Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song

Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song

What brings you happiness, contentment, and gives you a reason to get up in the morning? What guides your actions and helps you make decisions? Where do you find your strength to cope with life’s challenges, especially if you are a parent of a special needs child? If these questions bring up even more questions and uncertainty and you are looking for answers and guidance, read Jennifer Shaw’s book Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song.  The author’s inspiring story will show you how she found joy and peace by giving God control.

Who is Jennifer Shaw?

Jennifer is one of four siblings raised by Dave and Beth Chilcoat who were in full-time Christian ministry and had a very strong faith in God.  At the age of 15, Jennifer decided she could find happiness alone without following in her parents’ footsteps and their attachment to God. Jennifer was a driven person, a hard worker and she jumped feet first to achieve success. She was passionate about classical music, voice and piano, and succeeding in this field would surely bring her happiness.

Everything in her life was going well. Jennifer had it all… the cute boyfriend, the high marks, a full voice scholarship, and friends.  She was acting in the theatre, and playing and singing in concerts and recitals while studying.  She completed her undergraduate degrees in vocal and piano performance at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and her graduate work in opera performance at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. Jennifer has performed in over forty shows in the theatre. She was achieving what she set out to do… except her life seemed empty, her relationships seemed shallow, after the stage lights went down she did not have that happiness she had expected and worked so hard for. What now? Read Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song and learn how Jennifer changed her life around and found what she was searching for.

About the Book

Jennifer’s book touches many aspects of her life.  Readers will journey through her good times and bad times.  You will rejoice when the young married couple start their family, and when Jennifer makes the necessary changes in her life to be receptive to God’s will and finds that elusive happiness in a new life unexpected. You will feel sad when you learn about her beloved father’s illness and the toll it took on her mom and all her family.  Then we learn of her devastating miscarriage that nearly ended her life. The title, Life Not Typical, really makes sense six months after the birth of their third child. Why?

Her youngest child, Toby, began to exhibit extreme and frightening behavior. While she was losing her father to Lou Gehrig’s disease, she felt she was losing her son at the same time. Toby seemed to be shutting down too. Ear infections, hearing loss, a constantly crying child, missed milestones, delayed speech, extreme eating problems, and feeling defeated and exhausted all the time became their new way of life.  Why did Toby not want to be touched or did not want to touch anything? Why did he sit all day in his special chair and not want to play?  Jennifer, like so many parents of a child with special needs, started to feel a failure as a mom.

At this dark time in her life, Jennifer was emotionally and physically exhausted. She was just trying to survive each day. She writes, “And yet, God ordered our steps. He knew we were at the end of our rope, and so doors opened, things happened, and we just blindly kept walking, placing one foot in front of the other.”

When Toby was twenty-one months old, he was evaluated by their Help Me Grow, the federal program for children with special needs under the age of three. Toby was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), also called in the past sensory integration dysfunction.

What did Jennifer do? She explains,” My mind was spinning… I turned to God. He is peace when there is none. It says in John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” I knew He loved Toby and that we could trust Him with Toby’s future. Life is not always the way we want it to be, but I knew that God works things together for good (Romans 8:28).”

Parents, preschool teachers, health care professionals, family, and friends of children with sensory issues must read this book that chronicles the intensive, three years of therapies in and out of the home Toby received to make it possible for him to enter school as a typical kid! His parents, his preschool teachers, and therapists worked in parallel to achieve this miraculous feat.

One high five moment was when Toby, the child who did not eat and did not speak, after agonizingly slow progress was able to say his first long sentence about his favorite banana muffins, “Dat’s a goo’ nana fuffin, mama!” Jennifer shares many other moments like this about their family and her career as it took off in another direction she had not planned.

Features of the Book

  • Numerous black and white photos with captions that touch your heart if Jennifer’s thoughtfully chosen words have not already done so.
  • Grey boxes with definitions to words pertaining to child development and sensory issues like fine and gross motor skills, motor planning, seven sensory systems, individualized education program (IEP), etc.
  • Words to her songs and scripture quotes add so much to understanding Jennifer’s motivation and transformation.
  • Jennifer’s honest, sincere story telling manner keeps the reader engaged to the last chapter. She just tells it how it was for her and the reader does not feel she is preaching or imposing her beliefs on them.
  • The five appendixes are a wealth of information. One, entitled Sensory Processing Overview, has nine pages to help readers understand what makes children with SPD behave the way they do. Then the next three are conversations/interviews with a speech language pathologist, a certified early childhood intervention specialist and educator, and an occupational therapist. Suggested online resources for parents are listed in the last appendix.

More about the Author

Jennifer Shaw is a national recording artist, songwriter, speaker, and contemporary worship leader. A former professor of voice at Cedarville University, Jennifer moved away from classical music and has been the music director and worship leader at her church for over ten years. Jennifer is a Top 40 Billboard artist and has garnered a #3 worship song on the national radio charts. She has ministered at women’s events, worship services, retreats, and concert events across the United States and around the world.  She was a guest on  100 Huntley Street on February 22nd, 2010. She even sang the National Anthem for the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 3rd, 2010. Jennifer and her family went on a  music and missions tour to the United Kingdom and Kenya!

In conjunction with the release of her book in early 2012, she released a song entitled “Life Not Typical” that she co-wrote with LifeWay producer and song writer Paul Marino. Life Not Typical is also a beautiful music video; see it here. Jennifer and her husband, Nathan, live with their three children in central Ohio.

Jennifer Shaw’s Kid’s Scripture Songs CD’s

These catchy, action-packed songs encourage kids to learn God’s Word and become his trusting sidekicks along the way. Morehere about her Kid’s Scripture Songs CD’s that would be excellent for Vacation Bible School programs.

Seeking God’s Treasure (2007) is a brief children’s album developed for the summer Vacation Bible School program at Jennifer’s home church, Faith Covenant Church in Westerville, Ohio.

Trusting God in the Waves (2008) is Jennifer’s second children’s album.

God is Our Superhero (2009) is Jennifer’s third children’s album.

Follow Jennifer Shaw:

Buy Life Not Typical Amazon.com   Amazon.ca  and from her web site here


This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.
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