Featured guest: Mary Van Lambaart

Mary Van Lambaart has over 18yrs of educational experience as an Assistant Principal in the primary sector, during this time she expanded her skills sets to include being a Mindfulness Educator and Facilitator and Seasons For Growth Grief Counsellor, Positive Psychology and Gratitude awareness training.

We caught up with Mary to hear her advice for parents and carers of people living with disabilities.

What’s your name, and how did you start working with the disability community?

Hello my name’s Mary Van Lambaart and I began my journey working with individuals in the disability sector when my daughter started school. I was asked by the school to come in and start working with children that were struggling with their learning and I then went to university and got my integration or student support worker certificate. I did that job for probably about eight years, I did that in the primary and in the secondary sector and when I went into the secondary sector I actually went to university to get my teaching degree. About 12 months after that I moved into an assistant principal role and my portfolio was to look after all of the children that were considered at risk either behaviourally or academically or whether there was disabilities etc.

Is there anything a parent can do to ‘get ahead’ if their child is diagnosed with a disability?

I often try to encourage parents as much as possible especially when their babies are little or toddlers to continue to engage with their infant welfare. Because often somebody that comes from that allied health background are looking at those developmental milestones with a different lens than a parent, so there isn’t that emotional attachment and it can be challenging for parents to hear if their child is not progressing at the rate that they should be.

What are some common challenges you’ve found for parents of disabled children?

There’s the other aspect of when parents feel like they’re being judged for their way of parenting. So when anybody brings anything to the foreground around concerns about a child’s development the parents can take that on quite significantly. Either seeing it as a criticism to them as a parent, or it can become a little bit of a conflict between both parents around the blame game. Asking where did this developmental breakdown occur, was it from your family history or from my family history, so lots of things start to murk the water a little bit. So when I’m working with that sensitivity with parents I often try to encourage them to take themselves out of the situation and keep the child as a central focus, parents definitely go through a grieving stage.

Is there a way parents can work with teachers as an ally to aid in their child’s long term success?

Go to a school that you can have lots of conversations around what is it that you feel that your child needs and what do you need as a parent. Because this is a global conversation, it’s not just about the child and schools are required to make sure that it is supportive of the parents and caregivers as well so they need to put the necessary adjustments into place to support your child and to support you as a parent. You have just as many rights as your child, so I try to encourage parents to be as transparent as possible about their concerns for their child. Bring as much information to the school so that they’re aware of what this child’s needs are – not wants, but needs – in order for them to transition effectively into the school. And what supports are available to them and will their child be able to access either integration support depending upon what the issue is for their child or what other supports that the school has to offer – what programs have they got.

What is your advice for carers who are managing a loved one’s ongoing diagnosis?

It’s a really layered job for anybody who’s a carer whether it’s of a child or an adolescent or an older child or even you know a parent. So there are differing layers that occur depending on where they are in that lifespan. But I think the challenging part for carers is that just like it can occur when people are in a job, is that it becomes who they are, and that they lose their identity in that role. So how do you try to strike a balance, because we have some people that take that carer role on so deeply that they feel responsible for everything and that nobody else can do the job as well as they can. There can be fear around allowing other people to come in to care for their loved one and this is especially challenging when we know that it’s a lifelong disability. Especially for carers of younger or middle-aged children, around allowing their children to go to respite. Carers do need breaks and we need to have support systems around them that validate and give them the opportunity to be honest around how they feel. Carers need breaks, they need support and they need to be able to tap out. Especially if they have other people in their family, because the other people in the family can feel as though they’re not as important or that they don’t get enough time with their loved one. So, I think it’s about allowing space, giving themselves the permission and being okay with taking a step back sometimes.

Do you have any advice for those carers who may be struggling with their mental health during difficult times?

Mental health is a really interesting area because often it’s not until we become unwell that we start to become aware of it ourselves. So I think for all carers and parents and participants really, is that we need to continue to grow our circle of support because otherwise we’re just we’re working in an echo chamber. And therefore the feedback loop that we get can have some glitches so to speak. So I think what’s really important for carers is being able to have people in their life that they can be completely and utterly honest with. And know they’re not going to be judged, that they’re going to be loved through that really challenging time and validated for how they are feeling, so that they have a way of being able to work through their thinking.

What is some advice you’d give to carers or participants who are just getting started on their NDIS journey?

The NDIS journey can be filled with lots of emotions. I also think that there’s misconceptions that that come up for carers and parents and even participants. Because of either their child being labelled or the participant being labelled and that people only see them through that lens. And how they see themselves, what lens do they see the NDIS, what do they think the NDIS is going to provide for them and will that be catering for their needs. So some people, can go through that grief cycle and be in denial that there is a condition, an underlying condition that is impacting them from being able to access a range of either education pathways, work pathways or living. So again, it comes back to where is their lens and also being again as I mentioned earlier in regards to that deficit model, preparing the brain is really critical and language is powerful. So I tend to move away from using the terminology normal, I tend to move towards that this is a common behaviour or that’s not a common behaviour. When we’re looking at an application for an NDIS support fund, we need to prepare the brain around the fact that to get that we need, we have to focus on all the things the person cannot do. And that is really a way for us to be able to get the financial support, so that we can focus on and can continue to build on what they can do.

Mary, what’s next for you?

I started my own business with my business partner and our company is called the GAPP group and the GAPP group is a an umbrella that has a number of divisions that sit under it. One of them is called digging deeper into mental health, and so I’m a mental health first aid instructor, so part of that work is working with the youth sector, with work spaces, the legal profession, accounting or finance sectors and anybody that works with community groups around identifying mental health early. So that we can help people tap into services quicker, and that person can have a healthier pathway to recovery.

Thank you, Mary! We’re so grateful to have been able to speak with you, thank you for sharing your invaluable advice for parents and carers.

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