Walking a Mile in Their Shoes

I am generally not much of a complainer. I tend to find the "good" in any situation. We've talked about this personality trait in other posts. For some people, being positive comes naturally. For others it is next to impossible. Having this personality trait that allows us to stay positive in the most trying, discouraging situations allows us to prevail over some pretty intense circumstances that life throws at us.

In my line of work (special education) I have met people from all walks of life. I've come to know families who've struggled to come to terms with their child's disability. For some families the journey to accepting their child is quick (although never easy). For others this journey may take a lifetime. I think that having a positive outlook and certain temperamental traits may better equip us to handle all that life sends our way.

Coming to terms with a child's disability is very similar to coming to terms with the death of a loved one. Let me explain.

All parents generally have a vision of what they want their child to accomplish, to become, etc. For some parents this vision includes having their child go to college, have a career, get married, have a family, etc. When a child is diagnosed with a disability, this vision is oftentimes shattered in an instant. The "loss of a normal child" is tantamount to the death of a child for many. The stages of grief are described here.

What they don't teach us, as special educators, is how to counsel parents through this process. After all, we are who the parents often confide in and go to first. I've met parents who go through the grieving process pretty quickly and come to place where they accept their child and want to support their child to become the best person he/she can be. Other families really struggle and can't seem to move through the first 2-3 steps. In fact, as educators, we often feel the brunt of the shock, anger and denial. Countless times I've heard parents say, "I just want my child back". It's heartbreaking! They spend so much energy trying to get their child back or find a cure that they miss what is right in front of them - a child that needs their unconditional love and acceptance. Please understand that I am not demeaning any person's attempts to help their child get better, but for some children there is no cure for their disability.

I have worked with some families who are very quick to complain that their child forgot their homework or didn't make an A on a recent test. What I try to remind myself and others is that we should be grateful that a child can walk/talk/communicate/breathe on his own, etc. We sometimes lose sight of what is right in front of us. We fixate on who is making dean's list, which kids are in the top reading group, on our "version" of the adult we want our child to become, etc. Until we are faced with the challenges of having a child with a complicated, incurable disability, I think we should "look on the bright side" and be truly grateful for what we have.

TBA Readers, if you are a parent, hug your child today. If you are an aunt/uncle/grandparent, hug the children in your lives today and tell them that you love them with all of your heart. Think about all of the things that he/she CAN do and be grateful. We owe it to our children to love them NO MATTER WHAT.

For many families, their children will never talk, walk, make friends, live independently. For those families there is a reality that is quite foreign for most of us. Take some time to put yourself in the shoes of families who are raising a child with a disability.

Walk a mile in their shoes and maybe catch a glimpse of their reality. Once you've done that, let them know that you are there to support them and love them and help them if they need it. Raising a child with a disability can be a lonely journey. Reach out to family, friends, loved ones, colleagues who may be struggling on such a journey and let them know you care.

I'd love to hear your experiences, TBA Readers. Have you or someone you know gone through this process? How have you handled it?

 

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