravet Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Dravet syndrome.


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