Apex Social’s 2024 Care Professional of the Year Award

Winner of the 2024 Apex Care Professional of the Year Award

Confidence. It’s one thing, one could argue, that parents of special needs children almost never fully have.  Confidence in hitting the next big milestone. Confidence in how the future looks. Confidence when the course ahead isn’t always clear. But it turns out the ability to have confidence is a superpower – and one that our awesome speech therapist, Hannah Elixmann, possesses. There is a quote by Helen Keller that reminds me of the ethos that Hannah has brought into our family: “Optimism is the Faith that Leads to Achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” 

Hannah joined us in October 2023. At the time, she was quite sure this was going to be a one-year exchange  and we are now lucky to say that we are halfway into our second year with her!  We have three children – six-year-old twin boys Joshua and Nathaniel and 11-year-old daughter Victoria. We matched with Hannah originally because our twins were non-verbal, and speech delayed respectively, and we thought having a speech therapist in the house could really help. All three children have their own, sometimes challenging, special needs. But no matter the children’s diagnosis, no matter what the internet says, or the doctors ‘projections,’ Hannah’s motto is “you never know.” She has complete confidence that there is not path that is not open to these children, that they will find their way, find love, live their best lives. Whenever I voice a concern, with wisdom beyond her years, Hannah says “you wouldn’t want your life any other way…. you never know what happens in the future.” That confidence is the gift our family never knew we needed.

Hannah has many skills – she is loyal and dedicated, caring and creative. She has a lovely and ready smile and is particularly good at celebrating success. Whether it’s that someone learned to use a fork, mastered the “shhh” sound, or got out of bed without complaining. Through these small but mighty acknowledgements, she reminds us to be optimistic about the progress that will happen through the accumulation of minute milestones.  But there are also HUGE wins – when Hannah arrived, neither of our sons spoke much but now Nathaniel can more readily make his needs known and Josh speaks in sentences, developing new words and the ability to advocate for himself every day, enhanced by speech homework they do every morning before school.

Hannah realized quickly that she would need to develop different relationships with each of the kids and continues to strive to find things that interest them individually. With Nathaniel, she cultivates a love of music. With Joshua, she bakes with him and takes him to the library, nurturing the early stages of a love of books.  Knowing Victoria was desperate for a dog, she found a program where she could “read’ to dogs. 

The way people handle adversity and the ability to course-correct when needed is the true definition of strength. We need to teach our kids – all kids! – to have a growth mindset so of course it’s a skill you want in a care professional. Many care professionals have one special-needs child to manage but Hannah has three (plus our very present cat!). So, it would be unrealistic to think that everything would always be smooth sailing (although it almost always is). We ran into a small rough patch with one of my sons when he became challenging to handle. We all had to take a step back and think of different ways to approach the situation. A couple weeks later, demonstrating a self-reflexiveness you often don’t see in people many years her senior, Hannah came to me and shared her thoughts on how she could have responded to the situation differently. Talk about living a growth mindset! At that moment I was prouder than ever to have Hannah in our family.  

Personally, Hannah is curious, constantly on the lookout for new ways to expand her horizons, to embrace and experience life, to milk every minute out of her time here. This is personified by her choice of educational experiences where she chose to go on photography courses in Alaska and the Everglades. She welcomes and supports other care professionals and is instrumental in building the care community. Thinking towards the future and how she can consolidate her skills, she is applying for a program at a dolphin therapy center next year.

Unsurprisingly, our kids are best when they are with “their” people. Hannah is unquestionable one of “their” people and they feel a sense of security when she is near. Of course they do – she is part of our family! Like they say, not all heroes wear capes. True heroes fight the little fights every single day. With the unshakable confidence that tomorrow can be even better than today. 

Alison & Mark, host parents in New Jersey

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