By Karen Billing Staff Writer
By Karen Billing
Ever since her daughter Erin was born with cerebral palsy 24 years ago, Carmel Valley mom Christine Douheret has advocated for her daughter to live a happy, normal life.
Erin has now graduated college, lives on her own and is preparing for grad school. With all that she was able to help Erin accomplish, Douheret wants to share her knowledge and experience with others as a special needs coach for families of children with special needs or children who are medically fragile. She was certified as a special needs coach through the International Association for Life Quality in Oceanside.
“My daughter’s disability led me to my life’s passion,” Douheret said. “I love to help people and I want to make a difference in the world. I feel like I made a big difference in my daughter’s life.”
Early on when a child is diagnosed, she said there are many processes a parent goes through, the shock, anger, confusion and frustration. Douheret’s aim is to help families set a goal for their child, how they can help their child live the best life they can, which requires tremendous support and planning.
She also wants to make sure the rest of the family is well taken care of, too.
“I want to create balance for the family,” Douheret said. “It’s very important because the special needs of a child can take all the energy and time away from everybody else if we allow it too and the family structure suffers. The goal is to keep the family balanced.”
Douheret’s daughter Erin was born prematurely at 29 weeks and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. She came home on an apnea monitor and remained on it for two years.
“She nearly died in my arms three different times,” said Douheret.
Erin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 2 years old and Douheret went to work gathering all the information and research she could. She said it was a very difficult time but she was never afraid to ask for help.
A big help for Douheret as a parent was joining a support group of parents formed by Gayle Slate, a Del Mar parent and strong advocate for children with disabilities, who also founded Kids Included Together.
“It’s so important,” said Douheret of the Carmel Valley group. “Every month for the past 16 years we’ve gotten together, we help each other, share resources, we cry but we also laugh hysterically. It’s so important for parents to surround themselves with a group of parents in the same situation, who understand what you’re going through.”
Douheret discovered Erin’s strength was in her speaking—she started speaking early and it was a key asset for her.
“She couldn’t walk but she could speak well and I nurtured that to the maximum,” Douheret said. “You have to take the assets that you see right in the beginning and really groom them.”
She said they never stopped working with the walking and doing physical therapy, but just focused more on her daughter’s natural and charming ability to communicate.
Douheret moved to San Diego 16 years ago from Los Angeles, unable to find school placement for her daughter there.
“The Carmel Valley schools were fabulous, the special education couldn’t be more custom-designed,” Douheret said.
She attended Carmel Del Mar, Solana Highlands and Carmel Valley Middle School before going to high school at Torrey Pines High School. Her aide at Torrey Pines, Cheri Mattina, has spent the last 10 years with Erin, driving her and going to school with her.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” a thankful Douheret said of Mattina.
Erin went on to MiraCosta College and Cal State San Marcos where she earned her bachelor’s degree in communication.
Two years ago she moved out on her own and lives with roommates and a companion dog named Talise. She is preparing to earn her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy because she would like to work with children.
“It is my hope that we will inspire others, when the sky is so black we think the sun will never come out again we pull ourselves together, get help and move on,” said Douheret. “We, as parents, need to remain committed in providing our special children all the opportunity possible to have a full quality of life, living as independently as possible.”
For more information on Christine Douheret’s services, call (858) 356-5880.