Inspiration Café: Interview with Chynna Laird, Author and Special Needs Advocate

inspiration-cafe.jpgWhat can be more inspiring than getting to know people who live passionate lives that are dedicated to helping to make our world a better place?

That's why when I came across Chynna Laird through the WOW! Blog Tours, mother of four, psych student, and author of the children's book, "I'm not weird, I have SPD" - I knew that I had to chat with her and get to know her better.

And, I'm really happy to have been able to interview Chynna and share our online conversation with you -

In our current microblogging trend, can you please share with us a short bio/description of yourself in 140 characters or less?

I’m a freelance writer and author living in Edmonton, Alberta. My passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.

chynna lairdWhere can we find more about your work?

My work can be found in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications in Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain. I’m most proud of my children’s picture book, I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD, which I wrote for Jaimie. My memoir Not Just Spirited: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) comes out in late August 2009. I’ll also have a reference book about the Sensory Diet coming out some time in 2010.

Can you tell us about your book, "I'm not weird, I have SID/SPD"? What is it about it? Who is it for?

The book is about a four-year-old girl, named Alexandra, who struggles with something but doesn’t understand what it is or how to explain it to others. She describes how the world around her makes her feel and how hard it is to interact with people and objects around her. She doesn’t know how to tell people that she’s interested in them but something about them makes her body feel scary—so she screams. Finally someone helps Alexandra learn the right tools to cope in her world and she finds the words to tell people, “I’m not weird. I’m Alexandra and I have SPD.”

chynna-laird-book.jpgWhat/who inspired you to write your book?

I wrote the book after a bad experience we had at the park when a small group of children Jaimie’s age made fun of her reactions to them and other things going on around her. I didn’t blame them, honestly. Their behavior stemmed from not understanding Jaimie or what she was going through. So I wrote it to validate Jaimie’s feelings and to, hopefully, give her the words to tell others how she feels inside. What’s funny is that I never intended it to be a book for the world—just Jaimie, our family and close friends so they too could understand. Then I met other families going through the same struggles and offered the book as a tool… it sort of snowballed from there.

Now it’s in several libraries, local SPD therapy centers and community intervention clinics…even in Jaimie’s school library. Jaimie definitely inspired me to write the story as well as to get it out to other families.

Can you help explain SID/SPD a bit more to our readers?

Absolutely! Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)—also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID)—is considered a neurological disorder because it can interfere with the brain’s ability to process the sensory information taken in from the sensory organs. Essentially, the sensory messages are taken in and sent to the brain but for some reason these messages get “scrambled” along the way. Since the brain can’t read these messages, it isn’t able to tell the body how to properly react to sensory stimulation and this can result in either an overreation or underreaction to the stimuli. Jaimie swings between both but more often she is sensory defensive, which means she feels things about 100x more than the rest of us do.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that it isn’t just about what these kids see, hear, smell, taste or feel, it’s also affects their balance, coordination and even how they gauge themselves in relation to objects and people in their environment. It can be a scary and even debilitating disorder—imagine how scary it would be to never know how your body will react to something it may come in contact with! But the good news is that with the proper ongoing treatment, these children can learn the tools to help them function in the world around them and enjoy just being a kid.

"... knowledge is a very powerful thing. If we arm ourselves with knowledge it breeds understanding and that’s all I want for Jaimie and children like her."

What's the one most important message that you wish to share in your writing?

I think that if there’s one message I’d like to leave readers with it’s that knowledge is a very powerful thing. If we arm ourselves with knowledge it breeds understanding and that’s all I want for Jaimie and children like her.

Can you share with us a bit more about yourself? Your personal interests? Your family?

I’d love to! Let’s see… I live in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada with my partner, Steve and our four children: three girls Jaimie (six ½), Jordhan (4 ½ ), and baby Sophie (1) and our gorgeous boy Xander (2 ½). Aside from freelance writing, I’m finishing up a BA in Psychology. Eventually, I’d like to go to graduate school to become a Developmental Neuropsychologist so I can study the brains of children with SPD, Autism and other neurological disorders in order to help with diagnosis and treatment options. I think I’ll wait on that until my kids are bigger though—it’s tough studying at home with young ones.

In my “free time,” I like to read, listen to music and craft with my kiddos. I also play the piano but haven’t had a piano in the house for quite some time. I miss it.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve always kept diaries and loved writing letters/notes to my friends. I think what got me really interested in writing was when in Grade Four a publisher came to our school and taught us about how books come to be. We got to create our own stories—complete with illustrations—then the publisher helped us bind them, laminate them and “publish” them. (My book was called, “The Adventures of Super Bug” where our hero narrowly escaped the fate of someone’s shoe.) Okay so the books were only distributed to the school library but it was still cool! About ten years later, my younger sister came home from school one day with a book she’d taken out of the library: my book from Grade Four! I guessed they’d forgotten to take the book off the shelf but I took it as a sign it was what I was supposed to do.

I’d written many stories—mostly narratives and nonfiction article-type pieces—but never sent them out. Then I entered a contest in a writing magazine and won first prize. The editor of the magazine told me to “Get out there and get this story published!” That winning story was accepted by Angels On Earth magazine and it sort of snowballed from there.

Being an author was never one of my goals but… here I am! I’m very blessed.

Do you have any advice for anyone who might have a similar message to share? How can you encourage them to share their message?

I think anyone with something to say should be brave enough to speak out. All of us have experiences unique to us and, maybe, those experiences would help someone else in a similar situation. I remember once when I’d gone through an upsetting experience where a psychiatrist “strongly suggested” we put Jaimie on medication—she was only three! That psychiatrist continued to “strongly suggest” the medication and we kept strong refusing. When I shared our story with the Founder of SPD Canada, she told me to share my story with the Head of the governmental department in charge of community early intervention services. I was scared—I didn’t want to rock the boat, you know?

So she said, “So many parents out there may be going through what you and Steve did but aren’t as informed as you. They may think, wrongly, that medication is the only way to treat SPD. By sharing your story, you can help make the department Head realize that therapists need to be taught about different ways to treat SPD holistically so that parents can make informed decisions for their children. Your knowledge and experience can help others.”

In the end, I decided to talk to the Head and the point has now been raised that therapists need to be more empathetic to parents with sensory issues and all options for treatment must be raised. I guess what I’m saying is that never be scared or intimidated to stand up and speak for those who can’t or are scared to. Someone will listen and you may be helping.

The greatest expression I’ve heard lately says it all: “We all feel like islands in the middle of nowhere wondering if there’s anyone out there going through what we are or who even understands. By reaching out and speaking out, we’re building bridges among those islands. We aren’t alone any longer.”

Anything else you wish to share?

Well, I have a memoir coming out at the end of August 2009 called, “Not Just Spirited: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).” It’s our personal experience from knowing something was wrong with Jaimie to getting the help she needed to thrive. It took a long time and there were many hurdles but we’re there. I hope it helps other parents to tell their own stories.

I have also just signed on with Sunrise River Press to write a reference book about The Sensory Diet, which is the holistic approach to treating SPD through nutrition, exercise and specialized activities based on the child’s specific needs and abilities.

Your readers are more than welcome to check out my website at www.lilywolfwords.ca if they’d like to learn more about me or SPD. I have information, resources and a wonderful newsletter. I also have a blog and would love contributions/comments/suggestions: http://lilywolfwords.blogspot.com.

Other than that, I continue to write articles and have a couple of fiction pieces I’m working on but it may be awhile before I can give those my 100% attention.

Thank you very much for this wonderful interview, Chynna. It's always very inspiring to get to know people like you. And, I wish you all the best with your work and your family.

Thank you, Shai (and I love your name, by the way…) for having me on your blog.

About the Author Shai Coggins (MTeach, MSoc Sci App Psych)

Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.

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