Comedian Dena Blizzard has always used humor to help her daughter, Brooke, work through learning challenges. Their journey with learning and thinking differences hasn’t been easy, though. Here, Blizzard shares some of the surprises, challenges, and joys they’ve encountered along the way.
How did the journey with learning and thinking differences start for your family?
We noticed a few problems in first grade, but it wasn’t until second grade that I started to notice something wasn’t connecting for Brooke. I’m a classical pianist, and each of my kids play instruments. I saw that Brooke couldn’t read or grasp a simple musical concept I taught her.
On back-to-school night I mentioned to her teacher that I was noticing problems at home with comprehension. I expected her to tell me it was early in the year and not to worry. But instead she said, “I noticed it, too. I think we should talk.”
What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?
There are so many surprises. I used to be surprised when she never put anything back where it belonged. Now, I’m pleasantly surprised when she does. I was surprised when her anxiety was so strong that she considered not doing things she loved because of fear. Now, I admire her strength to face her fears and not let anxiety decide what she’s capable of.
I’m surprised by her every day, both by the things she can do and the things that she can’t. But I WON’T be surprised when she accomplishes the greatness she was meant to achieve.
What has been the biggest challenge in your journey? And what’s been the greatest triumph?
The biggest challenge has been teaching Brooke to be her own advocate and know what resources she needs to be a successful student.
I remind her that it doesn’t matter if she fails social studies because she can’t remember 14 explorers because, in reality, the world only really remembers one—Columbus. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t remember the formulas for math. What matters is that she understands the big picture of when to use those formulas, and then she can Google them!
Our greatest triumph is that she continues trying every day even after she’s failed numerous times. Out of my three kids, Brooke fails the most but she is also the most resilient. We talk a lot about how when you fail, you get one day to cry and then the next day you have to get up, dust yourself off, and try again. Brooke may not be the first person to finish the race, but she will absolutely finish and get there in a way that no one has ever thought of.
Do you approach the challenges with humor at home?
Absolutely. We laugh most when we’re studying for school—mostly when I think I’m doing a great job teaching her something and then she responds to my questions with some amazing answer that would have never crossed my mind.
Recently we were reading a chapter in her science textbook on adaptations, and how many species use them to survive and reproduce. I’ve found that if I really drive home the overall point of a chapter, she’s better able to answer my questions. I reiterated that this chapter was about “survival and reproduction” 17 times, so I wasn’t expecting the answer she gave me.
I said, “Brooke, if a bear is sick and knows he’s going to die, what would he want to happen so that his species continues?” I was expecting her to say “reproduction” or that the bear would want his children to survive. Instead, she thought for a moment, looked at me, and very seriously said, “He would want a funeral.”
I couldn’t help but laugh because, frankly, she was right! He probably would want to say goodbye to his raccoon and rabbit friends, and have a funeral. And then he would want his species to survive!
Do you talk about the challenges of learning and thinking differences in your comedy?
I’ve been a comedian for over 14 years and have found it easy to “find the funny” in the everyday, mundane tasks of motherhood and marriage. Comedy helps me get things off my chest, connect with other moms, and learn to laugh through hard times. No one needs that kind of therapy more than parents of kids with special needs and learning differences.
I’ve been fortunate to have shared my stories with thousands of people around the country, and I’m proud to say we’ve worked our way up to performing my show off-Broadway in New York City!
Last year, I set a goal for myself to write more about my experience raising Brooke. Many of the daily challenges we face are not funny. Challenging myself to find the humor in it all and share that with other parents in this community is a blessing to me. And hopefully I can bring a smile to other parents who are on this same journey.
About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.