Marianne Russo of The Coffee Klatch quote: " Find your gift everyone has one.  A gift does not have to be a super human trait or one of brilliance, it is one that makes you want to learn and leads you to the path of independence and most of all happiness". We’re thrilled to have Marianne Russo of The Coffee Klatch as our next Change Leader. We have learned so much from The Coffee Klatch website, radio network podcasts, and tweetchats over the years, and are grateful for all that she puts out there. In addition to her public work, she goes above and beyond to help out many people behind the scenes .

Lauri Hunt: Hi Marianne, thanks so much for all do. Can you give our readers a brief description of what you do and why ?

Marianne Russo: I am the president and host of The Coffee Klatch Special Needs Talk Radio.  On The Coffee Klatch I seek to give parents what they so desperately need via talk radio interviews, cutting edge research, psychiatrist and psychologist interviews with the world leaders in their fields, internationally renowned children’s foundations bring support and resources through their Directors, as well as special needs and special education law for almost all children’s disorders.  In addition to the scientific and clinical information, what I truly aspire to give parents is hope.

Lauri Hunt: What led you to start The Coffee Klatch ?

Marianne Russo: Having raised two children with very complex and unique special needs, I have been in the shoes of many parents seeking accurate diagnosis and effective treatments. When I started my journey over 15 years ago there was nothing available to me to guide and inform.  I found the road was not only long, but often lonely.  I started The Coffee Klatch to help parents navigate the muddy waters and pull them out of their isolation and despair.  The chinese proverb “To know the road ahead ask those coming back”  suits very well how I feel about The Coffee Klatch.

Lauri Hunt: Do you have any advice for young kids that happen to have different abilities/ a disabilities/ special needs ?

Marianne Russo: Find your gift, everyone has one.  A gift does not have to be a super human trait or one of brilliance, it is one that makes you want to learn and leads you to the path of independence and most of all happiness.  Use your interests to find other kids or teens that will not only “get” you but appreciate you.  Take a lesson from your parents who have tirelessly advocated for you and become your own best self advocate.

Lauri Hunt: Any advice for parents/caregivers of kids with special needs/disabilities/ diffabilities?

Marianne Russo: Where do I begin????  To start, understand that accepting the diagnosis is one thing, accepting the life it will bring is something completely different and much more important.  Your life will change, your work may change, your social life will change, your marriage will change….. YOU will change.  Accepting these changes makes the journey easier.  Understand that if they could they would.  No kid wants to fail, wants to misbehave or wants to be different, so use the language of positives to boost their self esteem and build their trust in you.  Look at your child with a different set of eyes.  They say the eyes are the window to the soul so when your child looks into your eyes try not to let them see anger or disappointment but instead compassion and understanding.  Find your child’s learning style – thinking style to better help them learn and filter the world around them.  Being a special needs parents changes you, it can change you for the better, it’s all up to you.

Marianne answers our Ollibean twist on the Proust Questionairre:

Ollibean : What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Marianne Russo: Happiness is a child free of pain and free of anxiety who is accepted for who they are and who they are not.

Ollibean : Which living person do you most admire?

Marianne Russo: My oldest daughter, Tara, a young woman who has been through so much sadness and adversity and learned to dance in the rain.

Ollibean : What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Marianne Russo: Turning lemons into lemonades!  Defying all those who said my child never would to a child who far exceeded anyones expectations.

Ollibean : What do you value most in your friends?

Marianne Russo: I admire my friends ability to know when I need support and when I need alone time.  I admire that they never judge but work to educate themselves about my children and what I am doing for others.

Ollibean : Who are your heroes in real life?

Marianne Russo: My heroes are the teachers, advocates and even celebrities who use their voices to stand up for children with differences.  The real heroes in this world usually never get much recognition, they are the ones that with kindness can make a difference for a child or a parent that is immeasurable.  I have found those with the most powerful voices are those who only need to whisper. Those whispers to a child being bullied or misunderstood can change the course of their lives.  Those whispers to a heartbroken and frightened parent can induce the calm and strength to move mountains.

Ollibean : If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Marianne Russo: Stigma.

Ollibean : What ‘s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

Marianne Russo: When my daughter was six she developed tics and obsessive compulsive behaviors from a strep infection.  Her behaviors were quite alarming and misunderstood.  I was told by Dr Cathy Budman to be as honest as possible with teachers and other parents.  To be her advocate by raising awareness instead of being embarrassed so that she was not defined by her disorder.

Ollibean: What trait do you most value in others?

Marianne Russo: Integrity.  One of my favorite quotes is by Judith Lasitar ,”Integrity is what you do when no one is watching”.

Ollibean : What’s your most marked characteristic?

Marianne Russo: Ha… well anyone who knows me will tell you… I say it as it is.

Ollibean : What is your motto?

Marianne Russo: “You are your child’s best advocate, if not you then who, become an informed educated parent.”

“When you hear the words “mental illness” take out the “mental” and remember “illness.”

For more about Marianne and The Coffee Klatch Special Needs Talk Radio visit her website.

The Coffee Klatch. A cup of coffee with the paremts of special needs children.