Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Communication, Hip Hop Style

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Communication, Hip Hop Style

Article excerpt

When Candi Carter, a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show, learned that her son, Emerson, was born with chromosome 8p, which causes heart defects, mental retardation, severe speech delay, and other issues, she was immediately thrust into the world of special needs parenting. Like many in her position, she learned quickly that her child's success was dependent on her ability to work through his challenges and discover unique ways to help him in is development. The most innovative of Candi's techniques came from her struggles regarding her son's communication. One day, as Emerson was screaming due to his inability to communicate with his parents, Candi decided to sing, tap out beats, and beat box songs that she knew he loved (like "ABCs," "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes," and "Row Row Row Your Boat"). When she did that, he stopped screaming. The beats and the music redirected his attention, and he was suddenly doing what his parents wanted him to do. Candi started making up songs to help him transition throughout the day (walk with mommy, bath time, and bedtime songs), and they worked. After testing the songs out on Emerson's typically developing cousins in Atlanta, she knew she was on to something, that hip hop music married with instructions or educational content worked. From there, Carter created It's Hip Hop, Baby!, an educational DVD series for toddlers ages two to six. Exceptional Parent recently had the chance to talk with Candi about her DVD series and the many ways in which it is helping parents who have children with special needs communicate with their kids.

Exceptional Parent (EP): How would you describe the series to those who have not yet heard about it?

Candi Carter (CC): We use the popular genre of hip hop music to teach letters, colors, numbers, animals, healthy eating, and exercise. Real children, not actors, dance and sing to familiar toddlers tunes set to family-friendly hip hop beats. It's a fun and hip way to learn. The videos feature five to six mini-music videos with children dancing and singing, interviews with the hip hop kids, field trips, and hip hop dance instruction.

EP: What were your initial thoughts and feelings when you realized what was ahead of you as a parent of a child with special needs?

CC: I was in denial for a long time because we didn't realize he had the chromosome deletion until he was a year old. Early on, we focused on his heart condition and physical problems, never really making the connection that his issues were more severe. When Emerson failed to reach typical developmental milestones, we got tested and discovered his chromosome disorder. I specifically remember the geneticist using the word "mental retardation," but it didn't sink in initially. In the months that followed, I had many tear-filled days and nights coming to terms with a life that would be difficult for my son and our family. I was fearful and uncertain of our future. I felt sadness, a loss, of sorts, for what I thought I had but didn't ... a typical child. Now, five years in, I've come to accept and celebrate our "new normal" with Emerson. He's a beautiful boy with challenges, but we do not let them slow us down for one minute. That being said, it's still a journey, and it's never easy.

EP: How did you find a balance between your career and being the parent of a child with special needs?

CC: Unfortunately, I didn't have the luxury of thinking about how I'd manage it all. …

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