Editor’s Note: We are proud sponsors of That’s What She Said, which will grace the stage at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on July 19 (tickets still available!). The event is all about women exchanging stories – kind of like what we do with Chambana mom to know each week. This week’s mom to know will receive two complimentary tickets to That’s What She Said.
To know Amy Santos Gilbertz is to know that she is a brilliant mind and a wonderful storyteller. “A friend once told me that living in Champaign-Urbana is like sitting on a comfy couch where you can watch others who walk by as they move or travel to fun, exotic places. Since it is hard to get off your nice, comfy couch, you are content on watching others and maybe think of places where you can go next! Indeed this is my story to date,” she writes. Born and raised in the Phillipines, Santos Gilbertz has now lived in Champaign-Urbana for 17 of the 24 years she has been in the U.S. As a former preschool and special education teacher, she is passionate about inclusion for individuals with disabilities. A professor of special education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she teaches future early childhood and special education teachers and researchers. She also conducts research on topics related to very young children with disabilities and their families. She lives in Champaign with husband Steve and their daughter, 8-year-old Lin.
See why we think Amy Santos Gilbertz is a Chambana Mom to Know.
Q: How has your research and work in early childhood influenced your parenting or family life, and vice versa?
If you ask my husband he will say that I live and breathe my work – true, and I think that it is because I simply love and believe in what I do. When I teach, I often use my daughter as an example and every day there seems to be something that happens at home that relate to topics I cover in my classes or workshops. When Lin was a baby I was teaching a child development course and so I created a series of videos of her hitting several milestones to illustrate to my students the nuances of how children develop. Lin is also in videos we created for a national project on facilitating children’s social emotional development. Every so often, her photo shows up in my presentations and in a journal article, or two!
I know that I am the kind of parent that I am today because of what I do at work and what I learn from research. I use what I know from my teaching and research in parenting Lin. For example, I know that I have placed emphasis on helping Lin learn important social emotional skills like how to make friends, persist through difficulties, handle disappointments, appropriately express emotions, and show empathy – from research these are skills that I know are important not just in early childhood but throughout one’s life.
Q: You were recently quoted in a story about research suggesting autism can be discovered at earlier age. Can you explain that finding and why it matters?
That study is part of a larger, ongoing study I do with my colleagues focusing on the impact of disabilities on the parenting behaviors of fathers. For this particular study, we wanted to see what predicts autism in young children and so we ran several analyses using a large dataset of over 12,000 children born in 2001. Within that sample are children with an autism diagnosis. Since this is a longitudinal dataset it allowed us to look at what was happening with those children when they were around 9 months and 2 years old, before they received an autism diagnosis. Not surprisingly, many of the children who were later diagnosed with autism were showing telltale signs as early as when they were 9 months old, but mostly when they were 2 years old, like delays in their language and social-communication skills. Other interesting markers we found related to the frequency of ear infections, frequency of waking up at night, motor delays, and seizure disorders. From experience, we know that many parents sense something different about their children very early on and yet wait or asked to wait before getting any help. From our standpoint, identifying and addressing these issues early can lead to better outcomes. The more we know what to look for in young children as they grow, the sooner we can provide help, the better their chances for succeeding in school and later in life.
Q: How do you “protect” family time from your work commitments?
Family routines are important and I really try to make it a sacred part of my day. On a typical day in our home, eating dinner together is something we do as a family – no electronics and no phone calls. My daughter’s bedtime routine is also important and my husband and I take turns in reading with her, praying, and talking with her about her day. I always tell my students that I “go back to work” after my daughter is in bed as that’s the time I know I can focus back on work.
Q: What are your favorite tips for moms who work outside the home who are seeking to “balance” work and family?
One, give up the myth that one can truly “balance” work and family! I believe that in many cases, “most balls can just drop” and often you can just pick them up again. I really don’t worry about keeping a bunch of balls in the air. Two, find or create a work environment that values family and life outside of work. I know that not everyone have this opportunity and I do feel very lucky to be in a place that values that for their faculty, staff, and students.
I’d like to think that I have grown to become a better parent because I am able to work outside my home and establish an identity outside of my family. I also know that one of the reasons I am content and highly motivated to do well in my job is because I know that people I work with share the same values I have about family life.
Q. I understand your child is a world traveler and she’s not even 10. What are some of the unexpected benefits of traveling so young?
Most people know the benefits of traveling like learning about other cultures and understanding our bigger world. In traveling with my daughter from the time she was 3 months old, I found that traveling offer additional opportunities for her to learn and practice important life skills like being flexible, adaptable, and observant. Traveling to unfamiliar places gives her an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate unexpected and novel experiences. Indeed, she has logged a lot of miles and because of that she knows how to be safe in unfamiliar surroundings and keep herself amused or busy especially on those long trips.
For us, traveling successfully means preparing well before we leave, staying attentive while we travel, and most of all, finding ways to have fun together en route and at our final destination! I talk with my child about my expectations while we travel and why. This is a big part of our preparation, beyond just packing our suitcases. I try to model for her the behaviors I would like for her to learn when she is away from home. I also try to anticipate her needs when we travel so I bring things with me and find some fun activity at our destination that she and I can have fun doing together.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I would love to take formal lessons in pencil drawing and watercolor painting at some point before I retire!
Q: What is your ideal summer weekend in Champaign-Urbana?
These are not necessarily in order but doing one or more in one weekend would make it for a perfect summer weekend in Champaign-Urbana:
• Sitting in our front porch watching my daughter play with her friends in our neighborhood.
• Enjoying a cool evening with my husband on our deck while he grills.
• Reading a research paper or two while at the pool, drinking iced teas (I know it seems sick, but at least I am on a lounge chair and not my office!).
• A bike ride or brisk walk on one of the many park trails around town.
• A movie and dinner at one of the downtown restaurants with my girlfriends.
Amy Santos Gilbertz was nominated to be a Chambana mom to know. Nominate a mom or dad today — it’s easy!