My mother passed away in her late 50s. She was healthy and beautiful, she enjoyed life and family.

She was highly educated and quite successful.

A contributing factor in her early death was the failure of her healthcare providers to see the red flags of the cancer that was flourishing in her body.

Her proud demeanor allowed her to fall victim to society’s view that strong Black women are somehow less sensitive to pain. As a result, they failed to realize the severity of her situation. They missed the opportunity of early detection and, consequently, early intervention.

This is part of the ancestral trauma passed down in families like mine.

It fills our stories.

Stories like how my grandmother had stones thrown at her when she went into the wrong neighborhood.

I feel the insecurities in the stories shared by my family.

And I heard every moment of lost opportunity, lack of job promotions, struggling to pay bills, despite a college education.

Yes, this can happen to anyone.

But with Black Americans, we’re starting to realize that these stories not only fill each family’s histories, they are still happening in present day.

When it comes to health and wellbeing, misdiagnoses, missed diagnoses, and late diagnoses, and a lack of application of antiracist approaches to care, we are essentially retraumatizing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color by not being aware and acknowledging this trauma.

This is not a moment to point fingers, but a moment to face the fractures in our foundation. Working with our clients, our families, and our peers, we must work to understand and acknowledge this trauma.

Meet the Expert:
Varleisha (Gibbs) Lyons, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, ASDCS, is an occupational therapist and author with over 18 years’ experience working with children and adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorders, and neurological disorders. She is the Vice President of Practice Engagement and Capacity Building at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Dr. Lyons is the former Scientific Programs officer at the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. She also served as the inaugural chair and director of the master’s programs in occupational therapy at Wesley College in Dover, DE, where she was a tenured associate professor. Prior to joining Wesley, Dr. Lyons worked at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, PA, where she served as the director of the doctoral programs in occupational therapy.

Dr. Lyons is steadfast and an expert in the field of neurology, cognition, and pediatric therapeutic intervention. She lectures and provides training on sensory processing strategies and self-regulation to practitioners, parents, and teachers throughout the country and internationally. As co-author of Raising Kids with Sensory Processing Disorders, she has provided families with strategies to understand and care for their children. Dr. Lyons is the developer of the Self-Regulation and Mindfulness program and author of the best-selling book, Self-Regulation and Mindfulness: Exercise and Worksheets for Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (PESI Publishing & Media). She is the co-author of a new book on complex trauma, which will be published in Spring 2021 (PESI Publishing & Media).

In 2003, Dr. Lyons founded Universal Progressive Therapy, Inc., a company that provides interdisciplinary and quality therapeutic services to families. As founding president, she provided treatment interventions and education in the areas of sensory integration, autism as well as family-centered care. Dr. Lyons co-authored the publication, “Family-Centered Occupational Therapy and Telerehabilitation for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” found in the journal of Occupational Therapy in Healthcare. She received her PhD at Seton Hall University with a dissertation focusing on the autism spectrum diagnosis. Dr. Lyons earned her doctorate in occupational therapy at Thomas Jefferson University.

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