Mom Next Door: Jenny Beeson / Developmental Specialist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst
It’s Sunday, Jenny Beeson’s favorite day. The only day of the week there’s no work, no therapy and no doctor’s appointments to rush out the door to — just time with her husband of 12 years Bryan, sales manager for Hudson Energy, and four children: Avery, 10; Kaylin, 8; Presley, 6; and Paxton, 3.
“We grocery shop, hang out and go to lunch. It’s just a day to come together and remember that we’re a team,” says the Frisco mom.
Tomorrow, her alarm will sound at 5:15am and the morning bustle will commence. It’s a daily grind more complicated than most due to Avery and Paxton’s unique medical needs — “madness,” as Beeson puts it.
“Even if I’m home, we’re rushing different ways, tube feeding and nebulizing. It’s like a medical, educational facility at my house. There are therapists in and out; there’s all sorts of equipment … ”
Avery was diagnosed with autism at 2, which came as no surprise to Beeson, a developmental specialist for Early Childhood Intervention North Texas (it had a different name at the time). She’s worked with children on the spectrum for 16 years and recognized the signs — loss of words, decrease in engagement, withdrawal — right away. (Beeson became a board certified behavior analyst years later when she realized it was exactly the teaching method that Avery needed to learn new skills.)
More recently, exome sequencing — a form of genetic testing — revealed Avery also has Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder. She’s nonverbal, has motor and coordination difficulties, is fed through a G-tube and has seizures.
“I accept where Avery is at and what she can and cannot do,” Beeson, 38, explains. “She has gained and lost skills more times than I can count. We definitely have our groove down and accept her wholeheartedly just as she is. She is not toilet trained despite years of effort and I can say that, though we will always keep trying to help her with self care, I am extraordinarily grateful for her abilities and gaining ground on being OK with her disability. She can do very little for herself and needs assistance with every part of her day.”
When Avery was diagnosed with autism, doctors called it “a fluke” and said the Beeson’s chance of having another child with special needs was less than 2 percent.
Then Paxton came along and red flags began to fly. He was abnormally large and struggled with head control. Every time he missed a milestone, Beeson’s concern grew.
The same genetic testing that uncovered Avery’s chromosomal disorder revealed that Paxton has Tatton-Brown Rahman Syndrome, a rare condition associated with intellectual disability, seizures, specific cancers and overgrowth. He had a brain shunt placed before turning 2 and has primary immune deficiency. (He’s had pneumonia three times in the past eight months.)
Developmentally, he’s about a year behind and has had occupational, speech, physical and applied behavior analysis therapy.
“You’d think … I’ve been through this before, maybe I’d be more immune to it.” Beeson says. “But there were plenty of moments when I wondered ‘why me.’ I don’t want to candy coat it. It’s a natural feeling.”
She says it can be a struggle to balance Avery and Paxton’s care with Kaylin and Presley’s needs as a typical kindergartener and third grader, respectively.
“I want them to be kids and have fun without being hyper focused on their siblings, but it’s almost impossible because there are so many therapists in and out of the house.”
It’s a “bizarre world,” she says, where her personal and professional lives intersect 24/7.
“But it helps me navigate my world to be able to help other families on their journey,” she reasons.
Beeson’s interest in children with special needs piqued when she was a teenager, long before she had children of her own or any inkling of the career path she’d land. Growing up in Atlanta, she babysat a little boy who had special needs related to a brain tumor.
She took an interest, and though she didn’t realize it at the time, her career trajectory was set in place.
After graduating with her psychology degree from the University of Georgia, Beeson landed at University of Texas at Dallas for grad school. She earned her master’s in developmental psychology and began work as a developmental specialist.
“I preferred to work with families affected by autism because it was interesting to me,” she says.
She continued her education by getting certified in Relationship Development Intervention, and two years ago, earned her Behavior Analyst Board Certification.
“Most of what I do is parent coaching,” she explains. “I’m very passionate about meeting parents where they’re at. I’m honest about the level of their child’s functioning and what I think their child would benefit from. Mostly, I just want to be a soft place to land and to show that even though you have children with special needs, you can still enjoy your life and your child.”
She admits it can be hard to turn off work when she gets home; her inner therapist is always there.
“I have to consciously remind myself that I’m their mommy first,” she admits. “By nature everything I do is therapy, but I do enjoy every giggle and cuddle. That’s what makes the world go ‘round whether your child is verbal, mobile, disabled or perfectly healthy.”
As a contract worker, her schedule varies. April, the children’s nanny of nearly a decade (and Avery’s first preschool teacher), keeps things running when Beeson’s at work. She also fills in for the Beesons’ weekly date night, which they consider non-negotiable.
“We have to take time for us,” Beeson says. “If [our marriage] wasn’t a priority, it wouldn’t work.”
A self-proclaimed foodie, she enjoys trying new restaurants. Last year, the couple even squeezed in weekend getaways to Las Vegas and New York City.
“The only reason we were able to do that is because we have childcare we trust,” she says. The family relies heavily on April, and Beeson admits to fearing that she’ll someday move on. “April is at our home most every day and is very hands on. She is so helpful. I know it sounds cliche, but it really does take a village. Finding someone you trust to care for your children, especially those with special needs is not easy, but I think it is hugely important for your own sanity and to support the quality of your life both in and outside the home.”
Time is a precious commodity and Beeson rarely spends it on herself. When she’s feeling overwhelmed, she takes a moment to revel in gratitude — her chosen coping mechanism.
“I’m not into sadness,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments. It’s been the hardest life lesson for me to find gratitude, hope, joy, peace and grace within this journey, but I try to bring my head back to gratitude constantly. I can find something to be thankful for every day.”
She’s not perfect, and she’ll be the first to admit it. She’s a little less empathetic to the everyday struggles of many than she’d like. “I’m not your go-to if your kid has strep throat, but if your kid’s about to have brain surgery, I’m your gal.”
And she admits this journey has hardened her in some ways, but it’s made her better in myriad others.
“I’m more gracious and open to receiving help,” she says. “I’m more mindful of what’s truly important. You never stop learning, growing and changing. There’s always something to be grateful for. There’s always more you can learn. There’s always hope.”