Meet Beth: Certified Senior Child Life Specialist and Lekotek Leader
His smile lights up the waiting room when he sees her. He can hold his head up just long enough from where he is sitting in his wheelchair to look at her for a few moments before the muscles in his neck get too fatigued. She matches his smile with hers, greeting him with her positive energy and gently touching his arm to cue him that the play session is about to begin.
Five-year old Robby Barkoo is a patient of Beth Ryan’s, Senior Child Life Specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and leader of the Lekotek program—a therapeutic, play-based initiative that supports the development of children with special needs.
“Beth has a special spark that can light up an entire room! As soon as you meet her, you can see how passionate she is about her job and how much she cares about the patients and families she works with. We are extremely grateful for being part of the Lekotek program and having the opportunity to work with Beth,” says Jackie Barkoo, Robby’s mother.
It is children like Robby that make Ryan’s 25 years in the field an ongoing reaffirmation that this is her calling. “Children are instinctually forgiving, trusting and playful. They sense and even gravitate towards a helping, healing person no matter how severe their own pain or illness, and allow you into their world. What could be more rewarding than that?”
Certified Child Life Specialists provide evidence-based, developmentally appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation and education that reduce fear, anxiety and pain for children and youth. They are also emotional life-lines for patients, siblings and families.
“I understand the impact chronic illness and hospitalization has on coping and development. My own family has felt that impact. My son was diagnosed with a serious illness at age 3, and because of that experience I understand what it’s like being on the other end of what can sometimes be a fearful journey. This has made me a better clinician and helps me support parents and families in a more meaningful way.”
Ryan also trains students and new Child Life Specialists. When asked for a key insight she teaches, she shares, “Remember the power of the pause.” She adds, “While it’s my job to assess, support, educate and advocate for children, pausing, and allowing a child the respect of my undivided attention, gives him control over that moment and participation in his own healing.”
How does Ryan define success in her daily interactions with children?
“If I can help a child through a procedure by preparing him for what he will see, hear, feel and experience; keep him engaged in distraction and play; and overall, help him cope—I have given him a sense of control. To then receive his smile, or spontaneous hug…that is not only a success…that is exactly why I do (and love) this work.”
Beth Ryan is a Senior Child Life Specialist and Lekotek Leader at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and author of Growing Up Backwards: Lessons Learned from Children.
For more information, visit Lurie Children’s Child Life Specialists.