#116 - Navigating SPD, Adoption, Type 1 Diabetes, and Homeschool with Keary from Grace & Salt

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC August 26, 2020

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Navigating SPD, Adoption, Type 1 Diabetes, and Homeschool with Keary from Grace & Salt

Welcome to episode 116! In this episode, you will hear from Keary, the face behind @graceandsalt. She is the mother to two beautiful children, as well as an advocate for holistic nutrition, sensory integration, homeschooling, and Type 1 diabetes. She is passionate, funny, smart, and just an all around great speaker! Listen in, take some notes, and go show her some love on Instagram! 


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Navigating SPD, Adoption, Type 1 Diabetes, and Homeschool with Keary at Grace and Salt

Keary is a dedicated wife and mother to two children joyfully welcomed through adoption. She pursues her career as a holistic nutritionist while exploring various entrepreneurial ventures with her husband.

Keary has a deep passion for homeschooling and is dedicated to advocating for and educating others about sensory processing disorder. Through her health journey and experiences as a mother, she will share valuable insights on how homeschooling can be less overwhelming than one might expect. 

Keary’s Adoption Story

Just over five years ago, Keary and her husband traveled to Uganda to adopt their son, Oliver. However, Keary fell seriously ill during the adoption process and had to return home to the United States. 

Her condition worsened, leading to a coma and a diagnosis of type-1 diabetes. This revelation came as a complete shock to the entire family since Keary had always been healthy, active, and unaware that type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease unrelated to excessive sugar consumption.

After two months, Keary's husband stayed in Uganda with their son while she was at home, recuperating and wrestling with the difficulties of her recently diagnosed diabetes. During this period, Keary received an unforeseen phone call regarding a young girl with type-1 diabetes who urgently needed a foster family.

Keary thought they were slowly transitioning into parenthood, only to be suddenly thrust into the role of parents to two children. They stayed in Uganda for 15 months, caring for a 12-month-old and a 6-year-old, before working through various visa issues to move their family back to the United States.

The Benefits of Understanding Sensory Processing for Keary's Family

After Keary's family returned home from Uganda, a friend shared about her daughter's sensory processing disorder, which seemed similar to what Keary's son was experiencing. Keary's curiosity was sparked, leading her on a research journey to understand her son's sensory disorder and how to support his development effectively. 

Keary had been working closely with naturopaths and chiropractors, exploring dietary changes and incorporating occupational therapy techniques at home. However, only when Keary conducted a sensory checklist for her son she discovered valuable insights into his tendency towards sensory-seeking behavior. 

These insights revealed:

  • A significant amount of time crying. 
  • Strongly detested being confined in his car seat and restrained by the straps. 
  • Enjoyed creating boisterous sounds but preferred not to listen to them. 
  • Engaging in lively and vigorous play with toys. 
  • Aversions to certain foods and prefers crunchy and cold foods.
  • Eating messily beyond the appropriate developmental milestones.
  • Continuously darting and unintentionally colliding with walls.
  • Challenges with hand-eye coordination, frequently dropping things, and applying excessive force while writing on paper, often result in tearing.

By gaining a profound insight into her son's sensory needs, she improved her capacity to assist him in his daily life. She fostered a stronger familial connection, heightening their awareness of the significance of addressing his health requirements.

The Gut's Intricate Connection To Sensory Processing

As Keary delved deeper into understanding her children, her passion for offering health-focused support multiplied tremendously upon completing the book "Gut and Psychology Syndrome." This compelling book provides invaluable insights into how food sensitivities and toxins can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, resulting in cognitive challenges and detrimental effects on the immune system. 

Acknowledging this reality has played a pivotal role in Keary's effective management of her diagnosis of type-1 diabetes, as well as her journey in raising a child with type-1 diabetes, food sensitivities, and sensory processing difficulties. Ultimately, it prompted her to return to school to pursue studies in nutrition.

While in school, Keary discovered a fascinating link between keratosis pilaris, those tiny bumps on the arms and legs, and her son's gut sensitivity. He extensively covered these bumps on his arms and legs and heightened sensory sensitivities. 

As a result, Keary decided to have her son undergo a food sensitivity test, which revealed gluten sensitivity. Initially, the test aimed to address his skin problems, but within two weeks, they witnessed an incredible transformation in their child. 

Not only did his skin completely clear up, but he also gained the ability to hold a pencil and write his name for the first time. Additionally, he stopped slamming doors and no longer required assistance controlling the force he used while coloring on paper.

Despite Keary's son facing sensory challenges, their intensity has significantly reduced, bringing her a newfound sense of peace in her parental role. This increased confidence stems from her ability to accurately perceive when her intuition aligns with her son's needs, further strengthening her resolve to find solutions and advocate on his behalf.

Managing Mealtime With Diverse Health Needs Effectively

Keary's family follows a diet that closely mirrors their previous one, with a gluten-free twist. For instance, rather than indulging in regular pizza, they now relish a homemade gluten-free alternative; however, it becomes more challenging for them when attending parties or dining out since gluten is commonly present in numerous foods.

Keary's children need to adjust their diet, and her husband also has celiac disease, making it even more imperative to guarantee food safety at home. She has discovered that once establishing a routine, the initial overwhelming feeling subsides, and the benefits outweigh the challenges.

Now, Keary is noticing a remarkable difference in her son, realizing how food can be a powerful trigger for him. It's truly amazing to witness diet's impact on his well-being. 

The Impact of Type-1 Diabetes on Keary's Life

At first, Keary was unaware of the distinction between type-1 and type-2 diabetes. She mistakenly believed that they were grouped and thought that as long as she ate healthily, she couldn't develop diabetes. 

After gaining enlightenment, Keary grasped the intricate connection between diabetes and autoimmune diseases. Opting for food in its unadulterated state is the optimal approach, but for individuals with diabetes, the paramount focus lies in meticulous blood sugar management.

Keary and her daughter continually confront the challenge of managing their blood sugar levels around the clock. To help with this, Keary uses a mobile app called Dexcom to monitor their blood sugar levels in real-time, getting updates on changes.

By closely observing the impact of food choices on blood sugar levels, Keary developed a deep understanding of the adverse effects of excessive sugar consumption. She eventually pursued an education in nutrition and adopted a dietary approach that promotes stable blood sugar levels and boosts vitality and energy.

Moreover, this practice meets her son's nutritional needs and supports his sensory processing. However, Keary's children needed to be fully aware of the positive effects of choosing nutritious foods and being in tune with their bodies' signals after enjoying treats like ice cream, which can often lead to stomach discomfort.

Keary's Source Of Motivation

Keary is motivated by various factors, including different areas of sensory processing, food sensitivities, and diabetes. Her ultimate goal is to ensure her family's well-being, independence, strength, and happiness.

Moreover, her child's early years deviate significantly from the average, which can profoundly shape their future. Keary strives to do everything she can to establish a strong foundation for their success.

In doing so, Keary aspires for their past experiences, encompassing both hardships and challenges, to be valuable lessons contributing to their personal growth. These experiences reflect the choices they make and the meaningful friendships they cultivate, serving as guiding beacons along their journey.

Keary's Homeschool Journey

After returning home from Uganda, where they completed the adoption process, Keary and her family welcomed two new members: seven-year-old Zola and approaching two-year-old Ollie. Keary had always wanted to homeschool, but with Zola joining the family, homeschooling became a necessity instead of a dream.

Keary has developed a sincere passion for homeschooling, acknowledging its seamless alignment with their profound beliefs and cherished values. She also benefits from having numerous family friends who homeschool through the same charter. 

The charter school offers various weekly on-campus classes covering diverse electives, including cooking, engineering, art, and theater. Moreover, they arrange numerous educational field trips and actively engage in sports like soccer and gymnastics.

The charter school provides all the activities offered by traditional schools but in a smaller and more intimate setting rather than a classroom filled with numerous students. This unique experience further fueled her passion to share their journey and support those considering homeschooling.

Turning Homeschooling Into A Family Enterprise

Keary's profound passion for home education and her mother's extensive experience in a traditional classroom setting has successfully merged these two realms. Their mission is to guide families in teaching children of various ages, fostering teamwork and project-based learning. 

Their methodology ensures that children are not confined to workbooks all day. Instead, they actively engage in hands-on activities that cater to their sensory system, promoting effective learning. 

They have combined their knowledge to create a homeschool resource website called "The One Room School,” inspired by the traditional one-room schoolhouses, where a single teacher teaches children of all ages in a single building. This concept aims to provide a comprehensive and inclusive education experience.

Supporting Your Child's Sensory System For Better Learning

Keary has gained extensive knowledge about sensory processing through her son and how to effectively meet his movement needs. She generously shares valuable tips and tools with other families, such as using the metronome for memorization or incorporating bouncing on the trampoline while he learns and recites vowel sounds.

It is important to remember that children cannot effectively learn when stressed and overwhelmed by their learning environment. Homeschooling has empowered Keary to customize her children's education to suit their needs, fostering a genuine love for learning. 

Here are some suggestions that other homeschoolers have implemented to accommodate their children's sensory needs.

  • Able to cater to your child's needs without feeling guilty, whether letting them have lunch wherever they prefer or skipping a beach play date due to their discomfort with sand.
  • Spinning in circles or using a sensory swing can synchronize the vestibular system, preparing the body for optimal learning readiness.
  • To enhance relaxation and focus during work, you can utilize a weighted blanket, lap pad, or even a stuffed animal placed on their lap.
  • Incorporate sensory breaks and outdoor activities throughout the day to enhance overall well-being and productivity.

Keary's mission is to enlighten families about the profound influence of the brain on the role of movement in enhancing memory retention. Discover the importance of nurturing your child's sensory system for optimal learning.

Valuable Advice From Keary

Keary believes parents must recognize that they are their child's strongest advocate. Nobody knows their child better than they do. 

Although one may encounter obstacles and unanswered inquiries during their journey, it is crucial to persevere and persist in pursuing solutions. Keary firmly believes that her maternal intuition has played a vital role in navigating this remarkable path. 

Despite others dismissing any concerns as ordinary or insignificant, Keary acknowledges the strength of her instincts. She has learned to trust her capabilities and recognize that the bond she shares with her children is powerful. 

Keary encourages parents to listen to their gut feelings, take risks, and remain optimistic despite challenges. We don't need all the answers or know what lies ahead — our experiences are like a road.




While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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