Therapist’s Appreciation for Kistler Center’s Mission Grows After Role Reversal
by Donna Payne
Speech-Language Pathologist Emily Robertson began her career at The Gregory Kistler Treatment Center in 2011. Using books, flash cards, sign language, tablets, board games and a million other methods to advance communication skills, she treats her patients as if they are family. She celebrates progress and helps calm fears. It’s her job. It’s also her passion.
Recently, the tables turned. Emily’s 18-month-old daughter, Eden, was slow to meet her developmental milestones. Admittedly a type-A person, Eden’s mom was watching the chart, hyper aware of her newborn’s development.
“Eden always seemed to meet her milestones at the last minute. She was always behind for her age, but never so far behind anyone else was concerned,” Emily said.
When Eden was born, weighing a healthy 8 pounds, Emily and husband, Philip, like any parents of a newborn, were concerned whether she was alright. The pediatrician explained that Eden had been born with low tone in her legs but assured them all was well.
Then, at Eden’s 8 week well-child appointment, Emily was blindsided when she learned Eden had strabismus, a disorder in which the eyes don’t look in exactly the same direction at the same time.
“Her eyes were completely misaligned, and I had no idea. I wondered how I could miss that when I look in her eyes all the time,’” Emily said. “Even though that’s a small thing now – we’ve been through so much since then – I just broke down.” And she began to question herself.
“To improve her vision, I would lay her on an activity mat with bright, textured, and contrasting toys hanging from above, and she wouldn’t look at any of them. I also started noticing that when she was nursing, she wasn’t making eye contact with me,” she said. “How did I not notice this before? It must have been the blindness of motherly love. So, I had my moment of break down, and we just tried to move forward and start working on it.”
Eden’s eyes have improved but she still has issues when she’s tired. She will follow-up with her pediatric ophthalmologist when she’s closer to 2.
But that wasn’t her only difficulty. Eden began taking steps at 13 months. Two months later, Eden still was not taking more than two steps, failing to meet that milestone. So, where did the Robertsons turn? The Kistler Center, of course.
“I was talking closely with one of our physical therapists and she told me what to watch for,” Emily said. “Pretty much the day after she turned 15 months, I had her evaluated!
She would take two steps, and then fall. She didn’t have any endurance. Eden’s evaluation showed she was functioning at about the level of a 10-month-old. Since beginning therapy in May, she has started walking, although she’s still a little unstable. “Eden’s therapists and I started noticing that her low tone was global and that her right side was weaker than her left, indicating a possible neurological issue,” explained Emily. Eden’s pediatrician has recently referred her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for further testing.
And her speech development?
“She is age appropriate! If I’m playing with her, we’re having therapy – all day, every day,” Emily laughed. “She’s not necessarily ahead of the game, but she has lots of words and uses them appropriately.”
Now, Emily better understands the connection between parent and therapist that plays a vital role at the Kistler Center.
“One thing I really love about working at the Center – I get to be involved with my patient’s families,” she said. “You don’t have that everywhere.”
Emily stresses the importance of the role parents play in their own child’s therapy. Family members who are involved can take the methods they see used during therapy sessions and continue them at home, which helps their child progress faster.
And that progress she sees in her own patients keeps her positive.
“That’s something that’s helped the whole way through. Yes, she (Eden) has these struggles, but she’s already come so far and I see these kids and how they grow and develop with therapy,” Emily said. “Having a diagnosis doesn’t change the child. We often celebrate because we see children surpass their expected outcomes.”
Overall, this therapist/mother has had her eyes opened. “I feel that I’m a better mother because of my experience as a therapist at the Kistler Center, and I’m a more empathetic therapist because I’m a mother.”
“In an often chaotic and impersonal world, I consider myself blessed to take my daughter to such a place of acceptance, encouragement and hope,” she said. “The Kistler Center is a safe haven for my family and a pillar to the Fort Smith community. It's a place where my child's potential is viewed before her limitations; a place where I know my Eden is more than just a name.”