“Are you tired of trying to figure it out all by yourself?” For many parents of special needs children, the answer to this question is resoundingly: yes. Enter Julie and Tom Meekins, married couple and Integrative Nutrition graduates, Class of 2010 and 2011.
As parents of children with special needs, Tom and Julie know that raising a child with developmental challenges can be overwhelming and scary. Before enrolling in the Health Coach Training Program, Tom Meekins was working in a corporate job in Washington DC, and Julie Meekins was a full-time mother, homeschool teacher, and part-time child development specialist.
This inspiring duo from Arnold, Maryland now has a thriving health coaching practice called March Forth Family that provides much-needed support to parents of children with developmental challenges. What’s more, Tom and Julie inspired their eldest daughter to enroll and transform her health. Read on to learn how these parents set an inspiring example for us all this Father’s Day – and all year round.
What led you to explore the Health Coach Training Program?
We have special needs children and work with special needs families and know that the nutrition piece is a huge component to getting these kids to the next level of their development. We wanted to expand our knowledge in nutrition. We knew that we needed to get the message of nutrition and child development to many more folks. So, Tom took an early retirement and together we started our own company, the March Forth Family. We educate, equip, and empower parents, teachers, and coaches to help children to the next level of their development.
Tell us about your inspiring health coaching practice.
We work together as a couple. We understand what our clients are dealing with because we have two special needs children who have been rescued. Tom supports dads, male teachers, and coaches in a unique way. Julie supports moms, female teachers, and coaches in a unique way. Together we cover the bases. We bring the child development piece to the nutrition piece and vice versa. It is our greatest desire to empower adults to help children be all they were meant to be.
We have done tons of presentations by teleclasses to educate families about how to get to the root causes of the struggles they see in their children -- behaviorally, academically, socially, and more. We also have a free e-zine that comes out twice a month with awesome content. Currently, we are running a summer camp for parents, teachers, and coaches with four different classes that target different areas of concern.
We also speak to groups where parents, teachers, and coaches gather to educate and empower these adults to help the children with whom they live and work. Finally, the best by far is our private coaching. We have families from all over the country who are part of our private coaching clientele. We love to help adults to look deeper into what could potentially be happening with their children. We are big proponents of finding the root cause and beginning to work on greatly reducing the symptoms now and for the rest of the child's life and sometimes even eliminate the symptoms for good.
What unique challenges do families with special needs children face?
Of course every family is unique, but the challenges we see most often are: others jumping to conclusions about the children and offering parenting advice when they really don't have a clue. Sometimes children look "normal" but could have severe sensory issues that come with meltdowns and lashing out.
Second, there are labels that limit. When a child is given a label of ADHD, autism, Down syndrome, or CHARGE syndrome like our daughter, people create a stereotype in their minds. Every person is unique. Sometimes those labels may be an indication of the symptoms we are seeing in that child now but that doesn't mean it has to be a life sentence. That doesn't mean there is a "typical" Downs or CHARGE child. With labels like ADHD and autism, sometimes it is just a matter of cleaning up a gut, building the immune system, or providing the right amount of stimulation to the brain that will greatly reduce the symptoms or even eliminate the label.
Third, people are overwhelmed with information and don’t know how to sift through it all. There are oodles of therapists, doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, hospitals, researchers, and alternative practitioners that a family could take their children to. But parents themselves need to know they are the best fit for parenting their child and that they can be empowered to handle whatever comes with confidence. They need the mindset of, "I can do this. I know there are things out there to help me and I will know which ones are best for me and my family. I know that I can always evaluate and change when things need to be changed. And...I can parent without guilt. I can take one step at a time and feel good about my efforts. I can listen to my gut."
What role does nutrition play for families with special needs children?
Nutrition is critical for all of us and especially for the children who have special challenges. Often these children have compromised immune systems and that is affecting them in a huge way behaviorally, socially, academically, and, of course, physically. We first help parents, teachers, and coaches to know how bad the bad stuff really is for kids – things like high fructose corn syrup, too much sugar, white flours, hydrogenated oils, nitrates, artificial dyes and preservatives, and more.
We teach the concept Joshua Rosenthal gave us of "crowding out" the bad stuff by replacing those things with better and then best things to put in the fridge and pantry. We also raise awareness about potential health compromisers for some bodies like gluten and dairy and even meats. We teach bio-individuality.
How do you help your clients be successful?
We help our clients know that they can work with the challenging children in their lives. We bring awareness of what root causes could be under the symptoms they see. And then, we give the "what to do about it" piece. After all that, we support with passion.
An example is: Brian is the oldest of three children. His mom came to us exhausted and confused but determined to do whatever it took to help her son. He was unkind to his siblings, didn’t respect authority, had trouble sleeping, was very immature in some areas but brilliant in others. After working with us, he is now much kinder, more respectful, and doing well in school. Life is so much better for him and for his family. Mom says she is so blessed to have the tools to help her son.
What do you love about your work?
Seeing that parents are encouraged and more confident, that teachers and coaches have better ideas on how to help the children with whom they work, and that children are given happier todays and brighter futures.
Your daughter Katie Langenhoven has also graduated from IIN. Did you inspire her to enroll?
Oh my goodness. YES! Katie is our oldest of four children. She was working in an environment that was not a good fit for her. We were watching her health deteriorate little by little. She gained weight. Her skin coloring was pale and not vibrant. Panic attacks were weekly and sometimes daily. She was clearly very unhappy in her work. She enrolled in IIN because both of our experiences were so life-changing. She wanted and needed a life change.
IIN gave her wings to fly and become more of the person she really is. She enrolled, quit her job, and now is vibrant and radiant again. There is a sparkle in her eyes again. She is doing so much more of what she loves. She is doing some health coaching but leaning more toward building a business around crochet. She is creative and she gets to create again. Katie is a primary food transformation testimony for IIN.
Connect with Tom and Julie
On Twitter: @tomMarchForth @julieMarchForth