Prairie Wife of the Week: Abbey Kercher (Special Needs Children in Nepal)

Posted November 23, 2015 by Prairie Wife -

This week’s Prairie Wife and I have been friends for over a decade. As coworkers at a preschool we spent many hours together and soon developed a bond that has lasted through the births of many children and moves across Wyoming. When I first met Abbey I was immediately struck by her vibrant personality and her obvious love of children. Through the years I have come to see that Abbey is not only one of the most loyal and compassionate women I have ever met, she is tireless in her pursuit of offering a caring and child centered classroom to her students. Her passion for working with children with special needs has led her to further her education (despite a busy family of her own) and now, she is focused on setting off across the world to help children in Nepal. Children with special needs and their families are often made to feel alone, or less then others. Abbey is the perfect Prairie Wife of the Week because she believes that children with special needs have “super powers”…and that thier families are stronger than most. She is a warrior for those that cannot always help theselves, and a woman I truly admire.

abbey shoes

Prairie Wife (PW): First tell us a little bit about your family.

abbey famAbbey Kercher (AK): My husband and I have been married for 11 years now and I have three children (counting him). They are ages 9, 10, and 30 something, we also have four dogs. I am trying to adjust to our recent move out to the Wyoming country a year ago. My husband, kids, and dogs fell in love immediately after we moved but, it has taken me a bit longer to acclimate to my new surroundings. I have finally started painting and making our house a home so that is a good sign that I am starting to settle in 😉

PW: What is your current job?

AK: I currently work at a special needs preschool. I work with children ages 3-6 with a variety of “super powers”. Anyone who knows a child with a disability knows that these children have extraordinary strength and unique abilities that they use to overcome their challenges. To me they truly have super powers, they accomplish so much each and every day! I have worked with children with special needs for more than 10 years, and I am lucky enough to say I love what I do!

PW: What drew you to special education?

AK: I have always wanted to work with children ever since I can remember. In second grade I wrote a paper on why I wanted to be a baby doctor!

But I think I was drawn to special education for two reasons.

First, my aunt Kim was born with Downs Syndrome and I always loved being around her. She was like a big kid and was always happy and loved being around others.

Second, as I grew up I was exposed to many children with attachment disorders and behaviors that were a symptom of their poor home environments. This exposure resulted in my having a deeper understanding of children who were unable to control their behavior. I became more compassionate and patient and I feel that I don’t get as frustrated as the average person would in tense situations.

PW: Do you have a favorite story you can share with us, one that keeps you going through the hard days?

AK: Oh there are so many stories that make me feel on top of the world! When a child speaks their first word at four, or takes their first step, it’s amazing! If I had to pick, my favorite moment would be when you find that light bulb moment with a child.

I worked with a child for a couple years who had limited language, severe sensory sensitivity, and would become frustrated fairly easily. However, we figured out that deep pressure would help regulate him. So, a big bear hug would make everything better. We started with a child who couldn’t regulate himself. A boy who cried and screamed all day for any and every reason…and then, six months later that same child would run up to one of his teachers, his eye’s filling with tears, and ask for a hug with everything in him. When we gave him a hug we would hear a huge relieved sigh come from him, and then the biggest smile would form on his face. Through working together we taught him to not only seek help, but to recognize when he needed help and to ask for what he needed to get back on track. Seeing this self sufficiency blossom in a child, knowing that he was now that much closer to being independent and in control of his future…Nothing is better!

PW: Being a teacher, especially working with children with special needs, can be draining. How do you make sure you still have enough energy for your children, husband, and yourself?

AK: Honestly, some days I simply do not have enough energy for everyone. But, that is where my husband really shines! He is amazing at stepping up and taking over at home when he can see that I am finished or when I need a mommy time out.

Working as a special education teacher is said to have an average burn out rate of 8 months. This is truly heartbreaking because consistency is so very important to children with special needs. I have learned that it is very important to find a good way to relieve stress when working in the emotionally wearing field of special education. My stress relief would is my co-workers! We laugh like crazy and we laugh all the time about anything…it keeps us all in a positive place. All of the teachers on my team are great at stepping up and helping wherever they see a need. If someone is having a bad day or is stressed then everyone pulls together and helps.

PW: Is there anything that you wish parents with special needs children knew?

AK: You are the best advocate and teacher for your child. No matter what you know your child better than anyone! Be involved in your child’s education. If you are not sure how to be an advocate for your child, ask.
Remember to focus on what your child does have instead of what they do not have. It is so easy to look at all the things we need to work on but it is more important to see all the amazing things your child can already do.

I also wish parents knew that we really do love your children. It is so hard to spend years with them and let them go to kindergarten. We are so proud of how they have grown but, when we cry at graduation know it is because it is so bitter sweet for us. We are excited for their next chapter but we will miss them for sure!

Lastly, we do not believe everything they tell us about what happens at home 😉

children in a circlePW: What tricks have worked effectively for you when working with children with special needs?

AK: Every child is so very different in each and every way that what works for one might not ever work again for another child. However, the one thing that I find is my foundation for each of the children I work with is the relationship between the child and the teachers. I truly believe that a child has to feel safe and secure in order to explore and learn (and this applies at home too). I have some children that I do play therapy activities with to work on attachment and engagement. Others students need me to set aside five minutes with just them so they can tell me about anything they want. As a teacher it is vital to build a positive relationship with each and every child.

PW: Any advice on how parents can explain to their children about how to act or behave around children with needs that differ from their own?

AK: I think the biggest thing is to not be afraid to ask questions (respectfully). Do not let fear of the unknown scare you away from an amazing child. Every child I work with amazes me in one way or another. Don’t judge! We need to be more supportive of each other as parents (and human beings in general) and not as judgmental. Just asking someone if they need any help or smiling at them while their child is throwing a fit in the store is huge. No matter what skills our children have we have all been there, and honestly, it sucks. Remember that we never really know what others are struggling with so be kind. I have had so many parents come to me crying about an incident at a grocery store where other people said some very hurtful things. The damage to both the parents and child can set them back in ways we may never know…

PW: How can we support parents, friends, and family members that have children with special needs?

AK: Include them. If there is one thing that is universal when talking to parents with special needs children, it is that they do not feel like they can go places. That their child is not invited places, and that people will not be compassionate if things don’t go smoothly. This can make a family prisoner in their own home fairly quickly. Also, be there in the good and the bad and again simply asking what you can do to help.

PW: You have an amazing opportunity coming up this Spring, can you tell us a bit about it?

AK: I am so excited! I have been asked along with another Special education teacher, a Physical Therapist, and 12 University of Wyoming students to Nepal in May to work in some of their schools.

When I first heard about this I knew there was no way I could say no to such an amazing opportunity!

nepal street shotNepal is home to 30 million people, yet is has no infrastructure. The country has no garbage pickup or sewer system, no power company (the electrical grid consists of balls of extension cords), it’s completely different from what we have here. No infrastructure also means no government regulated school system. There are schools on just about every corner because anyone can open a school. You do not need any degree, experience, or education to be a teacher so most “schools” are more like child care.

However, there are some wonderful people who saw the need and have started some really great schools for the children of Nepal.When parents go to prison in Nepal the children go with them. Now there is a school that picks up children from local prisons every day to get them out and teach them before returning them at night. There is another school where the children are housed and fed because they do not have anywhere to live.

nepal schoolI will be working at multiple schools but, most of my time will be spent in Nepal’s only special needs school. The School is called “Special Education Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children” or SERC and was opened by a Physical therapist in 2009. Before that there were no places to help children with disabilities. It has children of all ages and the director takes great pride in teaching them life skills. The school has a café where the girls learn to cook and wait on customers and a workshop where the boys learn to make playground equipment for other schools.

PW: Why are you so driven to participate in this project?

AK: I remember hearing stories about my Aunt and how people encouraged my grandparents to put her in a home and cast her away. At that time there were not any schools or resources to help her or my grandparents. I love that this Physical Therapist saw a need in Nepal and stepped up to help these children and their families. You can never have too many people like that in your life, so I am excited to get to work with her.

PW: What can our readers do to help you?

AK: I am raising money to help me get to Nepal and hoping to have enough funds to give money to these schools. They can then use it to buy what they need to help the children of Nepal. If you feel like donating just click this link, any little bit will help. Even if you can’t donate please share my story, you never know who it may inspire!

PW: Any last Prairie Wife words of wisdom?

AK: Be the good you want to see in the world and when things get tough, Keep Calm and Prairie Wife On!

For more interviews about children with special needs try…

The story of a mother trying to make the right choice for her child.

TallGirlJ shares what it’s like growing up with a brother who has special needs.

A mother talks about what it was like to have a child with special needs 30 years ago.
Copyright: dotshock / 123RF Stock Photo

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