Like many pregnant women, I spent a lot of time during my first pregnancy worrying about whether my child would have autism or down’s syndrome, as those were the developmental disorders most commonly seen and talked about. I was working at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA at the time and the psychiatrist who was supervising my work sat me down one day in front of a large book about developmental and genetic disorders and told me that if I was going to spend my time worrying, I should give equal time to every possible thing that could go wrong for my unborn baby. I realized at that moment, that instead of riding the wave of this state of panic that is so easily encouraged in our society, I could change my own attitude and focus on helping to shift the fears and ideals of our population to something more authentic, proactive and meaningful.
Our society and now social media has created many myths and misunderstandings about developmental disabilities. Inaccurate information is often easily accessed with no professional sounding board to help parents know what is fact or fiction, nor to help them design and manage a path of services that will lead to the best possible outcome for their family and for their child’s future.
One of the biggest issues I see families struggle with is the lack of understanding and acceptance in their general and immediate communities. We need to find a way to open up the discussions in our communities, our circles of friends and among our families to begin to build true awareness of the very high prevalence of developmental disabilities. We need to consider when, where and how we can begin to bridge the gaps of misinformation or just plain ignorance of the real facts about the well being of our youth and the special needs of a growing/aging population. The earlier we include all our children in this conversation, the sooner we can create communities where each person is celebrated for their gifts and talents, and where each person is taken care of. Let’s reframe our approach to “awareness”. It is not about t-shirts, bumper stickers or an annual event we show up to. True awareness will take root when we realize that every one of us matters in this conversation.
Imagine the good we could do for our sisters and brothers if all of us had a greater understanding of what to look for, how to approach it and where to get help. Imagine how much more quickly all our children could make progress with everyone in their environment supporting their needs and advocating on their behalf. Nobody benefits from scare tactics, sympathy or soap boxes. But I believe that everyone wins with openness, communication and thoughtful regard for the many special lives among us ...and those yet to be.
Love is a better teacher than duty. -Albert Einstein
There is great wisdom in this quote and it inspires me on many levels. Anyone who has worked with children can attest to the fact that when you come from love, when you love the kids you work with and when you love the work you do, kids feel it. They feel connected to you and have greater trust and receptivity to you as a teacher or therapist.
The other important element is the love of the child for what they are doing. If you can truly engage a child in a lesson or goal that includes elements they care about or perhaps help design, you will see a child that learns quicker, retains better, is less distracted and is just having more fun! For our little ones, this means embedding lessons in games and activities they enjoy, with toys they are naturally attracted to.
For our older kids, we have an even greater ability to enlist them in the design of their goals and objectives. What interests them? What do they hope to achieve and when? Allowing them to participate in keeping track of their learning process and progress is an additional way to build confidence, pride and increase personal fulfillment.
This is what I define as "love" and it is what inspires me, and so many of the dedicated staff who work with our kids.
On this Valentine’s Day, let’s look for where we can acknowledge and emphasize LOVE in the work we do, in our families and in our kids' experiences, so we can all be more loving teachers... and students.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
During this holiday season, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all there is “to do”. Between the hectic schedule of everyday life and the high expectations of social gatherings and gift giving, it is no wonder many of us feel fatigued or even traumatized by the events of December. Perhaps this is why we enter the new year with a resolution of how we’ll make things different this year. For families that include someone with autism, these issues can be further complicated by their treatment schedule, social anxiety triggers, dietary limitations and financial concerns. Not to mention the tricky business of getting a moment out to yourself to shop and prepare for all the “festivities”.
The truth is the daunting example above barely begins to illuminate the love, dedication, planning and pure sweat that goes into caring for a child with special needs. This is not a job for the faint of heart. That is why it is critical that you take a pause now and again to reflect, acknowledge and even celebrate how far you have come.
Just for this moment consider all the skills, your child has begun to demonstrate and certainly all that have been mastered. What can they do this year that they could not last year or the year before? What new possibilities do you see in the year ahead that you would not have considered possible at one point? Celebrate those moments and victories. Don’t stop there, what about siblings, your spouse... and yourself? What skills have each of you acquired? How have you become more adept or even masterful in relating to your child or family member with special needs? What moments have you had? What actions have you taken to educate your extended family and community about inclusion and awareness? Who’s life have you touched that may now continue the cause for us all? Acknowledge that too. It matters.
You still may have some chaos ahead in the next few weeks but perhaps you will more readily see those moments that reflect just how far you have come. May these moments of reflection uplift your spirit so you may enter the new year with a renewed sense of hope and vision for what is possible.