A Chat With Jennie Linthorst: Sensational Mom, SPD Advocate and Poetry Therapist

Sunday, October 18, 2009
For the Parent’s Eyes section of my newsletter this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing an amazing poet, writer, Poetry Therapist, mom and SPD advocate, Jennie Linthorst. Jennie is not only the amazing and dedicated Mom to a sensational little guy, she’s also found a creative way to cope with everything that goes on in her very busy life. I can’t say enough about this wonderful women and thought WOW/Muffin readers would be as inspired by her story as my newsletter readers will be.




CHYNNA: Jennie thanks so much for taking some time out of your very busy day to chat with me. Why don’t you start with telling us a little about yourself.

JENNIE: My name is Jennie Linthorst. I am the mother of a little five-year old guy named Graham, who struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder. The compelling story of our journey with Graham with early intervention therapies is captured in the documentary film, Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story. Go to http://www.autisticlike.com/ for more information.

I also work in the field of Poetry Therapy as a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator. I work privately with women, exploring their personal histories through reading and writing poetry. I captured my own experience as a mother of a special needs child in my book of poetry, “A Mother’s Journey”.

CHYNNA: Thank you for sharing of your bio with us. Let’s start with your writing. What sparked your interest in writing? When did you begin journaling and writing poetry?

JENNIE: My grandmother, Marion Cannon, was a poet who didn’t start writing until her late 60’s. Her writing was well received and had a very honest, autobiographical style to it. In my early twenties, I began reading her book aloud to a group of seniors at a retirement home, and the reaction to the poetry changed my whole career. I found that the participants responded so intensely to the poetry and it sparked discussion of their own memories in their lives. I created my first poetry writing class for these seniors and we simply wrote in reaction to my grandmother’s poetry. I later discovered the field of poetry therapy, and went on to get my certification, and to create a career in therapeutic poetry writing. I found my own voice around this time as well, and worked privately with a writing coach exploring my own history through reading and writing poetry.

CHYNNA: That’s awesome that you are a Poetry Therapist! You know, I’d heard of Poetry Therapy awhile ago and loved the idea. Writing can be a powerfully healing thing on so many levels. Now, you have two amazing men in your life. Did you want to tell us a bit about them?

JENNIE: My husband, Erik Linthorst is an amazing man. He wrote, directed and produced the documentary about our son. He has become a major advocate in the field of Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder exposing the troubles in the system of diagnosis and treatment options for children who struggle with these special needs. We both hope to inspire change in the system and a separate diagnosis for Sensory Processing Disorder. And of course, my son Graham is amazing too. He continues to be my best teacher in this world, as I watch him work so hard to overcome his struggles with his body and his attention. He has a heart of gold, and his loving of all things shines the brightest to everyone who knows him.

CHYNNA: You and Erik are both doing amazing things for the SPD community and you were both very courageous putting your film out. And anyone who has the chance to see you and your little guy together—like in that gorgeous photograph on the cover of your book of poetry—can see the bond you share. Jennie, as you know, Moms just “know” when their child is struggling with something. When did you “know” with Graham? What signs did you see?

JENNIE: As soon as Graham could crawl, he became obsessed with following and crawling on lines and patterns on the floor. He was also consumed with the spinning of wheels. I was in enough “Mommy and Me” classes and things like that where I was watching the other kids play with toys and be interested in engaging people and new things. His repetitive behavior was extreme and by 15 months I knew that he was not “outgrowing” this behavior. He was so social and verbal with us though, that the word autism didn’t quite fit, but the behavior was very concerning. He also was not gesturing or waving bye-bye which is a major developmental delay. He had low muscle tone and he had great trouble using his hands to play and manipulate his environment. We now can see after so much expert intervention that these were all signs of a sensory system that was out of whack, and a body that was unable to motor plan. The behavior was a way for him to comfort himself.

CHYNNA: I think it’s phenomenal that you never gave up and kept forging ahead to find what worked. You are both incredible parents. That must have been so hard on all of you. You’ve personally gone through so much over the last few years with assessments, diagnoses, and treatments. How difficult was all of that for you? How did you cope with it all?

JENNIE: I am very honest in my poetry about how difficult these years have been for me as a mom. I have experienced major anxiety, depression and all of the feelings that come along when you are faced with a child’s diagnosis and a scary path of navigating the right treatments for your child. Erik and I both have sought out self-growth workshops that have been helpful in working on our own inner pain and expectations and judgments of our child that get in the way of being present and moving forward. We continually work on ourselves, knowing that if we can maintain inner peace and love Graham wherever he is in his journey, the more Graham will grow and we will move together as a family. I have to work on it everyday, and especially when we are in a transition like to a new school. The writing helps me be okay with being honest. It’s a way for me to put it on the page and know that it is okay to have those days. It allows me to be compassionate to myself, and to know that I can share my writing with other moms who will feel less alone on their journey. And lastly, we have turned a “crisis” into an opportunity to help others through the documentary, our advocacy and through our work with parents.

CHYNNA: What incredibly dedicated parents you are. I think what I am most impressed with is how you both work hard at being your individual selves so you can be an iron-strong couple and family—so, so important for families with special needs. I love your book of poetry, Jennie. Your poetry absolutely touches a person to the core of the soul. You are very brave to tap into the raw emotions that create such gorgeous imagery. How important is that ability to writing poetry? How can other writers do that?

JENNIE: I believe that everyone is a writer inside. We all have an inner voice, and if you inspire it, and create a safe place for it to express, you will be amazed at what it has to say. I like to tell my clients that a poem is a snapshot of a moment in our lives. We have thousands of those moments inside of our life stories. It is simply about taking the time to capture that snapshot in words. I guide my clients through discussion and inspirational poetry to bring out those moments, and to tap into the whole experience of where you were, what were you wearing, feeling, what was said inside and out- to recreate it through words. That is what I do in my poetry. I take a moment, and work it out on the page.

CHYNNA: I love your expression, “A poem is a snapshot of a moment in our lives,” and it’s so true. Whether an experience was good or bad, stressful or calm, a poem is a fantastic way to get it all out. You’ve done an amazing thing by combing your writing talents with your passion for helping other moms with special needs kids through your amazing “Life Speaks,” website. Can you tell us about that?

JENNIE: On my website, you can view my different class descriptions. All of the workshops are available privately, and many of my clients are from around the world. We communicate through phone or Skype to read the inspirational poetry together, and discuss the personal meanings it brings up for each client, and then I set you up with a writing exercise that you complete on your own and email to me before our next phone/Skype session. The five week workshop for mothers of children with special needs takes the client through the whole story beginning with the birth, the original dream, and then moves to when you know that something may be different, the diagnosis, the inner strength we call upon, how we meet the challenge, how we look for answers and help, how the experience redefines the family, marriage, and lastly the rebirth we experience of acceptance, blessings, our inner healing and our new dream for our children. In many ways, I take the mothers through their own hero’s journey—inspiring them to dive deep, honor their strength, and harvest the wisdom they have gained on this challenging path. The results are truly life changing.

CHYNNA: What a fantastic resource and service you offer. (I was tearing up just with the description of your class for moms with special needs children). I encourage all of our readers to check out your site. Jennie, you also seem very spiritual—I really felt that in several of your poems. Do you find that writing poetry, or writing in general, is a way to connect with that side of ourselves? How important is that for Moms, especially those of us raising special needs children?

JENNIE: Having a child is in itself a spiritual experience—the miracle of it, and the sense that these children come from something greater than ourselves. It was important for me in my own inner healing to find a way to surrender the sense of myself that felt it was somehow my fault, or that it was my responsibility to fix it and control every step of the journey. I have faith that my son’s life is bigger than I can imagine or control. This experience was given to all of us as an opportunity to grow and give back. In my writing, my inner voice is more connected to that place of inner peace, and I find that it will remind me in my poems what I most need to hear, to get back to that place of love and peace in any situation. We all have that ability to find inner peace however you want to define it spiritually or not. My hope is that I can help other moms find that voice of peace.

CHYNNA: I completely agree with you about needing to find inner peace. Thank you for reminding us of how important that is, especially for us Moms. How can we find out more about your work and your classes?

JENNIE: Please visit my website and read through the course descriptions, testimonials and information. You can contact me through the site or through my email to talk more and set up workshop sessions.

CHYNNA: Great, thanks for the links. What inspires you in life and in your writing?

JENNIE: Wow, big question. In life, being with others and sharing life experiences honestly and authentically is most inspiring to me. I thrive on real relationships with family and friends. I love to cook warm meals and invite people into our home, to laugh, cry and feel safe together. In my writing, it is the little moments of the days we live that inspire me the most. It’s the moments when that voice inside says, “I feel this.” It’s the thought you have at the grocery store, or on your drive home. It’s the thought upon waking as your child stands beside your bed at 6am. It’s those inner moments with yourself where you are truly honest.

CHYNNA: It’s the simple things that mean so much and can be so inspiring, isn’t it? It’s amazing how having special little ones remind us of that. How is Graham doing today?

JENNIE: Graham just started Kindergarten at the public school here in Manhattan Beach. He is in a regular classroom and is getting services with the school to help with attention, processing and handwriting. He mostly struggles with regulating his body to stay on task to finish center time activities. Fine motor skills are the hardest for him. We are working hard on handwriting, coloring, cutting and gluing. He seems to love school and his friends. We are still doing some therapies at home to help with homework and to get his body moving through swimming, my gym and one on one Neurofit exercise sessions that work the vestibular and visual processing systems through movement. He is super social and loves to cook, sing songs, ride his bike and go to playdates.

CHYNNA: He sounds like one amazing little guy. I’m so happy to hear things are going so well for him. One last question: Is there anything that you’d like to say to the other Moms or caregivers out there who may be out there searching for answers or comfort?

JENNIE: I want moms to know that they are not alone out there. I want them to know that it’s okay to have all the feelings that come up each and everyday with our special children. And lastly, I want them to know that they have all of the answers and all of the inner peace inside them. Just listen to that inner voice and be gentle with yourself.

Wise, beautiful words from a wise, beautiful woman, mom and friend. Thank you so much to Jennie for sharing her poetry with us as well as tidbits about her life as a Sensational Mom. Through the therapeutic experience of writing out her own story, Jennie has created her five-week expressive writing workshop for mothers of children with special needs. For more information about her wonderful writing workshops, please go to Jennie’s website at www.lifespeakspoetrytherapy.com


Please be sure to check Chynna’s blog over the next few days as we’ll be posting a contest for a chance to win a signed copy of Jennie’s phenomenal book of poetry. =) We'll also be posting a few of Jennie's amazing poems over there too--you won't want to miss them, believe me.


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