Not long ago, I was reminded of a very important truth —that human beings can rise to the challenges they are presented with. It’s true of women, men, and children, even our children with special needs. Sometimes we forget that because we are so busy trying to protect them and help them navigate in a world that is not designed for their success.
I realized I had forgotten this truth in dealing with one of my son’s challenges, his expressive speech ability. Through the years, his speech has developed, but I remember the day when he did little talking at all. So when he finally began to talk, I was soooo excited! Just to hear him answer me in one or two word phrases was such a joy, it became a habit for me to always expect him to answer me in that manner.
Then one day, as we were leaving his school, he answered a teacher’s question with a two word phrase, to which she quickly replied, “Answer me with a sentence, please.” My son then proceeded to answer her with just that — a whole sentence, complete with 7 or 8 words plus, came pouring out of his mouth with ease.
Besides being completely delighted, I was also struck by the fact that he had never done this for me. Obviously not because he wasn’t able, but because I had never asked him. I hadn’t challenged him in that way before. I had been so happy he was speaking at all, I had allowed him, and myself, to plateau in a comfortable little space that we had never ventured out from. And as long as I was comfortable there, he was comfy, too. He would stay right there with me, living up to bar I had yet to raise. Most of us will only rise to the level that is required of us, until the day something inside tells us we can do so much more, or until the day someone else gives our ‘something inside’ a little nudge. It reminds me of the story of Helen Keller, a little girl everyone thought would never have a chance in the world, until a woman named Anne Sullivan entered her life and inspired her to reach beyond her wildest dreams.
That very day when we left his school, I began requiring of him the same full answers he gave his teacher. “Answer me in a full sentence, Dom, ” I tell him regularly. And he does, sometimes even without my prompting. We continue to reach higher. Two sentences answers are on the horizon. I just know it.
Understandably, sometimes our kids may not reach the goals we set in exactly the way, or in exactly the time frame we would wish. But we can still try. Yes, sometimes they may fail, just like anybody else, but they can also get back up just like anybody else. In fact, if living day to day with a special need isn’t a testimony to human resilience, I’m not sure what is.
Resilience doesn’t have to mean trying the same thing the same way, over and over again, for months on end with no results. It could also mean, if one way doesn’t work, whose to say we cannot try another and another and another. If a child can’t speak the words, maybe flashcards, picture cards, sign language, or an assistive device will be the path they need. If he or she can’t write with a pencil, whose to say they can’t try typing the words on a keyboard. If a child can’t button their clothes with their hands, maybe using a button hook will be the answer they need. There are so many options out there, many of them inexpensive or yet to be created by you and your child. It’s just a matter of seeking the advice, getting a little creative, or stretching out of a comfort zone.
Just today, I took my own advice, and took a different path home, walking down a quiet little street I had never paid much attention to before. As I passed a small bush, I was greeted by three of the most beautiful butterflies, circling my head. I looove butterflies, so this was a super special treat for me. Comfort zones are okay, but you never know what nice, new surprises may be waiting for you if you never leave them.
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