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Jennifer Bulka

and The Talking Playhouse need her to be. Bubbly as ever, Jennifer gets aroused as she recaps the scene for me: “I mean’re not going to get off the courts after your time is up? Sounds like a foolish fight to me.” Some profanities were thrown her way, but that didn’t stop Jennifer ouie!!!” Jennifer erupts as he from putting the man who rereaches for his fifth handful fused to get off the courts in his of ruffles. “I’m making a realplace. ly nice dinner, get your greasy hands out of that bag.” Laughing Jennifer’s personality is like a and shaking her head at me, she tennis match. It bounces back between the two dominant sides reaches into the bag and grabs of her personality. The nature a handful for herself, glancing of a serve is more authoritative, over her shoulder to make sure which reflects her control over Louie had left the room. She certain situations. But when shushes me before I even get a a serve is returned to her side laugh in. “You know, she says, of the court, the calmness and I had the craziest thing happen to me today at tennis. “This guy, more cautious side comes out, who had been on the courts way which reminds me of her work with patients who are new and past his assigned time, refused nervous. Jennifer has a very to get off when it was my team’s turn.” Although she claims to not structured way of going about things. Although Jennifer is an take tennis seriously, she has no affable, and friendly soul, she problem being the authoritative co-captain when her teammates has an authoritative manner


that helps her get things done. Whether it be potato chips, or tennis, or kids with aspergers, Jennifer knows what it takes to handle certain situations and the level of authority that is appropriate to take. Not many people could take on the challenges of being a mother, wife, tennis player, and entrepreneur all at once, yet Jennifer Bulka somehow manages to do all of this, while radiating positivity, empathy, and generosity. Jennifer worked her way from speech pathology, to special education, and eventually came to start her own business, The Talking Playhouse, which continues to be her source of practice. The Talking Playhouse has helped shape many families, children, and adults who suffer from social cognitive issues. Her job is to find the overarching issue that makes it difficult for her patient to behave in a high functioning society and help them overcome that challenge.   Jennifer always knew that she wanted to assist children and adults who had learning challenges and needed help. She began her journey into this field when she started studying at the University of San Francisco, where she earned two degrees:

one in speech pathology and the other in special education. After graduating, she wanted to explore what she could do with these degrees, and try to tie her passions into her future. She discussed with me how she thought it was important to focus on one thing at a time: “there wasn’t a lot of parent training happening on the peninsula or anywhere for that matter. And I wanted to develop a private practice where parents could get trained to do what I do at home, which is where the true process of changing the brain actually happens; when you do it in your real life natural environment.” Being an entrepreneur and already having had started a couple other businesses, this came rather easy to her. She started this business up all on her own, and continued for years without any help. However, after she got married and had her son Louie, she realized that the Talking Playhouse wasn’t her main priority. Although she continues to work mainly on her own, she has hired one assistant who can take over on days where Jennifer is sick, or needs time with her family. This minimal help is important to her because she feels that having other employees causes more issues: “the project of managing employees is not too different than the project of having kids. You get involved in their lives and there’s a lot of management

dynamic which I just really didn’t want to have at this point in my life.” Despite the fact that Jennifer doesn’t have many employees that work at the Talking

it is sometimes tricky to decipher what exactly the issue is, and because of this, Jennifer really has to look at the brain from all perspectives. “I basically told the dad that he wasn’t talking to the son’s brain the way the son’s brain needed to “I basically told the dad be talked to. He had a different that he wasn’t talking to brain, as mine differs from yours. not bad and it’s not good - it’s the son’s brain the way it’s just different - and if you talk to the son’s brain needed the brain in the right way, you to be talked to. He had will get the right answers.” Jennifer began working with this a different brain, as student who was having orgamine differs from yours; nizational troubles throughout it’s not bad and it’s not his high school career. Although many students face this chalgood, it’s just different, lenge, this patient of Jennifer’s and that if you talk to in particular has an even hardthe brain in the right er time dealing with it, due to autism. Many times, parents who way, you will get the have children with cognitive right answers.” issues do not understand how to approach their peculiarities. The father of this son couldn’t comprehend why Jennifer’s approach Playhouse, she does work with was so much more effective. a variety of physicians outside Jennifer then explained to the her practice. She mentioned how dad that his son’s brain had to be important it is to be up-to-date looked at from a different angle with technology as well as keep- in order for it to process things ing in contact with other physithe way a child’s brain without cians who can relate to these kids autism does. The underlying to really figure out what’s going goal of Jennifer’s program is to on in the brain. When her regu- target the parents more than the lar, more commonly used pracchild facing social struggles. If tices aren’t working, she goes the parents can take away the to her physicians for ideas and significance of implementing sends them there, if the problem certain rules, manners, or even a is beyond her control. However new perspective on their child’s

challenges, she knows the rest will fall into place. Jennifer stays cool, calm, and collected when it comes time to meet with a new family who is eager and nervous to work on their child’s social differences, “it is really wonderful to help avoid the fears of parents when they think there is something really wrong with their kiddo. But I can tell them that that is actually a very normal process to go through and all kids of that age have it. And that’s not a worry, and then we kind of regear our goals so that we make sure that we do address what their needs are.” What’s unique about Jennifer’s practice is that she looks at the overall picture. Although a family may come in regarding their son’s or daughter’s lack of organizational skills, it might not actually be the main priority. Instead of focusing on ways to make the patient more organized, Jennifer finds a way to speak to the brain of that particular child so he or she knows the importance of staying organized. Although the patient may already be well aware of this, they may have a hard time expressing it due to the way their brain functions. This is not an easy job, and because of this, Jennifer stays closely knit to physicians that help guarantee success for her patients.

Jennifer explains a scenario she has with one of her students that requires more than just the usual brain stimulation: “If you can find the medication that addresses the problem that’s happening with the chemistry in your brain, then I am all for it. For example, serotonin and a lack of serotonin can often create depression, and so they found out through some testing with him and MRI and such, that he has low serotonin. One of the drugs that he is taking now, luckily, helps to increase the serotonin levels,

he came back to her to work on other issues. In order for Jennifer’s business to be a success she has to take into account all possibilities for her patients. No brain is the same, and Jennifer takes every aspect into account when dealing with patients that need more than just the little push. Jennifer is extremely passionate and dedicated to work on her business for the rest of her life. Even though a lot of her time is spent with her family and playing tennis, Jennifer has big

which is making him feel much better.” Jennifer provides her patients with the best opportunity to succeed. After her patient was on a steady level of medication, and his serotonin levels were fixed,

plans for the future. Once Louie goes off to college, she’ll have a great deal of time to focus on her business. She plans to expand to areas outside of Redwood City and maybe even hire some more help to get it growing bigger and

better. I know Jennifer plans to keep this business going because of the fulfillment she gets out of it: “I typically ask kids who I see during the school year to take a break in the summer, and after they come back, and they’ve grown and their social life has grown, and their social skills are really so much better, and it’s a joy to see the growth. I also get great satisfaction out of seeing the parents who come to the therapy group and have all of his or her tools that I’ve suggested they do to have a better environment at home, all made up in a system.” The compassionate doctor takes great pride in the accomplishments her patients make. Not only are the patients lives enriched and changed for the better, but Jennifers too. As Jennifer finishes telling me about the most gratifying feeling she gets from making a change in the people she works with, a toothy smile appeared across her face. “Ya know,” she said,

“They’re really walking the walk and talking the talk.”

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